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Tag: What-Cha

Russia Host Tea Estate Tea from What-Cha

What-Cha’s specialty is sourcing and selling tea grown in countries you don’t normally associate with tea production. I’ve looked at some of their white tea from Kenya before, as well as a black tea from Nepal. Today I’m going even further afield by trying two teas from Russia, a country that you’d normally think would be too cold to grow tea. But, it looks like you can! Onwards.

Russia Host Tea Estate Black Tea

Both of today’s teas come from the same estate, so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two side-by-side. First up is their black tea, which, when dry, looks long, dark brown, and twiggy, and smells richly of citrus and raisins.


I took about 2 grams (enough for larger mug) and steeped it for 4 minutes at 90°C, as per the instructions on the package.

The resulting tea was a cool umber colour and smelled malty, robust, citrusy, and raisiny. It reminded me of a Ceylon tea, but it wasn’t quite as sharp. The first sip was a surprise, though: it was somewhat thin-tasting, but also floral — it made me think of lychees.

I brewed the remaining leaf in the packet a few weeks later and it was similarly thin, fruity and floral; it reminded me then of cherries.

You can buy Russia Host Tea Estate Black Tea here.

Russia Host Tea Estate Green Tea

The dry leaf of the green tea from Russia Host Tea Estate is similar in size and shape to the black tea: long, twiggy, but somewhat broader across. Some of the dry leaf is so brightly green and wide that it makes me think of a white tea, actually. This is some pretty aesthetically pleasing leaf!


When I first opened the packet of tea, I was greeted by an intensely vegetal aroma that reminded me of Chinese tea. It was buttery and beany, but underneath there was a surprising undertone of sweetness.

I brewed it for 80°C for 2 minutes, as recommended on the package, and that resulted in a tea that was a pale straw green colour. The smell of the brewed tea was pretty similar to the taste of the dry leaf: vegetal, nutty, and buttery, like a dragonwell tea.

This held up upon the first sip, too, but that sweet undertone made comeback — underneath the vegetables and the butter, I sensed an intensely sweet note that, rather than being fruity, reminded me of the neutral, inert sort of sweetness that you get from syrup or icing sugar. Weird!

You can buy Russia Host Tea Estate Green Tea here.

Comparing Two Types of Silver Needle White Tea

I like white tea — in theory. It smells lovely and fruity and light. But most of the time when I brew it up, it’s kind of pale and underwhelming. I can’t help but think that I must be missing out on something, especially if I’m doing the whole “writing full length reviews of tea” thing.

I decided to try two different white teas — both of them the same variety, called silver needle — back-to-back to see if tasting them in quick succession would lead to me recognizing more of their nuances. Would I develop a greater appreciation for white tea? That was the test.

(Also, if you’re reading this, don’t believe what they say about white tea having less caffeine than green or black tea. Caffeine content in tea depends on a whole lot of factors. What I mean to say is that I’m writing this around 10 PM and I’m feeling a little wired.)

Anyways, let’s move on to the tea, shall we?

Imperial Grade Silver Needle White Tea of Jinggu

Our Autumn 2015 Imperial Grade Silver Needle White Tea was picked in the first week of March from the tender buds of Jinggu area “Da Bai Hao” varietal tea trees. The “Da Bai Hao” varietal is a natural hybrid of Assamica.

The leaf on this one is really distinctive. I know that silver needle tea is supposed to be long, thin, and needle-like, but these look like tea leaves on steroids! The buds are easily 1-1.5 inches long and covered in a fine fuzz.


Dry, they smelled like sweet hay, with notes of lychee. Wet, they smelled a bit smoky but still sweet and hay-like.

I decided to go gentle on the tea and used water heated only to 70°C. However, that wasn’t really the right choice; I got notes of hay, peaches, and maybe a little strawberry and fruit leather, but the tea was in general so mild and unassuming that I kept on going “I can’t really taste anything! I can’t really taste anything!”

The tea was pale not only in taste but also in colour. All of the steeps were generally a pale wheat/straw colour. Gentle, but not that striking.

