Fits to a Tea: Victorians have a love affair with one of the world’s most popular drinks
Where to find luxurious, historic teas and cakes in the Garden City
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Where to find luxurious, historic teas and cakes in the Garden City
As Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver once wrote, "We need beauty because it makes us ache to be worthy of it."
Tea has a similar hold on us. Tea has the potential to create a desire within us that is so potent, we cannot get enough. Tea has dominated our palate for centuries.
There are several reasons why this is so.
Consider first, tea, for all its complex blends, is simple to prepare. Just add hot water. The range of flavour, the smell of cured leaves, the blending, the steeping, the cups from which we drink, the gardens and tea rooms from where we sip, the lift of clarity and well-being teas bring us. Tea is seductive.
The tea trade has defined our history and penetrated our routines to the extent where tea is part of our every day, here and around the world.
Tea has mass appeal in Greater Victoria. Go luxe and spend a lot, or go bargain and spend a little. You can have a super fine tea experience or a humble one.
Currently, infused tea drinks are the rage, as is cooking with tea, and even making cocktails with tea. Tea is everywhere. It’s in fragrances and beauty creams. Evening tea, anyone?
And the health benefits are a big driver. Research suggests drinking two-to-three cups of tea per day can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and premature death, says Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Drinking black, green or oolong tea may offer some protection from cardiovascular disease and cancer, lead to reduced risk of kidney stones, and strengthen bones, teeth and the immune system,” according to the The Tea and Herbal Association of Canada.
“There is unequivocal evidence that tea as a lifestyle factor can impact health,” says Dr. Carol Greenwood, Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto. She recommends we all drink tea every day.
The first recording of tea was in third-century China, where it was described as a medicinal beverage. Popular with monks who worked the gardens, tea was valued for its ability to refresh the body and lift the spirit.
And these days, you can get a tea education, become a tea master or a tea sommelier, learn how to run a tea business and blend teas that mark special places and major events, such as the coronation of a king.
Fun with family, relaxing with friends, or perhaps a table for one, here are four places that serve high-quality teas alongside a rich experience worthy of anyone in need of serious beauty.
Silk Road Tea Store
Daniela Cubelic, chief tea ambassador and founder of Silk Road Tea Store, has loved tea since she was a child.
In fact, her first memory was of being in her crib and looking up at her baby bottle. “It was filled with this sparkly liquid that I loved, that made me feel good,” she recalls. This particular bottle held a tea remedy created by her grandmother, an herbalist, to help soothe her cold symptoms.
Such early experiences with tea would play a role in guiding her toward building a business made of tea and helping others enjoy its many benefits.
“Tea became my sanctuary at an early age,” says Daniela. “It created a feeling of peace and tranquility, which I craved. I was drawn to the rituals and remedies and how the simple act of sharing a soothing cup of tea could do wonders for myself and others.”
Today, over and above managing the steady demand for her extensive library of tea leaves, products and tea knowledge, she offers tips online on all manner of things. Did you know drinking tea or tea products can help keep you “cool and calm”?
“Lately, I’m seeing more clients who talk about their challenges in dealing with anxiety. Turns out many have a heightened sensitivity to caffeine,” says the acclaimed Tea Master.
Stress, frequency and dosage are the culprits, she says, because we become more sensitive to caffeine as we age. “Too much too frequently over time, plus stress, can lead to an overstimulated system with a rapid heart rate.”
The caffeine in tea is different from that of coffee, she explains. Also, the caffeine is released more slowly in tea. Research proves it, she says. “Which explains the gradual lift we feel after drinking tea.”
Daniela often talks with her customers and studies consumer behaviour. She explains how more people are seeking alcohol-free alternatives, leading to growth in tea-based mocktails or tea cocktails with less alcohol.
“Parents are also looking for advice around tea for their kids who struggle with sleep and anxiety.”
There’s also a rising trend in those seeking novel experiences to engage and connect with other people, noting the return of afternoon tea visits. “People want tasty, low-to-no sugar drinks for a variety of social and health-related reasons.”
As Daniela explains the health benefits of tea—comparing black and green teas, what happens if you add milk, the properties that lead to circulatory benefits—it’s apparent her knowledge is extensive, current and fact-based.
And just as the monasteries of Japan and China upheld historic rituals where tea was a daily tonic, she suggests anyone can create their own tea ritual at home. “Especially if your work happens there.”
Having established a store that reads like a sanctuary—quiet, mildly fragrant, mystical, calming—she understands the environment she has created and how that impacts her customers.
“It’s been a natural process and the store is a natural environment that stems from that,” she explains. This is where people seek her advice on how tea can improve their health and nurture the soul.
Many customers continue to question their values, she says, and long for a better life in this stressful post-pandemic era. She encourages the idea of finding non-productive time with a healthy cup of tea that doubles as a yummy treat.
