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“Hey, wanna meet up for a coffee or something?” asked a friend the other day.
Since I don’t drink coffee – and my friend is very much aware of this – I rightly interpreted her statement to mean, “Hey, wanna chat over some tea?”
She wasn’t being insensitive or forgetful. That phrase has become the standard “let’s hang out” invitation, regardless of the actual beverage involved. Coffee culture in Vancouver is, after all, as much a part of the city’s make-up as yoga, sushi and loving/hating the Canucks.
Times are a-changin’, however, and what was old is once again new, as tea – that humble concoction of leaves steeped in hot water – makes a play for its portion of the city’s psyche.
“Tea, after water, is the number-one beverage drank globally,” says Reza Nasooti, tea sommelier and director of business development for Urban Tea Merchant. An exclusive retailer of the TWG brand of teas, which focus on ethically and organically grown teas with no pesticides, chemicals or artificial flavours, Urban Tea Merchant also has seen a rising interest in their afternoon tea service, which uses the teas to infuse the savoury and sweet food items.
“It’s a tea gastronomy experience,” explains Nasooti.
It’s an experience that is growing in demand, judging by the number of new spots that have opened in the last five years. The rapid expansion in the number of tea houses is just a small indicator of where the city’s palate is heading. Retailers like David’s Tea and Teavana first popularized tea on a mass scale, and their flavoured, fruit-forward teas have now become almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks coffees.
In the same way that Starbucks presaged the advent of more farmer-focused, single-origin coffees, like those championed by Stumptown, 49th Parallel and Third Wave, so have these tea chains been the means of bringing into focus places like Urban Tea Merchant, O5 Tea and Shaktea. The latter, which has been a Main Street institution since 2005, was one of the first places in Vancouver to source its teas directly from small-lot growers all over the world, focusing on estate-grown, fair trade and sustainable teas.
Keep reading about Vancouver's love affiar with tea in Anya Levykh's original article in the Westender.
Did you know Reza Nasooti is also an instructor in VCC's tea sommelier certificate program? Our students have gone on to work as consultants, importers, and hospitality workers.