Often perceived as coffee's modest younger sibling, tea is obtaining a large amount of attention in Vancouver as the city's tea culture grows. Don't be discouraged by that description if you enjoy the kick of a good cup of coffee; not all teas are created equal, and there are some brews capable of knocking your socks off. If you are having a bad day, are itching to break the monotony of your daily routine, or simply looking to try something different, you should check out one of these three tea shops.
The Urban Tea Merchant
Address: 1070 W Georgia St, Vancouver
No list of tea shops in the Vancouver area is complete without mentioning the Urban Tea Merchant, located at the west end of Downtown Vancouver. The Urban Tea Merchant's Retail Boutique and Tea Salon offers customers to choose from a wide selection of unique tea blends to take home, or they can sit down and enjoy one of those same blends steeped fresh in-house.
We carry a luxury tea brand called "TWG Tea" which we are the exclusive Canadian distributors. TWG Tea is a luxury brand based out of Singapore. TWG Tea's collection in Vancouver – numbers well over 300 different single-estate, fine harvests and exclusive tea blends from all of the tea-producing countries,
says Casey James, the Director of Marketing and Events.
Elegant tea tins, a myriad of hand-blown glass, porcelain, stoneware and cast iron teapots, fine bone china teacups, saucers, creamers and sugar bowls, as well as tea filters and tea scoops of all sorts can be found in the TWG Tea accessory collection at The Urban Tea Merchant.
Customers who opt for the in-house service are also welcomed to enjoy some of the tea shop's sweet and savoury treats, while adults can help themselves to some tea-infused cocktails. The Urban Tea Merchant offers featured "Tea Services," each with a per-person charge which includes seasonal items such as the Sakura Westcoast Tea Service offered during the Cherry Blossom season, Garden Westcoast Tea Set - offered during the summer months and the Holiday Tea Set - offered during the Christmas season.
Customer interaction is an important part of the experience at any tea shop.
My favourite part is definitely finding the tea a customer wants [...] even if they don't know what it is they want!
one employee told us.
While they are clearly a luxury company offering a luxury service, the Urban Tea Merchant is family-owned and family-oriented, with a clear focus on fantastic personal service. The Urban Tea Merchant's Tea Salon offers an all day dining menu, including breakfast, brunch, lunch and desserts. If you are interested in dining in or just looking for a tea to bring home, you should keep the Urban Tea Merchant at the top of your list.
O5 Rare Tea Bar
Address: 2208 W 4th Ave, Vancouver
The O5 Rare Tea Bar is at the forefront of developing Vancouver's tea culture. Any visit is sure to educate the mind as well as the senses. An employee at O5 described the staff's view on tea, saying:
Too many people are happy to drink from a cup without knowing what's in it. We want tea to be an [learning] experience here.
The owner of O5 Rare Tea, Pedro Villalon, attempts to reintroduce the missing elements from tea culture in the West; for example, the stools at the tea shop are taller than the table, mimicking the Eastern practice of drinking tea while sitting on the floor. The tea is served in type-appropriate apparatus using type-appropriate methods; the staff is happy to explain why they are served and brewed in this manner. The service is highly personalized, and the shop usually carries around 20 teas at a time from independent tea farms. Pedro seems to have time to talk to anyone and everyone, and has an enormous amount of tea knowledge ready to share with his patrons.
While their foodstuffs are worth the trip, O5 Rare Tea's specialty—and the hook that will ensure a second visit—is their kombucha, a type of fermented tea. If you are unfamiliar with kombucha, the staff is happy to offer you a sample—take them up on their offer!
Secret Garden Tea Company
Address: 5559 West Blvd, Vancouver
Established back in 1995, the Secret Garden Tea Company is located in Kerrisdale, which is a small community in the heart of Vancouver. The Secret Garden Tea Company is owned and run by sisters-in-law Kathy and Erin Wyder. An employee of the shop described the objective of the Secret Garden Tea Company (and the aim of the owners) as being:
[the goal of] providing comfortable moments... and a good cup of tea.
The Secret Garden Tea Company offers plenty of in-house options, including a high tea service complete with finger foods (including tiny sandwiches) and desserts. Do yourself a favour and arrive early; this will give you time to browse the Secret Garden's selection of loose leaf teas, over-the-counter goods, tea pots, gift items, and more. The sisters are knowledgeable about their stock of teas, and are happy to offer advice to uncertain or novice tea drinkers.
The interior of the small shop is cozy, and is often filled in the early afternoon; don't forget to make a reservation ahead of time if you are worried about having to wait. The reason for the store filling at that time is their afternoon tea service, which has several variations depending on your preference and is very reasonably priced when compared to similar services. If you enjoy the baked goods on offer, be sure to stop by the in-house bakery on your way out.
Meet The Photographer: Ricardo Vacas
Ricardo Vacas, owner of the firm Kerp Photography, always showed intense interest in many forms of creative arts. His professional photography career started in his home country, Spain, where he was the official photographer of several music bands, models and clothing brands. He decided to move to Wellington, New Zealand in 2012, knowing his real interest was fashion photography more than any other field. Currently living in Vancouver, Canada, he now combines his fashion, editorial and commercial photography projects with regular trips to Europe and USA.