If you read yesterday’s blog (and if not, why not. What’s wrong with you?) you’ll know we left the Oolong Tea Shop very impressed. In fact, I left it believing it to be probably Calgary’s finest tea shop, and so, having business nearby, Lady Devotea and I decided to walk a few blocks and revisit the following afternoon.
We had walked for ten minutes and could see it. We were just a minute and a half away when the phone rang.
It wasn’t a dramatic phone call, not UNESCO calling to ask me to solve a tea dilemma or some world leader calling for some one-on-one tea coaching so as to not look ignorant at the G20 meeting, just a family call. But when one takes a call on a busy street, it’s often wise to duck into a quiet alley, doorway or niche in order to hear. As the call was for Lady D, I handed her the phone and we took a sideways step into a little alley that appeared beside us.
I know that diversions into unexpected alleys usually result in transportation to magical lands in fiction, so I had a quick check about for talking lions, lands of eternal winter or shops full of wizarding supplies, but failed to notice at first what Lady D was gesturing at: a large sign saying “TEA”.
I gave her the international hand signal for “I’ll check it out, and if it isn’t any good we can stick to the original plan” and sallied forth to do so.
Into The Naked Leaf.
The first thing I saw was the wall.
Well, it was kinda hard to miss.
I popped my head outside, gave Lady D the international hand signal for “We absolutely HAVE to have tea here” and returned inside.
The wall was composed of brightly coloured tins, and those magnetic spice holders that you normally see stuck to people’s refrigerator doors in clusters of 4 or 5. Here were a lot more.
I got talking to Jonathon, who owns the place, and we found we had not dissimilar tastes. In particular, I was drawn to a Taiwanese Black, Red Jade 18, which was redolent of the Ruby Red 18 which was the subject of my favourite ever of my own blog posts.
I had that, and Lady D had a Thurbo Oriental Moon from Darjeeling.
Mine was delicious, Lady D’s even more so. I then ordered a maple-flavoured Pai Mu Tan (Bai Mu Dan) for the hell of it. This is Canada, eh?
One of Jonathon’s brilliant innovations is he gets local artists to decorate his tins. When a picture is chosen, he prints 100 tins, no more. All the tins you see in the photo are tins that are no longer available. Needless to say, we bought a tin from his current crop and had it filled with his bizarrely titled “Too Good For A Name” blend.
The Naked Leaf does teaware, tea, and hot tea. Nothing else. Rather than sell you food, you get a little plate of biscuits with your tea. No coffee, no cake.
When I look at The Naked Leaf, I realise that it combines elements of all the tea shops we’ve been in over the last few days. It has the uncluttered layout of Communitea, the size of range of David’s tea and the expertise of the Banff Tea Co, the commitment to serving you a fine cup of tea that The Oolong Tea House has. The level of friendliness and service has been pretty universal in Canada, and it’s the same here, but it’s all wrapped up with some quirky individual features, such as the exquisite leaf design tea cups your tea is served in.
As an industry, we need chintzy tea rooms where you get scones and a choice of five teas. We need cafe-style eateries where tea is done well. We need places where you can pay way too much for a shiny china teapot and a bag of forty-seven fruits in a tea-free infusion.
We most definitely need places like Oolong Tea House where earnest young men with earnestly trimmed beards and earnest young ladies inexplicably wearing earnestly crocheted berets can converse earnestly over a cup of earnestly prepared pumpkin and pomegranate green tea.
But I need this. The treasure trove of teas, the familiar names, the intelligent discussion, the joy of new tea friends.
It comes down to two tea shops; a half a block apart. Both of them are class acts who any town should be proud to have. One of them is the best tea shop in Calgary (so far).
Which one is the best? It depends on who you are, and where you are on your tea journey. Our international circle of friends, I suspect, would favour The Naked Leaf. Our kids, who are in their 20s, would favour Oolong Tea House.
It’s tempting to suggest that Oolong Tea House is a Tea High School, and that The Naked Leaf is a Tea College. but that’s not quite the right analogy. Neither is it a schism, like Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader. There is no dark side here -you’ll find that in supermarkets.
Perhaps here’s what’s important: if we only get one more hour to spend in a tea shop before we leave Calgary, my preference would be to spend it in The Naked Leaf.
Unless we have a tea drinking companion in a crochet beret.