Tea is the new coffee. With its centuries of known healing properties and enjoyment, it’s about time that we North Americans figured it out.
Tea, which is over 5,000 years old, was possibly born in the Yunnan province of China. Legends mention Shen Nung, an early emperor and scientist, who ruled that all drinking water be boiled as a hygienic precaution. One day while traveling, his servants boiled water for him, and just then dried leaves from a nearby bush fell into the boiling water. The emperor drank the brown liquid and enjoyed it.
In 800, Lu Yu wrote “Ch’a Ching”, the first definitive book on tea. He diligently recorded the various methods of tea cultivation and preparation. Zen Buddhist missionaries later introduced his meticulous methods to imperial Japan. One missionary in particular, Yesei, had observed its use in religious ceremonies in China and appreciated its value, and there are records of his findings.
Tea was so highly thought of in Japan that the serving of it was elevated to an art form, resulting in the Japanese Tea Ceremony. While visiting Japan I was privy thrice to this exacting two hour ceremony while sitting on bended knees – once by a Buddhist Monk in a temple, once by a Canadian Tea Master and once in a private home while dressed in a kimono.
Besides me, perhaps one of the first Europeans to encounter tea and write about it was the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz (in 1560), and around that time a Dutchman named Jan Huygen van Linshoten visited Java. He wrote about his voyage to the East Indies in 1598 and mentioned “cha”, as it was called in Mandarin.
Around 1650 the Dutch under Peter Stuyvesant brought the first tea to America in the settlement Nieuw Amsterdam, later re-named New York by the English. So now that it is here you can enjoy it at one of the places below:
At Camellia Sinensis, crisp stainless steel boxes line the entire wall filled with white, yellow, black, oolong and green artisanal teas. Each of the four owners is a specialist in one kind, and they travel the world themselves to keep prices down (and quality up) by importing directly from China, Japan, India, Taiwan, etc.
To brew tea, there are hand-crafted teapots from China, Japan, Quebec, Germany Vietnam, Taiwan and Russia. They import “tea cakes” called Pu Er, from the jungles of China and Vietnam.These are aged and like wine can be aged for 100 years. Here they only carry cakes from as far back as the 1970’s.
You can go to tea school, which covers all aspects of tea – introduction to tastes and countries or you can imbibe in their tea salon. They have an extensive web site where you can learn and order the teas online wherever you are in the world.
Location: 351 rue Emery
corner: St. Denis
Other location: Marche Jean-Talon, 7010 Casgrain (514-271-4002)
Hours: Mon-Wed 11-6, Thurs & Fri 11-9, Sat 11-6, Sun 12-6
Un Amour des Thes is run by a family who will gladly teach you about the 200 varieties of tea in the shop, individually or in a group or at tea tastings. They scour the world (India, China, Japan, Kenya, Tanzania) to stock the black, green and white teas and come up with some interesting ones: how about “chocolate” tea, a Ceylonese black one with dark cocoa highlights, the red rooibos (full of antioxidants) or formed teas which “bloom”.
Locations: 1224 Bernard ouest Outremont 514-279-2999)
Hours: Tues-Fri 11-6, Sat 9-5, Sun 11-5
Other locations (longer hours): 5612 Monkland Ave. (514-482-2999); 781 Mont-Royal e. (514-369-2999); Laval, 2888 Du Cosmodome (450-687-4999).
David’s Tea is re-introducing tea to a whole younger audience. The teas here are creative mixes served iced, in martinis and blended with fruit petals, flowers, dehydrated fruits and lots of sweet flavors (vanilla, orange peel, dulche de leche, apple, caramel, mango, lemon zest, almonds, and even chocolate). They offer seasonal menus and special teas: blooming ones, herbal ayurvedic, mate, pu’erh, rooibos, the emperor’s white teas and limited edition ones.
Locations: 1207 Mont-Royal est at de la Roche (514-527-1117 ); 5625 Pare (514-739-0006); Fairveiw Pointe Claire (514-697-3331); Carrefour Laval (450-681-0776); 4859 Sherbrooke o.
Hours: Mon-Wed 10-10, Thurs-Sat 10-11(summer Mon-Wed 10-9:30, Thurs & Fri 10-10, Sat 10-8, Sun 10-7