I was invited down to “O5 Tea” to try their new collaboration with local French bakers, “A Toi”. Together, they have prepared small bites to pair with their specialty loose leaf teas. And not only was this a great experience, it really sold me on necessity of proper tea preparation.
Located on West 4th, this tea experience is worth travelling for. The salon is a tea bar on one side, with retail shelves on the opposite. It is designed with the Japanese aesthetic of minimalism and texture. Black wooden panels, fold out paper lanterns, simple dried flower arrangements, and fresh sprigs of green. You grab a seat at the bar that runs down the length of the space. Behind it stands three employees ready to talk tea and serve up pots of the steeped stuff.
Not only are you able to pick any tea they sell for a taste, but you can also sample one of their in house made, flavoured kombucha on tap. We started with the latter, sampling a taster that featured their one of their teas. The toasted green “hojicha kombucha” was fantastic. It tasted better than any other kombucha I have had to date. It didn’t drink like juice or vinegar. It had a good balance of effervescent-like soda and the distinct flavour of hojicha, a nice aftertaste that lingered and got our appetites going for the below.
The pastries are prepared ahead of time by “A Toi Gourmet Gifts”, made featuring a tea from “O5”. Its leaves and the flavour of the tea featured in the pastry, then again in a steeped cup for complimentary sipping. A great idea, and a different way to enjoy high tea, especially when you couple it with the informative nature of the service. I fully enjoyed being able to watch and learn proper tea etiquette, and was thrilled to find Annie, our host, especially informative. She was very smooth with her movements. Boiling water for cleaning and more for steeping, retrieving cups with tongs, rinsing them out between teas, and measuring leaves with wooden scoops.
The following is in the order the pairings are presented. The tea is steeped to order, but the pastries come displayed all together on a slate plate.
Assam tea and “64% guayaquil double chocolate cake” made with Assam tea. The French style chocolate cake was made with Guatemalan chocolate. It was dense and slightly bitter, but didn’t over power the darker tea.
My favourite course was the “Kirishima Matcha” with “Mini financiers”, mostly because I have never see proper matcha preparation before, nor tried it as such. Here, a quality matcha powder was whisked until frothy and we drank it like cream. Said whisking went from slow to frantic and back to a steady flow. This was described as an “entry level matcha” one that is easy to drink, and doesn’t turn brown when you bake it. The balls of dough were sweetened, but a little dry, I found it best to dip them into the matcha to pick up its creamy dessert notes.
Next was hojicha paired with a “Dacquoise sandwich and tea infused ganache”. Hojicha is roasted Japanese green tea. It is typically older tea leaves that they don’t know what else to do with, that is roasted to revive it. The result, a deep, smokey, aromatic brew that was warming. It well balanced out the sweeter cake. This sandwich-cake was my favourite of the desserts, and the sweetest of the 5. A fluffy sponge with the mild flavour of hojicha in the cream filling.
Next we had something lighter in the fruity “Thai hibiscus”. A tea paired with “A Toi’s” petal infused financier and raspberry gel. The tea is steeped from whole flowers, the same petals that went into the cake. The tea drank like punch, its tangy fruit flavour much like the raspberry at the centre of its cakey pairing.
And lastly we had the “Wuyi oolong” with two French sables. The tea was toastier, the heaviest we have had and heavily oxidized. It got a rinse before steeping in order to get rid of dust and bits. The rinse also helps to open up the leaves and release more of its earthier flavours. I liked the tea, but not the cookies. I expected a butter cookie, but got one that was hard like biscotti, but made better after a soak in the tea.
I enjoyed each course individually, but questioned the order in which they came. Lightest to strongest teas, mildest to sweetest dessert? I would have liked it Assam, Hojicha, Oolong, Matcha, and Hibiscus. Working through it like a 5 course meal with savoury bites first and the sweetest and most refreshing last.
The pastries are only available for a limited time. $20 for the tray, and $20 more for the teas that go with it. The latter is a deal considering said teas would normally run for $50 for the taste of 5.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This is one of a kind experience great for anyone who is interested in learning more about tea, or for someone who is curious about the differences between loose leaves or tea bags. I walked in not knowing to expect and walked out a big fan of this specialty tea salon. They are a great alternative to any cafe, and perfect to keep warm and toasty in on a rainy day. I would like to see them repeat this service, but with savoury bites and maybe even a whole tea tower. Don’t deny your cravings.
2208 W 4th Ave, Vancouver, BC V6K 1N8