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 millennia 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
Monday–Saturday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Phone: 416 922 1226 and 888 401 6780
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.
Monday-Wednesday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Thursday-Friday: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Saturday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Sunday: 11:00 AM - 5:00 PM
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 bergamot 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.
Tsaa Tea Shop
Monday-Thursday: 9:00 AM - 9:00 PM
Friday-Sunday: 10:00 AM - 9:00 PM
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 Cinnamon 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.
Monday-Sunday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
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 states 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 to businesses across North America.
Monday-Saturday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Phone: 416 766 5425
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 a full-bodied, dark and malty cup. A full selection of tea accessories and gifts are also available, including teapots, tea cups, preserves and shortbreads.
Tao Tea Leaf
Monday-Friday: 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Saturday: 10:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Large silver pots covered with red paper and black titles line the main wall behind the counter. The huge amounts of tea and lack of seating can make this space a little overwhelming but the kind woman working behind the counter is friendly and willing to give advice on whatever tea you're looking to drink.
The owner has her tea sommelier certificate hung on the wall opposite the counter, so there is no doubt this woman knows her stuff. This shop is first and foremost a tea shop.
It's a small place with no washroom, and really good tea,
says customer Chris Johnson, explaining the atmosphere well. There is one little display of cookies, but the real star in this place is undoubtedly the tea.
You can buy hot or cold tea to go or bulk bags of tea to take home. The smallest bag is weighed out for $6.00, while one cup to go will cost you just under $4.00. The teas are delicious and the Ginger Green Tea I was recommended helped soothe my lingering cough. Definitely worth checking out if you're in the area!
Pluck Tea - Online Store
Phone: 1 416 882 7787
Since Pluck Tea is an online store, there wasn't a physical store we could photograph, but we visited Drake General Store, where they serve Pluck's tea on tap.
Collecting Red Rose Sculptures and mixing tea 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 much 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.