teALCHEMY Pop Up Shop

1If you are in Toronto between now and June 17th make sure you check out the teALCHEMY pop up shop. teALCHEMY carries a curated menu of teas that represent a variety of flavors and tea growing regions, as well as a culinary line of tea powders for baking and cooking. They are primarily an online retailer and this pop up shop is a great opportunity to experience their product in person before purchasing.  

I stopped into the shop a few days ago and was greeted by the friendly staff with samples of Cherry Rose Rooibos tea, which they were also offering as iced teas to go. I was immediately impressed with how fantastic the product looked in the space. The store, which used to be a Nine West shoe store underwent minimal changes for the pop up but looked as though the space was designed just for them.

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I was lucky enough to be given a tour of the space by owner Lynda Budd, who started the company in 2012 as a result of her love of tea and travel. Lynda showed me all the products that they offer but also shared some more personal stories, like that of her grandmother’s 100 year old tea pot and spoon collection featured in the shop window.

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If you do stop by the shop be prepared to walk out with some new tea for your collection. I bought some goodies including: Dung Ti Oolong and Double Black Diamond. I was also generously given some Iron Goddess Oolong and a glass travel mug in exchange for an impromptu photo shoot of my tea pot and teacup tattoos.

teALCHEMY’s shop is located in Toronto’s Yorkville at 93 Bloor Street W., open Monday – Friday (10AM-8PM) and Saturday-Sunday (11AM-6PM).

Afternoon Tea: T-Buds

Last week i took my friend Jesse Wanagas for her first ever afternoon tea. We went to T-Buds, a tea lounge located in midtown Toronto. T-Buds describes themselves as “A space for discovering taste and rejuvenating your senses. We want to make tea an intimate experience and infuse you with a sense of well-being and peace.”

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T-Buds has a different feel then you would expect when going for afternoon tea. The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable, with red and black club chairs and simple plain white place settings. Although the large chairs take up a lot of room and look a bit out of place they do make you feel cozy while you sip your tea and chat with your friends.

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As an alternative to their traditional afternoon tea, they also offer a chocolate afternoon tea featuring a selection of chocolaty treats and chocolate blended teas. Also offered is a full menu of crepes, sandwiches, mains and even brunch. I had been to T-Buds once before and enjoyed the chocolate afternoon tea, but in honour of Jesse’s first time we both decided to go with the classic.

The afternoon tea costs $29, this is very reasonably priced in comparison to other places in the city. We first received a mini quiche and caprese salad; though I am not usually a fan of quiche, it was delicious and it ended up being one of my favourite parts of the meal. Next came a selection of tea sandwiches; I am a vegetarian, and so, I asked for no meat or fish, the sandwiches I received included: cucumber and watercress with creamed cheese, marinated beetroot and crunchy carrot, and my favorite cheddar cheese with sun dried tomatoes. All of the sandwiches were tasty and fresh.

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Two scones were included, a regular scone and a blueberry scone. The scones were warm, flaky and delicious, but I did miss the traditional clotted cream that scones often come with, instead they came with creme mascarpone. Also included was fresh fruit, macarons, a lemon meringue tart and a chocolate brownie.  

The large selection of tea surprised me considering they are not a large restaurant. They have options for everyone with many straight or flavored teas to choose from. I decided on the “Oolong Honey Orchid Buds” and enjoyed it a lot. The tea was smooth and slightly floral with sweet honey like notes.

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I have already been back to T-Buds once since, having afternoon tea, and will definitely go back again. The staff is friendly and accommodating. I was very happy with the variety of vegetarian options that were available, I have found that this can be a bit of an issue when going for afternoon tea at some restaurants. This is a great place to sip tea and chat with friends.

TEAview: Charcoal Roasted Oolong

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At this year’s Toronto Tea Festival I picked up a pouch of Alishan Charcoal Roasted Oolong from Genuine Tea. I am a fan of darker oxidized oolong teas and this one boasted a strong smoky flavour and caramelized sweetness. This award winning oolong tea grows on the famous Ali mountain in Taiwan at an elevation of 2000m.  Genuine Tea sell this for $12 for 25 grams, it is on sale right now for $9 so if you are interested in giving it a try now is a good time.

This tea is a GABA tea, this stands for Gamma Amino Butyric Acid. GABA teas are exposed to nitrogen instead of oxygen during the oxidation process, as a result they accumulate GABA in the leaves. You may be asking yourself “what is GABA?”, just as I was a few moments ago. GABA is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. In the brain it inhibits nerve transmission, this calms nervous activity. Some people take GABA as a supplement and believe that it has many benefits to it, some of these proposed benefits include: reducing high blood pressure, relieving stress and anxiety, increasing mental alertness and energy levels and many many more.

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I opened the package to find tightly rolled leaves, mostly uniform in size and color. The smokey smell coming from the dry leaves already very strong, I knew that the steeped liquor was going to have a powerful flavor.

To steep I reached for my gaiwan (a Chinese vessel for infusing tea leaves, consisting of a bowl with lid and saucer). I did 9 steepings at 195o Fahrenheit (90o Celsius), starting with 45 seconds for the first infusion and adding 15 seconds for each following infusion. The next day I steeped this tea again this time using the small tea pot shown in these photos.

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The first cup had a very strong toasted roasty flavor, it was earthy, smooth and creamy with notes or charcoal, nuts and sweetness. The smokey flavors started to mellow around the 4th steeping, the nutty sweet flavors became slightly less prominent and I could now taste some floral notes starting to emerge. This point was my favorite in the steepings, I enjoyed the mix of the nutty and floral flavors with the smokey flavor now more subtle but still clear in the background.

I enjoyed this tea a lot though it is not a tea that I would drink on a daily basis. Because this tea has such comforting flavors I would reach for this tea on days that I need something special to help me relax and recharge.