Montreal Tea Tour is a Must Do

Montreal Tea Tour is a Must Do

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of Americanewby tea bag

I’m becoming a tea snob. I never meant to be, but the more I learn about the herb the more selective I become about my camellia sinensis brew.

I blame Melissa Simard, owner of ‘Round Table Tours in Montreal for my growing obsession with quality tea. In early 2017, Melissa took me on a Tea Tour of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. We visited five different tea shops. I came away with a new appreciation for the evergreen shrub that grows in tropical and subtropical climates.

We met at My Cup of Tea, a narrow tea shop in Montreal’s Chinatown. Owned by Kenny Hui, Carina Vong and Leo Leung, the company sells traditional Chinese teas grown specifically for the company. I was learning that tea can be a personal experience for a tea vendor and something they personally taste before sharing with consumers.

Montreal Tea Tour 2017 Blooming tea Paris Wolfe (3)In addition to traditional tea, they carry “blooming teas.” These hand-tied balls of herbs and flowers wrapped in young green tea leaves “bloom” in hot water. Packaged individually, they’re popular as wedding favors.

Our next stop was Camellia Sinensis, famous in the tea world for operating one of few tea sommelier training programs on the continent.  The salon is small and cozy, with only about ten tables and free from the glare of electronic devices. Whip out your cellphone or laptop and risk being gonged for disrupting the aura of calming energy.

Montreal Tea Tour 2017 Camellia SinensisParis Wolfe (4)Teas served here or sold in the adjacent boutique are sourced by one of four owners who travel to the great tea-growing regions of the world.  Leaves may be single estate oolong or vintage Pu-ehr or any of their other 250 teas. Those on the tour sample three varieties – a white, oolong and pu-ehr.  A server teaches guests to “wake up” the tea leaves with a quick rinse of hot water before steeping them. A “tea wheel” similar to a wine flavor chart helps tasters find words to describe subtleties. For example, a white tea could taste a bit vegetal; perhaps a hint of spinach describes the faintly amber liquid.

This is where I had an a-ha moment. Commercial bagged tea blends will never taste the same. I won’t shun them. In fact, I’ll still drink McDonald’s iced tea. I just think of it as a different caffeine-delivery system.

Montreal Tea Tour 2017 Kusmi Paris Wolfe (5)Our third stop, Kusmi, has romantic history. It began in 1867 when a young Russian tea blender received a tea shop as a wedding present.  The business remained in his family for 80 years. After nearly disappearing in the second part of the 20th century, the Kusmi brand was reborn in the early 2000s.

The company specializes in tea blends.  A purist may snub the idea of flavored teas, but would be wise to put aside prejudice and taste the masterful blends, perfumed only with natural essences. Tea tour participants get a private tasting of eight blends. Among them are the more traditional Anastasia, a combination of black tea, bergamot, lemon and orange blossom, and the more innovative BB Detox, a combination of green tea, maté, rooibos, guarana, and dandelion and flavored with a hint of grapefruit.

A fourth stop – The Mayfair Cocktail Bar — comes about three hours into the tour, just in time to meet the need for food. Inspired by late 19th century Victorian high society, it offers a late afternoon pause to sit and regroup with a tea-based cocktail.

Montreal Tea Tour 2017 Paris Wolfe (6)The Green Velvet cocktail, for example, combines gin, absinthe, lime, cucumber with Kusmi’s gyokuro tea. Other cocktails are touched with Earl Grey, chai or kombucha.  Reinvented and swankier tea sandwiches and hors d’oeuvres are served high-tea style

The finale – the Cardinal Tea Room – is behind a red door up 20 stairs above a small independent restaurant. It’s difficult to spot unless you know where you’re going.

Again, this spot differs from earlier stops. It is French café meets tea room complete with mismatched cups and red ceramic tea pots. And, it’s wonderful. The menu offers simple scones, sandwiches and pastry that are delightful with white, green, black, oolong and other tea selections. All brews that satisfying the emerging tea snob in me.


Stopping at five tea spots, the tour takes about five hours and covers 1.6 miles of comfortable walking plus a taxi ride. Tourists visit Chinatown, the Latin Quarter, The Plateau and Mile End. The tour is available year ‘round; though busier in summer. With cupsful of warm tea it’s comforting on a drizzly afternoon. Melissa or her guides come prepared with umbrellas and bottled water. Guests are advised to wear comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.

For more information visit roundtablefoodtours.com or contact the company at (514) 812-2003 or melissa@roundtablefoodtours.com, The Glutton Guide to Montreal, a 130-page e-guide to Montreal’s food scene by Simard and Amie Watson, is available at Amazon.com.

