Today is Canada Day. And it’s a special one as the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of Confederation on July 1st 1867; Canada has grown and changed a lot over the past 150 years. Yet Canada didn’t have a “Halifax tea party” at its birth and it has no “Tea Party” pressuring politicians today. So this month there will be no spleen venting. Instead we ask: what is the state of tea in Canada? Let’s have a look.
Canada, like the United States is primarily a coffee drinking country. Tim Horton’s anyone? But unlike the US where 80% of tea sales are iced tea, Canada is a hot tea nation. It ranks 63rd in the world in per capita tea consumption at .41 kilograms (ahead of 70th place United States, which weighs in at .33 kilos per person.) Moreover, tea consumption is expected to rise by some 40% by the year 2020. Canada is the home to the increasingly omnipresent David’s Tea and to the justifiably world renowned Camellia Sinensis tea salon and tea shop, both of which are based in Montréal. It also is a significant packer of tea, selling $29.1 million of the product to the United States last year. Overall, Canada is the 6th largest exporter of tea to the US. And just as in the US it is the specialty tea sector that is propelling the industry forward.
A Mari usque ad Mare
Tea stretches across the breadth of Canada from the Formosa Tea House in St. John, Newfoundland to the famous afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria British Columbia; from Annabelle’s Tea Room in the south to Aroma Borealis in the far north. And there is much in between. There is World Tea House in Halifax Nova Scotia and the Infusion Tea Room in St, John’s New Brunswick. In Québec City there is a local Camellia Sinensis shop along with a half dozen or so others and in Montréal the choices seem unending including the newly opened Bristol Chai.
Ottawa Ontario, the nation’s capital, is home to Zhen Tea. Zhen Tea is one of the finest purveyors of Chinese tea anywhere but they are only online; they do ship everywhere in North America, however. I recently reviewed their very good Lapsan Souchong offering. For brick and mortar spots in Ottawa (as well as online) you can visit World of Tea or teastore.
Canada has been at the forefront of tea education in the west. George Brown College in Toronto Ontario has led the way in training tea hospitality professionals and tea sommeliers (although I really don’t like that term – more on that some other time.) Toronto also is home to the Tea Guild of Canada which holds monthly educational meetings and tastings. And just as Montréal has its Camellia Sinensis, Toronto boasts the excellent Tao Tea Leaf shop. Toronto also is home to Canada’s premier tea festival aptly named The Toronto Tea Festival.
Heading westward, to Winnipeg Manitoba one finds the highly regarded Amsterdam Tea Room and the home of Dan Bolton and his Tea Journey magazine (if you aren’t a subscriber, you ought to be!) Regina Saskatchewan has the Vintage Tea Room (and in Moose Jaw, my favorite, Deja Vu Cafe – so-so tea but a great place) and Calgary Alberta, The Naked Tea Leaf among several others. Like all great cities, Vancouver British Columbia hosts a plethora of choices such as The Chinese Tea Shop and the venerable Murchie’s , one of Canada’s oldest tea companies (and great hot chocolate too!) Reaching Victoria, at last, there again is a large choice including Special Teas.
Westholme Tea Farm
But it is just to the north of Victoria, at a place I’ve yet to visit, that one finds a unique and very special contribution to tea and tea culture in Canada; The Westholme Tea Farm. That’s right; Victor Vesely and Margrit Nellemann have made Canada one of the world’s tea producing nations, albeit on a small, artisanal scale. The tea farm, at 49°N latitude is, to the best of my knowledge, the second most northerly tea farm in the world. Perthshire Scotland, at 56° N is the farthest north and Sochi in Russia, at 43° N is third. When I first contacted Victor he was in the midst of the spring harvest and we tried to juggle things over a few days in order to connect. We couldn’t make it work so I rely here on information from their website and from Rita Fong’s excellent article in Tea Journey Magazine
The tea farm began with the first plantings in 2010. Victor and Margrit opted for a hardy cultivar that hails from Sochi, in Russia although the seedlings actually came from the southern US. The initial effort with 800 plants is expanding to 4000 over the next few years. But Victor and Margrit are not just growers and processors of tea, they also are promoters of tea culture. Margrit is an active artist and integrates her pottery with the tea service that they provide at the farm.
The farm offers tours of the gardens and tea tastings at a very reasonable price. It sounds like just the sort of place that ought to become a Mecca for Canadian tea lovers.
Canada has a vibrant and diverse culture and its tea scene is just as dynamic. Specialty tea has made strong inroads in Canada and there are no more enthusiastic consumers anywhere. Thanks Canada; and Happy Birthday!