Best Places to Buy Exotic Teas in Toronto

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An errant tea leaf falling into the boiled water of Chinese Emperor Shen Nung 5000 years ago began the world's love affair with tea. Many centuries later, we're still firmly under the sway of the leaves from the mighty Camellia sinensis (tea) bush. Here in Canada, we drink almost 10 billion cups of tea per year, and that figure is expected to rise 40 per cent by 2020. Talk about a happy accident all those millenia ago in China!

For such a Canadian drink staple, where would one find the very best tea leaves to buy here in Toronto? There are several establishments that offer up the finest selection and quality to tea-loving Torontonians.

House of Tea

Address: 1015 Yonge St. (at Roxborough St.) (or at Pusateris Toronto locations)
Website: houseoftea.ca
Hours: Monday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm,
Sunday from noon to 5pm

House of Tea Exterior

Importing loose teas to Toronto since 1997, this family run business started by Marisha and Michael Golla brings in over 280 tea varieties. Marishka worked for many years in the tea industry in Sri Lanka before coming to Canada. House of Tea does not use any preservatives, artificial additives, flavourings colourings or chemical enhancers in their teas. They also offer lovely teapots and mugs for sale in their storefront location.

Their Classic Christmas Blend tea sells well, a black tea with notes of almond, cinnamon, orange and vanilla. It retails for $12.95. So too is their Kelley offering, a package of two Japanese green teas, one with a berry flavour, the other with a mango infusion. Retail on this item is $29.95. House of Tea will come up with custom blends upon request. Usually 100 grams will cost you $10.95, but will vary with the tea selected.

Marisha Golla says their Earl Grey teas, of which they have six or seven varieties are highly sought after, as are their different green teas:

People have become quite health conscious and have discovered the benefits of green tea. We also offer rare Korean and Chinese green teas that are popular too.

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Pippins Tea

Address: 2098 Queen Street East
Website: pippinstea.com
Hours: Monday to Wednesday from 10am to 6pm,
Thursday and Friday from 10am to 7pm,
Saturday from 10am to 6pm,
and Sunday from 11am to 5pm

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Shah Emily Ruby, the Iranian Canadian entrepreneur and founder of 3SHAHS jewellery told us loves the wares at Pippins Tea. Originally being from a nation that has cultivated tea culture since the end of the 15th century, she has come to appreciate and become quite knowledgeable about many facets of tea. She enjoys the fruit varieties from Pippins Tea like Tropical Fruit Cocktail, Blueberry and Apple Strudel, as well as their green teas.

The owner Barbara says their most popular tea is their Cream Earl Grey:

Some of our customers refer to it as our 'crack' tea. While there are many shops that sell [their version] of Cream Earl Grey, we're told ours is the best. A smooth tea with vanilla overtones that stands out above the premium bergamont flavour. Our specialty tea would be the Gyokuro, a full flavoured green tea with light character, known to be one of the most expensive teas in Japan. It is still produced to the same exacting specifications that date back to Japan's Edo period [1603-1868].

Their teas retail for $5-$7 or more for 50 grams, depending on the variety. Pippins is located on Queen Street East, and was opened up by Barbara DeAngelis 12 years ago. In addition to offering a huge selection of loose leaf and bagged teas for sale, over 130 varieties, they also sell a wide and eclectic variety of tea accessories and household items in their gift shop.

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Tsaa Tea Shop

Address: 412 Danforth Avenue
Website: tsaateashop.com
Hours: Monday to Thursday from 9am to 9pm,
Friday to Sunday from 10am to 9pm.

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A family affair, Tsaa Tea Shop in Greektown on the Danforth, offers up over 125 loose leaf teas sourced from around the world. Hailing from the Philippines, the Ramos sisters, Luellie and Millicent, opened their doors in 2010 at 412 Danforth Avenue, and they've enjoyed 'tea'riffic success.

Tsaa translates as tea in Filipino, and the Ramoses would traditionally have a cup of tsaa after meals, to treat sickness, to celebrate or to enjoy time with loved ones. For the past six years, they've brought their love and expertise in tea to the people of Toronto. Flavours range from Cinammon spice, High Mountain Green, Citrus Gingko and many others. Their most popular tea, according to co-owner Luellie Ramos, is Turmeric Ginger;

It's really healthy, and we've had good reviews on it. It's a different combination of spices, a really unique blend, with turmeric, anise, ginger and others. People really love it. 

