I’m always up for checking out new tea stores, so whenever I visit Ottawa, I also visit a tea shop outside of my usual stomping grounds: World of Tea.
I first visited in late 2015 while attending Can-Con, and came back last month while attending a professional conference in the city. These photos are a bit old, but the tea I tasted on my first visit was wonderful, and I’d like to tell you in general about how awesome this store is.
World of Tea opened its doors in 2009, though it only moved to its current location on Bank St in March 2015. The owners are Jean LaRochelle and Li Ji, a husband-and-wife team who have both studied tea history and culture in Hangzhou – the city that is also the home of the National Museum of Tea.
Like many high-quality tea vendors, World of Tea goes straight to the source for their stock: the farmers and wholesalers themselves. Every year they go on a trip in the spring to China, India, Japan, and Taiwan to taste tea directly from their vendors right after the spring harvest, and are usually back in Canada before the beginning of June. However, this changes from year to year depending on seasonal weather patterns. Knowing that they are so hands-on with their stock makes me feel like I’m in the right hands when it comes to good tea.
Jean is tall and rangy, with a nimbus of white hair around his head and a long, thin face with a wisp of a beard. Li Ji is shorter, but has kind eyes set in a diamond-shaped face surrounded by shining black hair. It’s a pleasure to see them serving customers as they come in — Jean effortlessly switches between English, French, and Mandarin when talking to customers and coordinating wares with Li Ji.
The walls of World of Tea are also a pleasure to see — the left-hand wall and the back of the store are lined with shelves; each alcove houses a large tin of tea from which the owners portion out loose-leaf into individual zip-lock bags. The right-hand wall has similar shelves, but they’re lined instead with teaware ranging from yixing pots to gaiwans, kyusu pots, and matcha whisks, plus scoops, cups, and filters/strainers.
Seriously, look at this stuff! I was swooning on the inside.
A few days before my first visit in 2015, I contacted the store ahead of time to say that I was interested in visiting and trying some of their teas, and would that be alright? Yes, they said, I was more than welcome to visit. And how! When I came in they were prepared — Jean had a miniature tea-tour and tasting all planned out! He also told me that he visited Books & Tea beforehand to determine what teas to serve. (Long story short: no Da Hong Pao.)
However, before the tasting, he pulled a variety of white, green, oolong, and black teas off the shelves for me to look at and smell. First off was a variety of silver buds harvested in early spring with a delicate green cast to them. Next was some Yue Guang Bai, a white tea with delicate fruity notes of apricot, and a third white tea that was even more fragrant.
Then came the green teas: Long Jing Dafo; their award-winning Sencha Maroyaka, which had a soft scent of hay and seaweed; Sencha Uji; Feng Gang, a tea grown at an 1200 metres that I really enjoyed the nutty smell of; and Chun Hao, a tea with long, glossy, spindly leaves that had notes of camphor.
After the green teas, Jean brought out some oolongs, and noted in particular their Rou Gui, which, he told me, was roasted with lychee wood. (!) Finally, he brought out their black teas, with a special focus on their Hong Mao Feng, which smelled richly of malt and chocolate.
I was already pretty bewitched by the tea fairies at this point, but then Jean unveiled the coup de grace: he had a tea tasting session all planned out for me! We then walked over to this beauty of a tea table: a massive, branched hunk of wood polished to a high gloss, with various nooks and crannies and flat surfaces for tea serving.
The most important thing I learned from this session is that I’ve been brewing white tea all wrong. Jean placed a generous amount of leaf in his gaiwan (much more than I normally have tried at home) and let it steep in the hot water for at least 20 seconds — possibly even longer than 30 seconds, though I didn’t keep track of the time. The resulting liquid was a deep golden yellow and had what he characterized as an “unctuous” mouthfeel. It was intensely fruity, and when I smelled the gaiwan lid afterwards, I detected notes of strawberry, hay, and fruit leather. Heavenly! This was a revelation after months, if not a year or two, of thinking that white tea was just delicately-scented water that wasn’t worth my time.
Next was the Rou Gui oolong, of which we had two steeps. Surprisingly, Jean didn’t rinse this oolong, but he said that he never rinses ones from the particular region this tea was sourced from. The resulting liquid was a rich, clear garnet. Despite my expectations, the tea was smooth and mellow, with hints of cinnamon. I also tasted a maltiness that reminded me of sesame.
The final tea was the Hong Mao Feng, and he saved a surprise bit of info for the end: although it’s a black tea, it’s made using the Tie Guan Yin cultivar! I’ve had several Tie Guan Yins on this blog already, but never one that was so heavily oxidized. It was incredibly smooth — malt and chocolate, with a hint of roastiness at the back of my mouth.
After our impromptu tasting session, I started to pack up because I had to head back to the hotel for Can-Con, but not before I bought some of the Yue Guang Bai and some Mang Ga pu’erh. Jean even gave me a dried mandarin stuffed with ripe pu’erh — a very generous gesture, considering that ripe pu’erh was the drink that initially served as his gateway to the world of tea. All the while, he was taking even more teas off the shelves for me to smell, and I consider myself very lucky that I resisted further temptation; their lapsang souchong was calling out my name.
However, I didn’t resist temptation for too long: I came back the very next day and bought a tiny, delicate gaiwan made of porcelain and painted with blue and red flowers. I look forward to steeping some white teas and oolongs in it soon.
Overall, visiting World of Tea in Ottawa is a delightful experience — the owners are incredibly knowledgeable about the tea industry and the wares they keep in stock, and their store is a must-see for any tea afficionados in the Ottawa/Gatineau area.