“Consider making yourself a cup of Angelwater,” says Daniela. “It’s one of our most popular and beloved blends with gentle mint and floral notes. Add a splash of oat milk, a few drops of maple syrup and one teaspoon of cocoa powder. Shake it over ice and pour into a tall glass to sip when you feel like having a cool summer treat that’s good for you.”
The Butchart Gardens
Those looking for one of the finest tea experiences in Victoria will likely find themselves at The Butchart Gardens. The executive chef works with a local company to develop blends for their line of five signature teas. These teas are offered to guests in what was once the Butchart family dining room that still boasts a million-dollar view.
In 2004, The Butchart Gardens’ culinary team unveiled its own centennial tea, now a bestseller, with its light black tea blend of Darjeeling, black Hunan and gunpowder. In one sip, this tea replicates The Butchart Gardens’ first 100 years rather well, like a heavenly chorus with a bit of a bang.
The Butchart Gardens employs more than 200 people and welcomes more than one million visitors in a typical year.
Designated as a National Historic Site of Canada, the breathtaking gardens’ roots trace back to 1904 when Jennie and Robert Pim Butchart moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island to build a cement plant on a rich limestone deposit. By 1912, the limestone was almost gone, so Jennie designed and reworked the exhausted quarry with a small crew and horses.They hauled soil, turning a huge pit into a massive, breathtaking series of gardens that would become a much-loved public attraction.
Today, the gardens continue to evolve, welcoming guests from all over the world, who collectively consume “hundreds of thousands of cups” of exclusive Butchart Gardens teas each year.
The afternoon tea features flavour-packed dainties, light and not too sweet, prepared daily on site, including fresh bread. The kitchen is below the dining room with doors that open onto the gardens, so staff can enjoy the view along with everyone else.
The food and the service are exquisite and consistent. The scones, made with a clever touch of candied ginger served with whipped mascarpone and strawberry compote, are simply unforgettable. Paired with a cup of the centennial tea–that’s true harmony.
All staff hold a sense of deep commitment to Butchart Gardens and to the visitor experience. You can feel the love and devotion at every turn, from the daily cut bouquets of flowers throughout the family home to Jennie’s private gazebo to the stunning, extensive gardens and views so carefully measured and maintained. They even have their own water reservoir to irrigate the land.
Executive chef Travis Hansen has worked at The Butchart Gardens for 32 years. “I started as a student,” he smiles. Now married with kids, he talks of his career and menu with the enthusiasm of a new hire and the skill of a seasoned master. He adores this place, evident in the fine foods he presents–indicating his relationships with local farmers–and prepares it all with modern lifestyles in mind. The menu, like the gardens, changes with the seasons.
While longevity may be the secret keystone that holds this family-owned and operated business in place—one recently retired gardener worked there for 60 years—there is considerable thought and consideration for the visitor. Everyone loves the Rose Carousel, open daily. During the summer you can enjoy concerts and dramatic night lighting that shows off the gardens in a different way. There are fireworks on Saturday nights.
Evidence suggests the folks at Butchart Gardens get it right every time. People keep coming back—it appears one round of tea and a tour of these gardens just isn’t enough.
Rudi’s Tea Room
For those who treasure a less formal but no less perfect cup of tea, surrounded by extensive gardens (and gardeners) plus an ocean view, there’s Rudi’s Tea Room. You’ll find this gem nestled within Butterworth Cottage at the Cary Castle Mews on the south side of the Government House 14.6-hectare estate.
Rudi’s Tea Room is more of a cozy, humble café than a traditional tea room, says Rachel Rilkoff, a communications officer, who has worked at Government House for seven years.
They don’t serve high tea, however, they have their very own special blends of Murchie’s Teas, including Government House blend and Rudi’s Signature blend. Rudi’s features a modest yet toothsome menu with delicious salads, house-made soups and sandwiches (featuring slow-roasted meats, prepared on site), carrot cake made with lavender and navy rum-soaked raisins, berry tarts and scones–all prepared with edibles from the Government House gardens, fruit trees and beehives.
The café is named in honour of Rudolph (Rudi) Hoenson, a philanthropist and patron who was quite fond of this place. Rudi was born in the Netherlands and moved to Indonesia with his family. He was taken prisoner during the Second World War for three-and-a-half years. He also survived the Nagasaki nuclear bombing attack in 1945. Fortune would smile on him later in life when he arrived in Calgary and invested in the oil sector. Rudi would give a hearty portion of his windfall to veteran’s hospitals across BC, earning him a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation for his generosity, along with naming rights to this much-loved tea house.
Café staff are volunteers, mostly retirees with the Friends of Government House Gardens Society. The 400 strong tend to the gardens and assist with other duties. When the café closed for two years during the pandemic, tea room manager Naz and the volunteers maintained a thriving take-out service.
