The Good, The Sad and The Figly

With lots to do in Vancouver, our approach to tea shops has mostly been to just find them while walking past and drop in.

On a recent walk we came across two that were totally different and loved them both.

We were vaguely searching for Neverland Tea Salon when we stumbled across Bayswater Tea Co just a few doors to the east of it, and it was well worthy of stumbling upon.

It was our sort of place. Literally.

Not only was it the sort of place we like to visit, but when we had our own physical tea shop in  Adelaide a decade ago, we had a similar range, arranged a similar way, with a similar range of additional herbs. Swap the jars we had for the tins Bayswater have and it’s eerily similar.

And it doesn’t end there. One of their range is “Samovar Black Tea”. How many tea companies in the western world have a blend specifically for a samovar? I make it two that I know of, being The Devotea and Bayswater. I had a good sniff and theirs certainly shares some notes with our own Persian Princess.

This is a totally traditional tea store of the apothecary type, dispensing goodness by the pound (Canada for some reason is only 95% metric). They do serve their teas hot to take away, but mostly it’s about stocking up.

We bought a delightful tin and had it filled with a black tea with Figs and Cherries in it. Yes, Figs – one of my absolute favourite fruits and cherries – one of my other absolute favourite fruits. Lady Devotea is also a fan of both.

The young lady serving in the shop that day was delightful and knowledgeable. Bayswater is, in my not in any way humble opinion, close to faultless.

In our accommodation over the next four days, we started each day with huge pottery mugs, at least half a litre each, of Bayswater Cherry Fig. Believe me, we’ll be taking an empty tin back home when we leave these fair shores.

This entire blog post has been written to the accompaniment of this figgy, fruity delight over three mornings.

But one must eventually tear oneself from even the best tea shops, and thus we did.

Happily, a few doors west, we found Neverland.

Neverland Tea Salon is primarily an afternoon tea venue. However, their charming, lush decor and stunning looking food (we didn’t partake of any) was supported by a vast array of worthwhile tea options.

And partake of those, we did.

Lady Devotea ordered a spearmint/cocoa nib and black tea concoction called “Take Me To Neverland” This was a spectacular choice. Like a soft after dinner mint had been melted into an Assam. Wilfully and lasciviously.

I went for “Rhu-long” which was described (and priced) as a premium tea and according to the notes was an Oolong from Taiwan with rhubarb notes.

According to our incredibly pleasant server, it was his favourite.

He must be a rhubarbophile.

It tasted of rhubarb. Not oolong. Not tea of any kind. It tasted like hot water that had been vigorously stirred with rhubarb.

I did tell the server that I wasn’t a fan, and he kindly explained that oolong is an acquired taste. I did explain that I had previously acquired it.  I decided not to explain that there was no chance of acquiring it though rhubarb water.

It was also strangely filling. I had one small tea cup and felt like I’d drunk a gallon. After that I simply swiped a bit of Lady Devotea’s wonderbrew and it made me happy.

Our server, bless him, offered me a cup of the tea Lady Devotea had wisely selected, to take away with me, on the house. I couldn’t fit it in, and in the end he pressed two samples of it upon us. These disappeared into Lady Devotea’s handbag, and when you get to the next part of this story, you’ll see what a great idea that truly was.

I am in awe of Neverland: well run and high quality. It was unfortunate that I picked one tea from the fifty or so that I happened not to like – I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t thrill me. I do like rhubarb, after all.

I was also aware that I would rather have been trying the tin of Cherry Fig tea that was also in Lady D’s handbag, from Bayswater.

Two days thereafter, we found ourselves in Stanley Park.

Unlike the Irish, who express their great love for their lush valleys and rolling hills by singing about how much they’d rather be in them from the dark recesses of Dublin pubs over a Guinness or twelve* , Canadians are very much to be found walking, jogging, kayaking and cycling through their abundant natural treasures, and Stanley Park turned out to be one of those treasures.

It’s pretty big, and after parking and wandering down to the delight known as the seawall, we consulted the map.

And there it was: “The Teahouse”. Let’s go there!

It was on the Western side of the park, we were on the east. To get there, we had to choose between a seven or eight kilometre stroll around the seawall, or cut straight through the middle.

The middle seemed a lot quicker, although it did mean tackling some huge mountain ranges** and braving some savage beasts***, we elected to bravely face the rugged interior.

And so we went, facing the elements in newest chapter of the relentless battle of humanity versus nature that has forever been fought, and after much adversity, we did come upon “The Teahouse”. And there was much rejoicing.

By the time we were seated, the triumphant cries of victory were in danger of being supplanted by the cruel tears of irony, as it seemed we had achieved a Pyrrhic victory over adversity: to wit, the menu of “The Teahouse” featured no tea.

WHAT? WHAT? WHAAATTTTTTTT?

It turns out that someone, somewhere, thinks it is acceptable to call a place “The Teahouse” and not have tea on the menu. In fact, they do have an assortment of four or five teab*gs on offer, but they are too ashamed to even mention that on the menu. And whomsoever someone, somewhere happens to be, I hope they are an atheist because every major religion would consign them to hell/purgatory/the basement of Valhalla/inside the scrotum of Cthulhu for this blatant untannic****, Satanic  fraud.

What to do? “The Teahouse” is just part of a local chain of restaurants who trade great views in great locations for expensive food. While the servile server was wittering on about overpriced salmon, the rest of our party consigned themselves to fruit juice based mocktails.

But was I going to stand for this? NO! Time to take a stand!

Of course, I could have just overturned tables and set fire to the place, which is a quite reasoned and reasonable response, but I was determined to beat them fair and square.

I burrowed through Lady Devotea’s handbag and emerged with one of the “Take Me To Neverland” samples.

Returning smugly from another table with what was probably four orders for the damn salmon, I waylaid the waiter and bid him to fetch a teapot and cup, and hot water. I dumped the tea blend into the pot – it didn’t even have a spout filter, it was made for teab*gs – and by carefully applying a teaspoon to the spout, I produced an excellent cup of excellent tea. And then a second one for Lady D.

Though we triumphed over adversity on this occasion, it saddens me to think of how many people are lured to “The Teahouse” in the not unreasonable expectation of a decent cup of tea, only to have their hopes dashed, their hearts broken and their only recourse overpriced booze and the damn salmon.

Shame on them.

 


* A shocking use of a racial stereotype that I’ll remove at the slightest bit of evidence that it isn’t true

** Or “slight inclines” as those crazy Canadians call them

***Squirrels mainly. They have quite sharp teeth

**** I am angry enough to make up words

Robert Godden

Certified Tea Nutter. Blender. Author of "The Infusiast" and Tea "Stories"

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