CityMash.com - Many Vancouverites take their coffee very seriously. The comedy cliche of being stuck in line for ten minutes behind someone with a 37 step coffee order can be a reality here.
Independent coffee shops around here take pride in being able to help you appreciate the subtilties of flavour in your cup, at what elevation your coffee bean was grown, even, in some cases, the name of the farmer who grew your coffee beans.
Once voted one of the World’s Best Cities For Coffee, Vancouver has a multitude of excellent, non-chain coffee shops that also make international ‘top’ lists. For instance, Forty-Ninth Parallel – one of Buzzfeed’s “25 Coffee Shops Around the World You Have to See Before You Die“, but there is a new beverage on the block – tea.
Tea tasting and drinking has become a pastime in itself in Vancouver. It is now an experience which embraces every step from the plantation to the cup.
We’re not talking afternoon tea
The English tradition of afternoon tea is probably the closest a grown woman can get to playing princesses in public without looking utterly barmy.
Afternoon tea is all about the occasion, the dressing up, the finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off, the little tiny pastries on a multi-tiered tray, and the floral china teaware. The tea itself is almost incidental. Afternoon tea is all about the experience, not about the tea.
It’s all about the leaf
The newly emerged passion for tea is entirely different. It is about the appreciation of the leaf, the way in which it grows, how it is processed, and by what method the tea is brewed.
A comparison to coffee culture is unavoidable. Thirty years ago we drank whatever hot brown liquid landed in our cup, called it coffee and thought nothing of it.
Then came Starbucks and suddenly coffee became so much more. Lattes, cappuccinos, espresso, with its different blends, different beans, and different roasts, coffee became a thing to be appreciated. Now we no longer accept bad coffee any more than we would accept a bad meal.
Coffee-wise, we are now in a post-Starbucks world where independent coffee houses flourish, and flavours are critical.
Tea hasn’t quite reached the same cultural point yet in Vancouver, but it is getting there. Think “still enjoying Starbucks but realising there’s more to enjoy” but for tea.
Tea houses in Vancouver
Tea houses have been springing up around the city for a while now, and they can feel intimidating if you are just starting to appreciate the complexities of tea. The good news is, tea houses in Vancouver welcome you with open arms and want to pass their knowledge onto you. The staff invite you to come in and discover more about tea and to share their passion for the leaf with you.
The good news is, tea houses in Vancouver welcome you with open arms and the people working in the tea houses want to pass their knowledge onto you. The staff invite you to come in and discover more about tea and to share their passion for the leaf with you.
Here are some of the best tea houses in the city. Try them out, meet the staff and discover all that tea has to offer.
Steam Tea House
Barely big enough to heat some water in, the Steam Tea House is often referred to as Vancouver’s smallest tea house, but you will still find, on average, 80 teas available in this tiny, 70 square foot store.
Located inside Donald’s Market at 2342 East Hastings, this itsy-bitsy gem serves up a micro batch, blended, and single estate teas. With knowledgeable and friendly staff you’ll feel welcomed and comfortable as you try different combinations and find something you like.
There is nowhere to sit and relax with your tea – which is a definite downside, but you are never rushed and can take your time chatting with the staff about the origins of the teas, the best ways to brew, and you can take away some terrific gift teas too.
Situated at 2208 West 4th Ave, O5 holds tastings every Tuesday and Wednesday night. Tuesdays are more for beginners with the emphasis on learning about tea, and Wednesdays are more about the connoisseur with a focus on appreciation but both nights are social, fun, and welcoming to everyone.
With a unique open concept, the tea bar down the centre feels like a giant family dining table. The massive white wall at the end of the space shows the day’s feature tea and the journey of the teas from the farm to your cup.
It is easy to spend an hour or more sitting here sampling teas and enjoying the food that is carefully crafted to enhance your enjoyment of the tea. You can book a tasting flight for either the mocha or the rare Pu-Erh teas and the flights are served with a selection of fruits and nuts.
If this sounds a little heavy duty for your tastes don’t worry. Children and families are welcomed with open arms, the tapas menu is very appealing, and O5 is a fabulous spot to spend an hour or two in the afternoon with the little ones in tow.
Silk Road Tea House
We are finally lucky enough to have Silk Road open its first Vancouver branch at 2066 West 4th Avenue. The original Victoria store has been voted “Canada’s most beautiful tea store” by Wine Access Magazine, and the Vancouver branch sells a wide variety of tea products, as well as their excellent teas.
Where else could you possibly buy a matching silk kimono and teapot?
Silk Road ship teas all over the world and host workshops in their Vancouver & Victoria stores. These workshops cover the art of making tea, tea farming, and tea ceremonies.
Tea without a teahouse
You don’t even have to step outside of your door to enjoy a wide variety of quality teas. Tea Sparrow, based in Vancouver, is a fabulous subscription service which will send you sample sized packages of 4 different teas every month.
Teas are chosen through a two-step process. The in-house Tea Sparrow team is the first line of tasters, and the teas that get past the team are shared at their bi-weekly tea parties. Only the teas that receive 8.5 out of 10 or more, from everyone at the tea parties, make it to your subscription box.
If you like the teas they tell you where and how to get more – simple!
The Vancouver Tea Festival
Now in its fourth year, the Vancouver Tea Festival is already so popular they are planning to expand from a one-day event to a weekend long celebration in 2017.
The festival hosts multiple tea tasting sessions, workshops, and you can even buy tea plants to grow and nurture yourself, at home.
Now the door has been opened for you, take a step through and discover all that tea in Vancouver has to offer.
Which tea shop will you try or do you have a favourite already? Share your tea stories with us and let everyone know the hot spots for tea around town.