When we arrived in Vancouver, we went through the usual travellers’ ritual of trying to have a nap, and then staggering out in a jet-lagged haze to look about. Rolling downhill to 4th Street Kitsilano, the first commercial premises we entered was an amazing fruit and nut shop. Really amazing. We bought stuff.
The second stop our guide, Devotea Junior The Elder (or DJTE, the explanation is in this blog if you care) took us to was 05 Rare Tea and Kombucha Bar.
Over the next month, we visited o5 three times and had many teas. And many experiences, although, possibly, not enough of them.
I have tried Kombucha many times. Well, not many, as every time I tried it, the taste sat on the spectrum between vinegar-laced vomit and vomit-laden vinegar. And yet, from the moment I begrudgingly tried a couple of sample-sized er, samples of 05’s, I loved it. On later visits, I was ordering mugs of the stuff like a pro, quaffing it between steeps of whatever I was drinking.
05 have a process. You pick a tea, and they gong fu it. It doesn’t matter what it is, and so sometimes it was teas you’d expect that way, such as an excellent Ya Shi Xiang Dan Cong (yes, I know what that means). Sometimes it was teas that I would prepare in a pot. The only exception is matcha, where they break out the usual kit of chasen, chawan, kyusu, furui, chashaku, jiko manzoku and natsume.
The selection of gaiwans and cups is artfully mixed visually with stainless steel kettles and clean glass beakers to give the impression of a harmony between the ancient customs and the rigorous science of brewing tea, and they hit that mark 100%. On our third visit they were understaffed, over-customered and offered a long wait and a few missed orders as there are no shortcuts to their method. On top of that, the counter was starting to drown in used teaware, and they were having trouble finding clean cups and gaiwans. Even in that environment, they managed to display a precision, it looked like a lab after some heavy sciencing.
I can’t recount all the teas, because on each occasion, I drank too much. Despite becoming shamefully hooked on a dangerous recreational drug called “root beer” – even now I struggle at breakfast time without it – our month overseas was punctuated by my getting completely tea drunk on four or five occasions, and at least two of them were at 05. OK, let’s say three.
05 has a lot going for it. Excellent staff. They’ve assembled* a great collection of teas.
On our first visit, the owner was present, and he shared some new teas with us. We had a great chat. I really wish that had happened at a later visit where I had all of my mental facilities.
On one level, I loved 05, bless their earnestly hipsterish cotton socks. On another level, I felt something was missing.
Lady Devotea, as usual, saw the problem straight away. “Six hours drinking tea in that place, without a cake or even a biscuit.”
Her Ladyship, is of course, quite right. There’s nothing to nibble. In fact, on our previous visit to Canada, I had mentioned the complimentary, complementary biscuits in complimentary terms at a Calgary teashop that took exactly the opposite tack.
I think 05 is not perfect. It’s not near perfect. It’s OVER perfect. A tea shop that celebrates tea when it should be celebrating tea AND life.
The staff members were all great. We’d happily poach most of them if we set up a retail tea outlet in Vancouver. And like other Vancouver tea shops (Bayswater, Silk Road) they were very keen to tell you about other places to also have tea. I loved that about Vancouver.
One of the staff at 05 mentioned that his unofficial mentor was Daniel, who runs a Chinese tea Shop in Chinatown called “The Chinese Tea Shop”. We went past a few times on our visits and it was shut, but then on the last day, it wasn’t.
We looked about at this retail-only premises (i.e. no hot beverages) , stuffed with a great selection of teacups to buy (yes we did), scoops (yes we did), teapots (no room in suitcase) and tea (didn’t want to risk Australian Customs taking it from us) and after completing our purchases, Daniel asked us to sit and sample a pu’er of some description.
While we did, he told us stories of a visit to China by one of his customers (Short version: in Yixing a fool and lots of his money are soon parted for a mass produced teapot) and he poured us two cups each.
No more he said, because tea should not be consumed on an empty stomach, but with food.
A wise mentor indeed.
So, back to 05, let’s not call them over perfect. Let’s call them a packet of wafers away from perfect.
They are, however, an unmissable part of the Vancouver tea scene. If you only visit one tea shop in Vancouver, this is the one**
*If you think I should have said “curated” instead of “assembled”, smack yourself now.
**Only one? What’s wrong with you. Visit them all!