Friday, September 5, 2014

What-Cha, Kenya Silver Needle Purple Varietal White Tea

Sample Bag
What-Cha Description:
A most unique white tea which has been produced from purple varietal tea plants. This gives the tea a unique plum like taste alongside the delicate subtle fruity tones expected from a silver needle tea. A very rare and newly developed tea which is not to be missed.

Sample provide by What-Cha

My Review:
Oh look, a purple tea! Or is it a white tea? Taa Daa, it's both! This tea originates in the Mount Kenya Region. Having never experienced a white tea from Kenya, I have no idea what to expect, so let's get started.

All the What-Cha teas I have reviewed have come in aluminum ziplock bags to keep the tea fresh. They are clearly labeled with brewing instructions. There is a best by date on the label but not a harvest or processing date. I personally don't mind, but know some of you expect such information.

Dry Leaf
I opened the bag and breathed in what I can only describe as hay and plums. The dry leaf really does smell wonderful. I tried to use my bamboo scoop to pull out about 3 g or 1/3 of the sample. The leaf is so long I kind of gave up and just grabbed it with my fingers.

The leaf is gorgeous isn't it? Long silvery buds covered in fine hair. It is almost to beautiful to steep... almost.

So in the press it goes with water heated to the recommended 176 F. I steeped for 2 1/2 minutes. I noticed all the leaf was floating at the top of the water. The wet leaf has swelled some and turned a little greener but hasn't changed drastically in appearance.

White Tea Liquor
The liquor is almost entirely colorless. Looking very closely it has fine white hair from the leaf floating in it. I quickly checked What-Cha's website and their picture matches my results. The wet leaf had a fresh hay and plum aroma so I figured I was on the right track.

Once it cooled enough for me, I took my first sip. Hmmm. Maybe I should have steeped longer, or used less water? I like subtle teas. They draw me in an take me places I never experience with bold teas, especially highly flavored ones. This one, I am finding to be too subtle even for me.

The flavor is extremely light and I really cannot identify what little I am catching. Hmmmm.

Deciding I just prepared this incorrectly, I tried again. I used way less water and heated it to about 190 F. I let it steep for about 5 minutes.

Wet Leaf
The liquor was equally light as the first (about the color of Karo corn syrup). I did not see any fine bud hair in this, the second cup.

The taste is still pretty much missing. What light notes I am getting are kind of reminding me of potato with a slightly sweet aftertaste.

I really don't understand what is going on. Every other tea I have tried from What-Cha has been exceptional. By all appearances this one should be equally amazing.

I'll contact What-Cha and see if they have an suggestions. If I can bring this one to life, I am more than willing to do a rewrite. At the moment I have to say this one, as beautiful as it is, left me wanting.

You can find Kenya Silver Needle Purple Varietal White Tea here.

After the less than stellar results yesterday, I decided to give this tea another go today. This time I am using a 90 ml gaiwan. I poured the remaining leaf from the 10 g sample into a plate and divided it in half. It turns out I did use pretty close to 1/3 of the leaf yesterday - so good eyeball.

I put a little over 3 g in the gaiwan with water heated to 176 F. I let it steep for 3 minutes. The result was a liquor that was a little more colorful than my previous attempt. The wet leaf had a sort of bread scent to it. The tea now has some flavor. It still reminds me of potato but in addition there is more of a white peony flavor as well. This fades into what I can only call a pine note. Later cups develop a dry floral almost oolong aftertaste. In many ways this reminds me of camellia flowers but lighter in taste.

While I could not make this tea work western style yesterday, it does produce some light and interesting flavors in a gaiwan with longer steep times of 3 minutes. I think the real delight of this tea is knowing you are drinking a purple varietal white tea from Kenya.  It is still going to be too light for most people's tastes. This might work as a western steep with a really long steep time of 8 minutes or so. Further research to be done with the remaining leaf.

Further Update:
After several days of no time to experiment with teas, I finally had an opportunity to get back to this one before moving on to the next.

Today I am retrying this western mug style. I took out my press, the last of my sample leaf, and around 8 oz of water heated to 190 F.  I let it steep for 8 minutes. The result is similar to what I experienced with the gaiwan. It tastes a little less of potato and more white tea like with some fruity notes late in the sip.  Definitely use hotter water and a longer steep to pull flavor out of this one.


  1. Thanks for the review Kevin. After your review I tried playing around with the tea using different brewing parameters and found the best results with 2-3 tsps, water at 85-90C and a steeping time of 6-8 minutes. I was able to illicit a slightly more flavourful brew but it was still perhaps lacking in its finish. I'll experiment further and see if I can the best parameters.

    In all honesty, I dare say my excitement at the prospect of a purple varietal silver needle might have clouded my judgement when it came to selecting this tea.

    1. I'll try again tomorrow with more tea and a much longer steep. I'd like to report something besides potato - no matter how much I love potatoes. Out of 8 teas so far this is the only one that has been a miss. Won't deter me from the next!