It’s a veritable tempest in a teapot. Vancouver Island is brewing up a storm of innovations in tea, even to the point of growing tea bushes in the northern part of the Cowichan Valley. At the northern end of the Cowichan Valley, just north of Duncan, lies teafarm. This is the place where Victor Vesely and Margit Nelleman, for the past few years, have been growing herbs and flowers that they blend with fair trade and organic teas. But on the farm, they have now planted over 600 tea bushes, which are now starting to produce small amounts of tea leaves. Only the top shoots from each branch get harvested to make tea, although more robust leaves can be harvested for culinary uses.
Victor calls the plantings the ‘Tea Experiment’. It is to give people a better idea of how tea is grown, harvested and processed. He also believes there will be a distinct flavour that emerges from this Cowichan Tea, as they call it, because of the indigenous soils and climate conditions, the extremes from 38 degrees Celsius in the summer to minus 15 in the winter. And they can also use the leaves for culinary purposes, he says you can even slice these up and throw them in a stir-fry. A big part of the farm is giving people an experience in the world of tea through tastings and education.
While I was there Victor did a Moroccan-style mint tea ceremony for me, they have fantastic bushes of mint growing there, so freshly-picked mint, carefully steeped, a bit of sugar added to it and the pouring from a silver teapot from great height, it was a lot of fun. I tasted some other teas as well, and what I’ve become more aware of over the years is the amount of artificial flavours and additives that go into tea, and chemicals that are used in the bags and the packaging. TeaFarm is different, they don’t put any artificial flavours or colourings into their tea, and use all natural ingredients, so if they want to get something a vanilla flavour, they chop up whole vanilla beans to add in, for example.
But they are not the only tea company to take that attitude here on the island. Silk Road Tea here in Victoria has been using that same philosophy in tea for over 20 years now, and company founder Daniela Cubelic continues to innovate in that sustainable, organic direction. A few years ago she helped develop an ingenious new style of cup that easily brews loose-leaf tea with no fuss and no muss, and now Silk Road has just released the first of its teas that actually come in tea bags. Daniela told me she has been getting requests to have her tea available in bags for years, but it took her about 10 years to develop a bag that would meet her standards for quality, flavour and sustainability. The bag material is plant based, the label is not stapled on, so it is one hundred percent compostable. The pyramid shape gives lots of room for the tea to be brewed so the full flavour comes out. Many of the machines that are used for packing tea into bags actually damage the tea, so she has brought specialty machinery right here to Victoria to do the packing in their warehouse facility. So far they are putting ten of Silk Road’s most popular teas into bags.
If it does get hot again this summer, which I am sure it will, many of the teas from Silk Road and TeaFarm make excellent iced teas. Today I made iced tea from one of TeaFarm’s Chinese Zodiac blends, Dog; black assam tea with cardamom and vanilla bean, and then their Lemon-Ginger herbal infusion which has lemon grass, lemon balm, lemon verbena, ginger, lemon peel and calendula flowers. I added just a little bit of honey to each and a bit of lemon and orange juices to the Lemon-Ginger tea.