TALKING TEA: Tea rooms to visit in Victoria

From pretty tearooms to local tea masters and homegrown island teas, Victoria is a town that's steeped in tea traditions.


(Cinda Chavich photos)

By CINDA CHAVICH


Victoria is a tea town, steeped in British traditions of high tea and leading the “third wave” of tea connoisseurs.

Whether it’s pretty tearooms, local tea masters importing and blending international teas, or those harvesting homegrown island teas, there’s much to explore on the topic of tea.


WESTHOLME TEA COMPANY

You could say that Westholme Tea is a vertically integrated tea company.

They are not only importing and blending organic loose teas, Margit Nellemann and her husband Victor Vesley are growing tea plants on their farm outside Duncan, they are serving tea in Margit’s own hand-built tea ware, and selling it all from their rural tea room and gallery.

“We want to be the home for tea culture in Canada,” says Nellemann.

This is Canada’s only commercial tea farm, complete with a terraced garden of more than 800 Camellia sinensis tea bushes.

“People may be surprised there is tea growing in Canada; they may be even more surprised that we have been growing tea for 10 years now,” says Vesely.

At the end of May, they celebrate plucking the “first flush” — the new growth leaves — at the a festival, where visitors can learn about harvesting and processing tea, and there are ongoing events and workshops for tea lovers at the farm.

But the big draw for tea lovers is the chance to try Westholme’s own estate-grown teas — Tree Frog Green, Swallow Tale Oolong, White Mist and their first “terroir” black tea, Heron’s Wake.

“We only make green tea from the first flush — it’s so vibrant and alive,” says Nellemann. “Last year, for the first time, we did black tea.”


(photo: Westholme Tea)

Visit the tearoom year round to try more than 100 teas and herbal tisanes, poured from one of Nellemann’s unique pots, and paired with baked goods from Hudson’s on First or a local Haltwhistle artisan cheese.

Growing tea here is an ongoing experiment but the couple continues to expand, with another 300 tea bushes to plant this spring.

“Our oldest tea bushes are only 10 years old but they will be in the ground for hundreds of years,” she adds. “We are still evolving.”


SILK ROAD TEA

Daniela Cubelic is the tea master and mastermind behind Victoria’s Silk Road Tea.

immersion in the topic of tea.



Cubelic is meticulous about sourcing high quality green, white and black teas and the herbs and flowers used in her blends, many with health in mind. She learned about the power of plants from her grandmother and takes that knowledge into her “wellness teas” designed to promote happiness and relaxation, fight allergies, or boost energy. Popular blends include herbal Angel Water, flavoured with spearmint, lavender and rose petals; cold-fighter Winter Warrior with ginger, green tea and lemongrass; and Beau-Tea-Ful Skincare Tea, with green and white teas and skin enhancing herbs.

Sustainability is also top of mind for Cubelic. The shelves of her shops in Victoria and Vancouver are lined with large tins of tea, so customers can see and smell all of her aromatic offerings. The self-serve system lets buyers fill reusable containers, then add labels and brewing instruction, reducing packaging and waste.

Cubelic buys tea from small, organic growers, produced without the pesticides and chemical fertilizers common in the industry, and never uses artificial flavours. Loose tea is her preference but when customers asked for tea in bags, she spent years searching for the proper bagging material, finally settling on a fully compostable pouch made with plant fibre and absolutely no plastic.



Her goal has always been to teach Victorians about high quality tea.

“I felt that if people understood and were exposed to tea more in the way that I had been, that they would fall in love with tea as I have,” Cubelic says, “and even more importantly, that it would benefit their wellbeing.”


JAGASILK

Whether you want to taste ultra-fresh maccha tea imported from Japan or learn everything about serving this healthy beverage, Jared and Miyuki Nyberg are Victoria’s maccha masters.

You’ll find their tiny JagaSilk tea bar and wholesale operation tucked among the off-street storefronts and offices in Nootka Court.


Jared and Miyuki Nyberg are Victoria’s maccha masters. You’ll find them at their tiny JagaSilk tea bar.

Nyberg will start your maccha education with an explanation of the green tea that is milled fresh on site, a rarity outside Japan.


“As far as I know, we are the only ones in the world milling maccha at the tea bar,” he says, explaining why consuming maccha, the entire tea leaf milled into a fine powder, is so healthy.