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Tealish

Address: 367 Roncesvalles Avenue
Website: tealish.com, rethinkwhatyoudrink.wordpress.com
Hours: Monday to Saturday 11am to 7pm,
and Sunday from noon to 5pm

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Working long hours in marketing has Ria Lupton a real taste for and admiration for tea. She finds and buys her tea leaves at Tealish on Roncessvalles Avenue. Since 2005, husband and wife team Michael Rachmel and Laura Chodola have been offering up over 100 loose leaf teas for sale.

Wanting to pass along their passion for loose leaf tea and teach others, Tealish has really been a labour of love. They source their wares from fair trade, high altitude estates from parts of the world like Japan, China, Sri Lanka and India.

In addition to the traditional teas, they also have a dizzying array of flavours and varieties. "It's hard to say," ponders co-owner Chodola, when asked what their most popular tea is:

Of our different collections, I'd say both our desert and wellness tea collections are doing well. They're both really quite popular, really fun items, and make a great gift idea.

You can buy 50 grams of tea for $6-$25 depending on the type. Ria's favourite is their Lemon Meringue flavour.....she finds it quite refreshing after a long day! They sell a good variety of tea accessories, including Beehouse, a brand of ceramic teapots from Japan. Recently, Tealish launched their tea lines in the wholesale market, making their wares available in businesses across North America.

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Say Tea

Address: 2362 Bloor St W
Website: sayteaonbloor.com
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10-6, Sunday 12-5

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Opening its doors the year that Terry Fox ran his Marathon of Hope and O'Canada became the official national anthem, Say Tea in Bloor West Village celebrates its 36th anniversary this year. 

Owned by Suzanne Piercey and located at 2362 Bloor Street W., they offer over 200 choices of tea, enough (and more) to suit any tea connoisseur. A visitor from the UK, who would know about tea, even called Say Tea "an Aladdin's cave of delight."

They sell their tea leaves for $5.95 for 55 grams (about 20 cups of tea) but the price may vary depending on the type of tea. Their newest tea is a blend of Assam black teas called Village at Midnight, which is full-bodied, dark and malty cup. A full selection of tea accessories and gifts are also available, including teapots, tea cups, preserves and shortbreads.

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SPECIAL MENTION:

Pluck Tea (Photos from Drake General Store)

Shop online or at Indigo, at the AGO, Rowe Farms or Drake General Store.
Website:pluckteas.com

Since Pluck Tea is an online store, there wasn't a physical store we could photograph, but the owners told us to try and visit Drake General Store, where they serve Pluck's tea on tap.

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Collecting Red Rose Sculptures and mixing the teas from Jennifer Commins grandmother's garden planted the seeds of an interest in tea that would flourish in the garden of her mind as the years went by. She founded Pluck Teas in 2012, after working in the design industry for many years. The name comes from a term used to measure quality in tea production, as traditionally teas were collected by hand-plucking and the crop is graded by its pluck. A certified tea sommelier and a member of the Tea Association of Canada, Commins works closely with local businesses to bring them the very best teas from around the world.

Pluck offers up many loose leaf teas, over 40 options, ranging from $8-$30. They include such flavours as Spadina Blend (with infusions of lychee, lemongrass, ginger and coconut), Movie Night (with a taste recalling fresh popcorn) and Smoky Maple. All their teas are blended freshly in small batches on a weekly basis. They also do custom blends for a myriad of clients like the Drake Hotel in Toronto. Mouth watering tea recipes also abound on the site; how about some Pluck Tea BBQ sauce, Muskoka Chai Nog or Lapsang Souchong Savoury Shortbreads? You'll find those and many more!

Commins finds that their Southbrook Berry blend tea is quite a big seller;

I would say it is our most popular, it features icewine grape skins in it. It's very unique, especially at this time of year, it's fantastic as an iced tea. It's one of our signature teas, dating back to the start of the company.

You can shop online, or at select retailers in the GTA like Indigo, the AGO (the Art Gallery of Ontario) and Rowe Farms or at the Drake General Store, where they sell it on tap.

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