The Great Torontoist Challenge: White Tea Edition
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The Great Torontoist Challenge: White Tea Edition

Photo by [email protected] from Flickr.
The least processed form of tea, white tea is considered to be the healthiest of the family, with more catechin than any of its brothers and sisters. And, what with everyone and their pet giraffe on a bit of a tea kick lately, we thought we’d go for the top notch stuff. Though generally considered a Chinese specialty, white tea can also be found in India, Sri Lanka, and most recently, as evidenced in this article, in Toronto. Most importantly, perhaps, is that of all the teas, white tea appears to be the fuzziest. Cute, non?

The Contestants

  • Pippins. Located in the Beach area of Toronto, Pippins’ website claims to bring you the “charm, warmth and elegance of an old time tea shop.” Their 100 Monkeys white tea is their most popular and, from what we gathered, is actually completely monkey-free. We’re going to assume that’s a good thing.
  • The Tea Emporium. With five locations—we visited the Beach—The Tea Emporium offers more than just take-home tea. Two of their locations have tea bars and their Eglinton location features Canada’s First School of Tea, where we are quite certain that you can learn to eat dainties and hold your pinky finger out like-so. Their Margaret’s Hope White Darjeeling is organic and, hailing from a famous Darjeeling estate, is also quite rare.
  • Tealish. Located just off of Queen West near Trinity Bellwoods in a delightfully airy space, Tealish has over 130 different teas on offer, as well as some funky tea accoutrements. Their White Peony – Pai Mu Tan is one of six white teas available.
  • Lipton. Founded in 1890 by Sir Thomas Lipton, Lipton Teas are a dominant force in the commercial tea markets. Lipton has been recognised for their work in sustainable agriculture and received an award in 2006 for the AIDS programme they run on their plantations in Africa. Their white tea comes in fancy pyramid bags and is also available with such fruit flavourings as peach and pomegranate.

Photos of our contestants by Julie Reitsma; photo on right shows, clockwise from bottom left, The Tea Emporium, Tealish, Pippins and Lipton.

The Criteria

  • Smell. Is it too faint or too strong? Is the smell appetising and full of tea-ish promise?
  • Brewability. Were there brewing or steeping instructions? If so, was the amount of time correct?
  • Flavour. White tea is known for its delicate and complex flavour—is it present? Or, does this seem to have come out of a Tea-O-Matic at the car wash?
  • Mouth Feel. Are there bits? Is it grainy? Does it feel oily on the tongue? Too tanniny?

Additional Criteria

The cost of teas differs quite significantly, depending on type, origin and rarity. The costs listed below have been rounded up to the nearest cent.
The Tea Emporium – Margaret’s Hope White Darjeeling ($0.79 per gram with a 10 gram minimum); Pippins – 100 Monkeys ($0.32 per gram with a 50 gram minimum); Tealish – White Peony – Pai Mu Tan ($0.18 per gram with a 50 gram minimum); Lipton – White Tea ($0.13 per gram and comes in a 32 gram box).
Photos of Lipton’s entry being steeped and in cuppa by Julie Reitsma.


  • Smell. Tealish—11/15. While the smell was mild, it was inviting and definitely full of tea-ish promise.
  • Brewability. Tealish—12/15. The instructions provided created a well-steeped brew.
  • Flavour. Tealish—11.5/15. This tea has a complex flavour, with our judges noting—perhaps inaccurately, due to our non-attendance at tea school—hints of floral, citrus and mint.
  • Mouth Feel. Pippins—12.5/15. A nice smooth feel that wasn’t lessened by the odd floating tea bit.


Torontoist has to admit that we didn’t really want Lipton to come out on top for this one. Sustainable agriculture aside, Lipton is the “big” corporation and we much prefer it when our wee (in comparison) Toronto establishments win; which in this instance, they did. The problem with Liptons’ offering for our challenge is that the first ingredient on the box was green tea. The third ingredient, after the all-important white tea, was artificial and natural flavours. We sort of feel like white tea, when presented and packaged as such, should really have only one ingredient—white tea. The added flavourings in Lipton White Tea induced a smell which was actually cider-like, and a flavour we found to be overly fruity, yet amazingly bitter, sort of what we imagine decorative soaps would taste like. The speed steep of the tea—it took about two minutes to get quite dark—also meant that it induced hideously bad dry-mouth. Cost and neat-o pyramid bags aside, it’s just not worth it.
Photos of The Tea Emporium’s entry being steeped and in cuppa by Julie Reitsma.
We really enjoyed our visit to the Beach location of The Tea Emporium; the staff were super friendly and solicitous with all kinds of information about white tea. It was impressed upon us, both by the staff and the cost, that the tea we were walking away with was going to be something special and so, of course, we had high hopes of the results. We followed the instructions provided and steeped the tea for about four minutes. Apparently, this was not enough; well, at least we hope’s that’s the reason why this tea, first and foremost, had no discernible smell. Seriously. Unless you’re some sort of tea-trained bloodhound—which you may very well be—this stuff was odourless. That being said, the taste, though very mild, was pleasant, with a slight peppery-ness to it. There was also a hint of tannin, which convinced us, especially compared to the last brew, that we were indeed drinking tea, however “meh” we found it. We will try this tea again, but will steep it for much longer in the hopes that we can discover its true flavour.
How we love the oh-so-whimsical name of Pippin’s white tea offering, 100 Monkeys. Unfortunately, the service at Pippins was, to say the least, lacking. We wonder if perhaps they have confused their self-professed “elegance” and “old time” feel with a Victorian-style snobbery. After assuring the staff that we do, indeed, know what white tea is and that we do, in fact, drink it, we chose the first one they brought down, had a brief smile about the name, paid, and dashed. This tea was, unlike our encounter with the Pippins people, really quite pleasant. There were no brewing instructions, and so we didn’t make our cup quite as strong as we probably should have, but what we got after four minutes was more than okay. The smell was mild, but nice, and as the tea cooled we discovered the promising delicate flavour distinct to white tea. The inevitable tea-bits at the bottom of our cup did not detract from a very smooth drink that wasn’t oily, overly-tanniny, or gritty. We certainly feel that with extra steeping this tea will be almost as delightful as its moniker.
Photos of Pippin’s entry being steeped and in cuppa by Julie Reitsma.
The whole Tealish experience was enjoyable, from the moment we walked in, speaking to the friendly staff, the great prices and finally to the actual tea experience. Tealish, of all the contestants, had the most accurate steeping instructions, resulting in a brew of warm colour and full bouquet. The flavour was delicate, but not lacking in character and was agreed to be the most complex of all the contestants. Tealish’s offering was also noted to be the most complimentary to our plate of wee tea dainties that we had assembled for the challenge. While one perhaps wouldn’t usually pair macaroons and white tea, we here at Torontoist like to take our tea parties to the cutting edge and found the results to be most gratifying. Let’s face it; tea is no longer just for little old ladies playing bridge or mustachioed colonial-types at cricket matches in the sub-continent, tea is the new latte (or cappuccino, depending on your tastes). So put on your tea pants, skip down to Tealish, grab a handful of leaves, and brew yourself a cuppa today.
Photos of Tealish’s entry being steeped and in cuppa by Julie Reitsma.