Tea Travels

I have spent the last few days visiting my mom in Toronto.  And I have to say that every time I come here, it’s always interesting.  Starting with the border crossing and having Customs ask me why I do not move back to Canada, which they quoted “Is the Greatest Country in the World”.  Well it is an amazing place to learn about Culinary and Beverages.  I learned that a dozen eggs in Michigan is $0.49 while in Canada it’s $4.19.  I also learned a tremendous amount about the Canadian way of life.

First of all, I love Canada.  It’s where my parents moved my family from Jamaica in order to have a better life and education.  I grew up about 10 minutes from my mom’s apartment and drove through the old neighborhood looking at the schools I went to.  Its Fall up here and Canadian Thanksgiving is next week.  While it’s raining today, you can smell it in the air.  The leaves are turning creating a musty odor that for me is very comforting. So as I sit here and drink my tea, I want to share a story with you.

A few days ago, I went to visit my favorite Tea Shop in Canada called the House of Tea.  It’s located on Yonge Street in a suburb of Toronto.  On a whim a few years back, I was visiting mom and decided that I wanted to look at different tea shops.  While there are many options for purchasing tea, I’ve found that most of them carry the same brands.  While I like certain products, every now and then, I want to explore other options.  So I decided to get on the net and look up reviews on shops and found the House of Tea (http://houseoftea.ca/main/).

Parking in Toronto like every city is a challenge but was well worth it.  As I walked in to the shop, I don’t think I can put into words the sensory overload.  I believe that she carries close to 200 varieties.  Needless to say (and $400 later), I walked out with a sizable selection of teas figuring this will last a long time.  I was wrong as now I need to go and visit the shop every 3-4 months to refill.  The best part about the visit is that she always remembers me and the service is incredible.

Over the years, I have found quite a few favorites.  At my house, you can select from on average 25 types that I have on hand depending upon my mood.  This morning, I’m drinking a tea called China Snow Buds. Heating the filtered water at 90 C (sorry, that’s approximately 195F) and steeping the leaves for 2 minutes has completely awakened my taste buds.  For a quick breakdown:

  • The color is a light amber with hints of a light washed out brown sugar.
  • The aroma is complex with notes of green tea, very faint hints of wilted dried thyme, eucalyptus, with subtle notes of caramel, white pepper and sandalwood.
  • The mouthfeel is relaxed and soft, almost creamy. I take my tea plain, no milk and in this case no sweetener.
  • The taste is ever changing notes of green tea with hints of Applewood.

For anyone who has either taken a class with me or gone and had a beverage with me, you know that I do not get into flowery descriptions of anything like above.  I just tend to stay factual to explain and showcase what’s there.  Today it’s different.  As I write the above, I always ask the question of what to pair with this.  Hmmm…I’m thinking an Earl Grey, thyme infused shortbread cookie.  The Dare Ultimate Cinnamon Danish Cookies that I have are paring well but a bit too sweet.

I was recently reading a book on tea and one of the key points that struck me was this; tea, like any other beverage, really should be savored and enjoyed.  I know we consider it as fuel sometimes to get our caffeine shot after waking up or during the day.  However, sometimes I think we need to slow down and I have to thank the House of Tea for this.  Four years ago before discovering this shop, I would drink tea and other beverages and occasionally slow down.  Now, I slow down and drink beverages. It was a massive change in my outlook on life.  It has helped me become a better chef and sommelier since I now look at options and focus on making the best products each time.

I mentioned before that Canadian Thanksgiving is next week.  People are already getting spooled up similar to the US.  Turkeys and hams are filling the supermarket bins.  There are a lot of commercials for ingredients that you would use to make desserts. For the first time, I actually saw a commercial showing that it’s ok to open that can of cranberry sauce, slide it out of the can (and yes, it’s still shaped like the can with the ridges on the side and made that slurping sound) and eat it during dinner.  Growing up here, maybe the hustle and hype for the holiday was the same as the US.  It always just seemed crazy to me that the US ran around for Thanksgiving and then BOOM, we are into Christmas with Black Friday leading the way.

Let’s all take the time to enjoy families and explore beverages.  I highly recommend The House of Tea since I purchased new options that I have not tried before.  Each time I will make a cup and take a moment to relax savoring it.  Ladies and gentleman, it is nectar.  Factually, a cup of tea is really just leaves that someone around the world has picked, dried and packaged for sale. To me, it’s not just a cup anymore.  It’s a link to our economy to help others around the world.  It’s also a link directly to the soul of the people who made this.  That I cherish greatly since someone else has given my life a change for the better to relax and enjoy.

So today, let’s take a moment to relax.  Later as I go for a hike in the rain to see the leaves changing, I’m going to open a bottle of Cranberry Ginger Ale (only here for a limited time according to the display).  As I take a swig to see what it tastes like, who knows if I like it?  Maybe I will go back to stock up on some more before they run out.  It may not meet my taste profile at all.  But I’ll be surrounded by God’s beauty welcoming the Fall season.  Overall, that is what life should be about. 

For my Canadian friends, please have a safe, restful and joyous Happy Thanksgiving. 

@artofthepair