The Hon. Janet Austin, BC’s lieutenant governor, is also known for sharing tea when meeting with guests or staff.
“‘Let’s have tea’ means ‘let’s have a meeting’,” says Jerymy Brownridge, executive director of Government House and Austin’s private secretary, in a 2022 Tea and Gardens community video series.
“Tea plays a big role at Government House,” he explains. From community events to the annual long service awards dinner for public servants, tea is ever-present. When a special guest or diplomat visits, their parting gift is tea.
Brownridge says there’s a certain significance behind the tea service at Government House. He points out that in an average year the lieutenant governor meets with 88 consuls general–diplomats who reside in BC and represent their country’s trade interests. Tea is always served at these meetings, says Brownridge, and is always welcomed.
“We invite people in for tea to meet and converse about business matters. Tea has a different meaning to us. It’s not just British, it’s universal. It can help bridge cultural gaps.”
Anyone can host an event at Government House, defined as “the ceremonial home of all British Columbians.” Anyone can submit a request for the lieutenant governor to attend their events, too. If you wish to learn more about the house, sign up for a Saturday tour.
Government House is also where the Royal Family stays when visiting Victoria. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip stayed there five times. The Prince and Princess of Wales visited once, along with two of their three children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte.
July is packed with events at the estate, including Music on the Lawn concerts and Government House Gardenfest, a free, family-friendly garden party on July 28 from 2 to 5 pm.
“People enjoy being treated well in such a beautiful place,” says Rilkoff. “We just want to make sure they have a wonderful memory.”
Rilkoff noted a similar experience to Rudi’s can be enjoyed at the BC Legislature dining room, another beautiful place in Victoria open to the public that serves, among other things, fine teas.
It’s not an uncommon sight to see a lineup of people trailing outside Murchie’s Teas on Government Street in Victoria. The wait is worth it as most everyone around here knows these teas and coffees and cakes are all so very good all the time.
Murchie’s Teas is Canada’s oldest tea shop and one of the country’s oldest tea and coffee import businesses. It was founded in 1894 by John Raith Murchie, who was born on the Isle of Arran, Scotland.
Murchie learned about the tea business at an early age and came to understand exactly why tea consumption thrived in his homeland.
As a boy, Murchie worked as a servant to Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle. Murchie paid attention to the Queen’s favourite teas and tried his hand at blending teas of his own. He went on to work with Melrose Teas of Edinburgh, among the largest importing tea companies in Britain. Here, his understanding of the tea business escalated as he envisioned a career on par with another famous Scottish tea importer, Sir Thomas Lipton.
Many Scots who re-settled in Canada in the early 1900s remained dedicated to Britain and were known as United Empire Loyalists. They held onto their heritage well into the 20th century as clan societies. We still see their Highland Games played here, as clans compete against one another in their signature tartan kilts.
All the while, Murchie continued blending teas–he made a name for himself by doing the unthinkable, blending green and black teas–and kept track of his work in a blend book. That book was passed down for generations, and copies eventually were sold in stores. A customer could select a special blend from the book, with a one-lb. minimum purchase, or they could hire John Murchie to custom design a blend of their own.
In and among Murchie’s library of trademark and custom tea blends is the Empress Afternoon tea blended exclusively for high tea at the glorious Empress Hotel, nestled nearby overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Of considerable interest, however, is this rare detail about John Murchie’s influence on consumers that occurred long after he died.
The Tuck School of Business in Hanover, NH, published a brief article (undated) on how ‘three atypical businessmen’ started Starbucks in Seattle back in 1971. One of them was Gordon Bowker, a graduate of Tuck, who was known to make the three-hour drive from Seattle to Vancouver just to buy Murchie’s coffee.
“While travelling back from one of these trips, Bowker had the idea of opening up a coffee store in Seattle. Baldwin loved the idea, as did Bowker’s neighbor Zev Siegl, and Starbucks was born.”
After more than a century of dominating the coffee and tea import business, Murchie’s was forced into receivership in 2007. The company was purchased by Belmont Management, a Victoria-based property management firm. They made some changes, such as redesigning the packaging, and made significant investments–including adding more locations–and the 129-year-old Canadian owned-and-operated Murchie’s Teas continues to flourish.
Still importing the world's finest teas and coffee in raw form, Murchie’s ships this precious cargo to a production facility in Delta, BC. There, 25 different kinds of coffee beans are roasted and 130 varieties of teas are blended, packaged and delivered to their eight stores in Vancouver and Victoria.
Among those teas is one of Murchie’s most popular and most dated blends, first prepared in the 19th century to honour Queen Victoria. The rich and fruity Darjeeling and Ceylon flavours are unmistakable, followed by the smoky elements of Lapsang Souchong and the sweet fragrance of jasmine.
As the story goes, this was Queen Victoria’s favourite.