Columnists / Food

Montreal tea stores honour an ancient tradition

Shen Nung, an early emperor and scientist, might have been one of the first people to enjoy tea. (Image  by Li Ung Bing)

Shen Nung, an early emperor and scientist, might have been one of the first people to enjoy tea. (Image by Li Ung Bing)

Tea, which is more than 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 wearing a kimono.

Perhaps one of the first Europeans to encounter tea and write about it was the Portuguese Jesuit Father Jasper de Cruz (in 1560). 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 of New Amsterdam, later renamed New York by the English. So now that it is here you can enjoy a cuppa from one of the places below:

At Camellia Sinensis, crisp stainless steel caddies 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, Nepal, Sri Lanka, etc.

To brew tea, there are hand-crafted teapots from China, Japan, Quebec, Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Russia. They import “tea cakes” called Pu-erh from the jungles of China and Vietnam. These are aged, and like wine—they can be aged for 100 years.

Camellia Sinensis offers tea school, which covers all aspects of tea—taste introduction and countries—enjoy the teas in their salon, or buy them all online.

351 Emery, 514-286-4002
Jean Talon market, 7010 Casgrain, 514-271-4002

“Tea cakes” called Pu-erh are aged, and like wine—they can be aged for 100 years. (Photo by Jason Fasi)

“Tea cakes” called Pu-erh are aged, and like wine—they can be aged for 100 years. (Photo by Jason Fasi)

The family that owns Un Amour du Thés will gladly teach you about the 200 varieties of tea in the shop, individually, in a group or at tea tastings. They scour the world (India, China, Japan, Kenya, Tanzania) to stock black, green and white teas and come up with some interesting others: How about “chocolate” tea, the anti-cholesterol pu-erh from Yunnan, the red rooibos (full of antioxidants) or formed teas that “bloom” in water.

1224 Bernard W., 514-279-2999
2888 du Cosmodome in Laval, 450-687-4999

Davids Tea is introducing tea to a younger audience. The teas here are creative mixes—like a popcorn-scented tea called Movie Night—that can be served iced, in martinis, and might be blended with fruit petals, flowers, dehydrated fruits and sweet flavours. They offer seasonal menus and special teas: blooming ones, herbal ayurvedic, mate, pu-erh, rooibos, the emperor’s white teas, wine tea, tisanes and limited edition ones.

1207 Mont-Royal E., 514-527-1117
5625 Paré, 514-739-0006
Fairview Pointe Claire, 514-697-3331
Carrefour Laval, 450-681-0776
257 St. Viateur W., 514-278-60200
Centre Eaton, 514-284-6060
4859 Sherbrooke W., 514-489-0404
Place Versailles, 514-493-9191

Do you have a favourite tea shop in the Montreal area? Use the comment box below to tell us about it.

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