Loaded with L-theanine, maccha is said to simultaneously boost energy, wakefulness and relaxation. Some use it to sharpen focus, others to aid meditation. And the concentrated antioxidants in green tea leaves can protect against heart disease and a range of cancers.


Next, it’s a lesson in making the perfect bowl of maccha — 2 g (1 tsp) of electric green powder is sifted into a vessel with 90 g of 60˚C water, then whisked for exactly 15 seconds using a special bamboo chasen.



Beyond selling tea and training baristas in the art of making maccha, Nyberg also ferments and bottles a tea-based Jagasilk Kombucha Jun, made with local honey. Any Miyu makes Japanese desserts — including mochi, cheesecake and roll cakes — served at the teabar.

The Nybergs visit the Japanese farmers who grow their teas every year. Their focus is freshness, says Jared, recommending customers use their maccha within three weeks of opening the sealed pouch.

If you’ve never tried maccha, this is the place to enjoy a cup of the unique, green tea. The flavour varies depending on the grade of maccha, but expect a grassy, green aroma and a sweet, nutty, savoury or slightly tannic flavour — and a maccha “buzz” that lasts for hours. And if you're really curious about maccha, sign up for a kombucha making lesson or JagaSilk Tea Clinic (or webinar) and learn all about maccha tea preparation from the masters.


ABKHAZI GARDEN TEAROOM

For sheer romance and beauty nothing beats tea at Abkhazi Garden.

They call it “the garden that love built,” and there’s a real life fairy tale behind this intimate garden and teahouse, a hidden gem built by the late Prince Nicholas and Princess Peggy Abkhazi.

The historic property was once slated for development but was saved through a heroic community effort, and is now owned and protected by The Land Conservancy, with The Teahouse open for lunch, Elevenses and Afternoon Tea, and the beautiful gardens tended by a team of volunteers.


Whether it’s the tiny crab quiche or the bite-sized Salt Spring lamb sausage roll, every morsel has a local connection. Some menu items channel the prince’s Georgian heritage — The Royal Abkhazi High Tea includes a buckwheat blini topped with cold smoked salmon, crème fraiche and dab of black caviar. And the Georgian Lunch features traditional eggplant badrijani with walnut paste, roasted chicken with tekmali plum sauce, beet and green bean pkali purées, and Lobio, a Georgian dish of baked beans served with cornbread.

The sweets are equally seductive, a pearl of creamy panna cotta floating in rose syrup, and a tender scone studded with currants and candied orange peel, house-made jam and clotted cream alongside.

You can also choose abbreviated Elevenses, a vegetarian or gluten-free tea, and a pot of Abkhazi Blend tea, created for the tearoom by Silk Road Tea. Then peek into the gift shop before exploring the garden with its towering rhododendrons and Japanese maples among the rocky outcrops and Garry Oaks.

Peggy Abkhazi built this urban oasis with her husband, and always generously invited anyone to visit. It’s still open to all, by donation, and as you wander the peaceful pathways, you can feel their welcoming presence.


WHITE HEATHER TEA ROOM

White heather is an evergreen that blooms in Victoria’s warm winters, and the White Heather Tea Room is a warm place to gather any time.

Named by the original Scottish owner, the busy little Oak Bay tearoom serves several variations on the traditional afternoon tea service, from the Big Muckle to the Wee Tea. All feature warm savouries, fluffy scones and home-style baking from their own kitchen and that’s what really sets the White Heather tearoom apart.

When Shelley Hsu purchased the tea room, she kept the same talented pastry chef and cook, adding her own layer of warm hospitality to the mix.

“It’s all about slowing down, relaxing and enjoying every morsel,” says her daughter, Chi-Ling Cheng.

The thick wedges of traditional shortbread — some flecked with Earl Grey and lavender tea — are buttery and snappy, as good and authentic as any you’ll find. There are tiny quiches and toasty croustades, filled with sharp cheese, and artfully rolled tea sandwiches with ham, egg, cream cheese and cucumber. Attention to detail is apparent in every aspect of the tea service, whether it’s the perfectly sliced oranges and grape “tulips” in the fruit salad or the dainty squares that arrive on a three-tiered tray.

Come in for a leisurely lunch, try their vast selection of flavoured teas, or order a take-away tea packed in a beautiful box or basket from their Takeaway Web Shop, and bakery, and you will experience the simple joy of afternoon tea with friends.


Copyright Cinda Chavich


This feature first appeared in EAT Magazine