Packaging the 2016 Herbal Tea Harvest

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

rose-hipsI’ve been preparing mint, pineapple sage, rose petals, rose hips and more so I can blend my own herbal tisanes. I’m not looking to be exotic. In fact, I’ll have more fun with the packaging than the tea blend.

The question now is how do I package? Do I put mix loose herbs into a mason jar with a fancy lid? Or do I make teabags? If I use tea bags, what kind?

To answer this question, I turned to expert, Raji Singh, brand ambassador for Newby, a line of luxury tea that is relatively new to the United States.

Question: Which is better loose leaf or tea bags?

aaeaaqaaaaaaaaloaaaajdzinzvlmtzhltnimdctndc3os05yzbhltrhotdmotfhnmu0oaRaji: Packaging is critical to preserve the character of tea and tisanes. Because of tea’s delicate and porous nature, the three enemies are heat, humidity, and odor. So before selecting the proper bagging method, the outer seal should be selected to ensure freshness. In this case, instead of a mason jar that allows light to penetrate through and dull the character and freshness of the tea, I would opt for a metal tin that can seal herbs’ freshness.

It is a common misconception that teabags are bad quality. This is not true. While tea bags can easily mask the quality inside and allow for dust, veins, and stalk to go unnoticed, a tea bag consisting of fannings – small broken pieces — from fine quality tea leaves is still a quality tea.

The problem with teabags is limited space for leaf and herb expansion. That inhibits full flavor results. While teabags are not bad, loose is better. Whole loose leaf provides more flavor and aroma because leaves properly unfurl. The ideal places leaves directly on top of the water to be strained out after steeping, or in a infuser basket that is spacious with enough holes to allow for enough water flow. Tea balls are quite restrictive.

Newby offers both loose and bagged but our Silken Pyramid bag is the most popular. Silken Pyramids “bags” allow for the quality of whole loose leaf with the convenience of teabags. The larger leaves have room to expand due to the flexible pyramid shape of the sachets, which also allows for optimal water flow.

Q: What are the best tea bags?

newby-tea-bagRaji: Two factors determine the best bagging method. First, the bag must be large enough to hold the tea and herbs, and spacious enough to hold the unfurled leaves. Second, the holes must be large enough to allow water to flow through the entire bag and all of the leaves to infuse, but small enough to hold smaller-sized leaf pieces. Too many leaves in the cup after steeping will result in continued brewing. That may lead to a very strong cup by the last sip.

Newby’s teabags hold in fannings – the very fine broken pieces of the leaf — so the bags are flatter and the holes are smaller. In contrast, the silken pyramid bags are much larger with wide holes since the leaves are larger and require more room to infuse.

Q: How quickly should we use a homemade herbal tea blend?

Raji: A well-sealed tea blend should not go stale as long as it is protected against the enemies of heat, humidity and odor. While Newby is required to provide a shelf life of three years, we have tea in our factory — for internal consumption — that was purchased more than 10 years ago and still holds its character and freshness.


After talking to Raji, I’ve decided that sourcing the perfect bag is too much work and expense. I’m going to paint the outside of my glass mason jars and fill them with loose herbal blends for tisanes. Unlike real tea leaves, herbal blends are less stable. So I’m going to present them in small amounts with suggested “use by” dates on my labels.

Herbal Tea Harvest Time

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

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I’ve been thinking about Christmas since March, brainstorming what I’m going to make for family and friends. Last year I gifted baskets of homemade jams and chutneys. A handful of folks received mint syrup for their ice cream and drinks …the result of a failed mint jelly attempt.

Among other things, this year’s package may be beverage themed. It will probably include herbal cordials. And, now I’m thinking mint tea blends. For those blends, I’ve been cutting mint every few days as it’s so prolific in its sunny corner by the barn. If only the catnip and lemon balm would catch up. I haven’t yet identified my blends, but I’m collecting other herb materials like fragrant rose petals, pineapple sage, lemon verbena and more.

Chamomile maybe be prolific and boast sleepy-time properties, but I avoid it because it gives me hay fever. Then, my sleep is inspired by the Benadryl that I take to counteract it.

While loose tea is lovely in a metal tin, I’ll source paper tea bags to make brewing easier for my friends. I know they’re more likely to use bags. And, that gives a new presentation opportunity.teabag

I will design tags for the string end, something happy and fun. After all, packaging is a key part of experience. And, I’m watching garage sales and thrift stores for tins and canisters to hold those tea bags. (I may use half-pint canning jars or whatever I find in the dollar section at Target.)

As for blends, it’s hard for me to follow recipes. Those are mere guidelines for mortals. LOL.  I have to tweak things my way. And, tea blends depend on the resources. If I have more mint, I use more mint. More lemon herbs, I spike my teas with them.

I insist that my teas must be homegrown and organic. The rest will be spontaneous magic.


What do you mix to make herbal tea?