I brewed the same variety of tea a few days later using water just off the boil, but that was pretty similar. A little hay, a little smoke. Maybe a deeper, richer scent. Oh, and the colour of the tea was a bit darker too, sort of a deeper straw shading into orange. But still, the flavour was kinda hiding around in the background rather than dancing on centre stage on my tongue.

I will need to play around with this a bit more to see how to get the best flavour out of it. More leaf? Longer steep times? Different gaiwan? So many variables.

You can buy this tea from Yunnan Sourcing here.

Kenya Silver Needle White Tea

An incredibly sweet and floral tea with notes of sweetcorn and hay.

Sourced from Dafina Tea Traders, a specialist Kenyan tea wholesaler who searches Kenya for the very best and most unique Kenyan teas.

I will give What-Cha this: their comment about this silver needle tea having notes of sweet corn is accurate. It really does smell like an ear of corn! However, the leaf itself doesn’t look quite as impressive as the tea from Yunnan Sourcing. Where the former’s tea looked like leaf buds on steroids, What-Cha’s silver needle tea looks more like grass clippings: short, somewhat jagged, and a pale white-green.


I followed the instructions on the package to steep this in 80°C water rather than 70°C, and I think this temperature was the right call. The liquor was a slightly deeper colour, and also stronger in flavour.

What-Cha_Kenya_Silver_Needle_brew Remember that whole thing about it smelling like corn? It tastes like corn, too! Like a fresh, sweet ear of corn, with maybe a pat of butter on the side — grainy, a bit rich, but still sweet. I was totally bowled over by this.

I’m really going to see how this tea stands up to higher tempertures. Will the grain/corn notes come out to play even further if I user hotter water? I’m really curious now.

You can buy this tea from What-Cha here.


I’m still not completely sold on white tea, but it was an interesting experience trying both back to back. I liked the What-Cha Kenyan silver needle more overall, but I definitely want to try experimenting with the parameters on both.

Tea Festival and What-Cha Nepal Golden Tips Black Tea

It’s near the end of January, and in Toronto, that can mean only one thing….

The Toronto Tea Festival is coming!

Yes, that’s right, the 4th annual Toronto Tea Festival is just around the corner — next weekend in fact. I’ll be attending, of course; how could I stay away? Even better, I’ll be doing a short write-up about the event and some of its seminars for World of Tea, the online tea resource run by Tony Gebely of American Tea Room. I’m pretty excited about that.

An even bigger cherry on the sundae is that I’ll be meeting up with a bunch of my Steepster friends to swap tea and chat. If you just so happen to be in the Toronto area, why not come along yourself and see if we run into each other?

However, although the festival runs for two days — both the 30th and the 31st of January — I plan to attend only on the 30th. Two days in a row would just be exhausting, I think. So if you are in Toronto and want to meet up, go on Saturday.

Now, onto today’s tea.

Nepal Golden Tips Black Tea from What-Cha

I got this as a free sample from a group order from What-Cha back in 2015. (I’ll review the rest of the teas that came with the order in good time, don’t you worry.)

The dry leaf is thick, twisted and golden — when you look at it close up, it looks sort of like yarn. The smell is sweet, bready, and thick, like sweet potato.


I took the entire sample — about 6 grams — and brewed it in a small teapot (remember this one?) with 85°C water for 1 minute. I could have done it in the gaiwan like shown in the picture, but eh, I was lazy.

The brewed tea was dark brown and had a cool undertone to it. It smelled sweet, malty, and slightly sour. Overall, the whole thing reminded me of wet hay.

Down the hatch, I got a similar taste of wet hay, sweet potato, and something sour I couldn’t quite put my finger on. As the tea cooled, a bitter undertone developed underneath. It wasn’t sharp, but I still didn’t like it, because it wasn’t a pleasant bitterness,  but one that felt kind of old and reminiscent of plastic.

The second steep, also for 1 minute, was very similar. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t feeling it and had trouble finishing the second steep.

This tea session with the Nepal Golden Tips Black Tea was kind of a bust. There was promise there, though; I think if I had tried it with my gaiwan it would have been a more pleasant experience.

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