I’m not a big one for food media events. I find them loud and crowded, everyone angling for a handful of samples from the latest menu or shoving a camera in your way so they can get a badly lit blurry photo. I’m shy and not very pushy and I get frustrated with crowds or people who are just being rude by not being considerate of the others in attendance. I just want to leave with little inclination to return – even on my own. (aaaaaannnnd… I just got my name removed from every PR list just like that!)
But every now and then an invite lands in my inbox that makes me so excited I can’t contain myself. And getting asked to come visit o5 tea bar as their guest for a tea tasting was one of those! A tea junkie like me being asked to come learn about and try some rare Asian teas? Well sign me up!
This was a lovely event – a very small group of us got lessons in tea – everything from where it’s sourced, how it’s harvested, how it’s ground up, prepared and served. And we got to take photos to our hearts content without being in anyone’s way and we got to socialize.
You know how there’s always one person in every group who knocks stuff over, spills things and is generally terribly clumsy? That person is usually me (The King generously nicknamed me Spaz several years ago due to my dubious abilities). But on this particular night, it was Food Husband who managed to knock over a glass container of tea in less than 30 seconds of us entering the establishment. Another excellent reason for every girl to have a food husband! They take the pressure off 😉
Lets get on with the evening. Located in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, o5 is a tea house that specializes in Obsessively sourced, terroir-based tea. That’s right, the “o” in their name stands for Obsessive. The 5 represents Earth’s five elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void.
Their teas come from all over Asia and tend to be small batch grown. You can enjoy in the tea bar, take some home, or shop on-line if you don’t live locally (they ship worldwide). They also have lots of lovely tea making accessories for sale. I am in love with their high temperature ceramic tea pot! In shop they offer tea tasting flights – just like wine tasting flights – something that seems to be on the rise in many tea shops lately. We started the evening off trying one of their bittered sling extracts. This was not my cup of tea (no pun intended). As you can see above, a few drops of the extract are added to water – these, for me, were more about the scent than the flavour. The one we tried was very citrus-y and reminded me of the concoctions my mum would make me when I was little and sick.
The extract was just a starter. We moved right on to matcha shots. The matcha was ground right in front of us. The yield is quite small from each batch but it’s a gorgeous green powder. Next, the bowls the matcha is prepared in are warmed with hot water. The water is pre-filtered but is then heated in a cast iron post on an induction burner with a block of charocoal in it to further filter it so it’s beautifully pure. The matcha powder is sifted into the prep bowls and then the hot water is ladled on top of it and then whisked to blend. The matcha is poured into warmed shot glasses and served with matcha flavoured yema – a sweet sticky candy that was so delicious. We were told in Japan it’s customary for tea to be served with a small sweet treat (just like English tea and bicuits!). Matcha has to be drunk fairly quickly as it is a suspension and you don’t want it to settle. I really enjoyed my shot and the yema that came with it!
Our next tea was a micro-harvest from Korea called Balhyocha Noeul. This particular harvest was less than 30kg! Balhyocha Noeul is an oolong tea that claims to be a good cure for hangovers! I can believe it – it was served warm in glass shots and can be infused seven or eight times (which I guess is a really good thing when it’s harvested in such a small batch!). I found it to be very mild flavoured (definitely good when you have a hangover) and something about the scent reminded me very faintly of warm apples. It was warm and comforting.
Third up was a cold white moonlight tea infusion with hibiscus flowers, which gave it it’s gorgeous red colour. This was refreshing and bright – a perfect treat for a hot summer’s day! Check out that cute little blue teapot above. The only one in a sea of brown teapots!
Last up we tried another cold infusion – gyokura – served with candied hibsicus flowers. This was a deep rich green and ocean mineral infusion with a very high chlorophyll and caffeine content. In fact, they prepare it hot in the mornings as a shot for people who want their caffeine fix but don’t want coffee (that would be me…). It contains the whole leaf and is harvested very early. It’s one of the few teas in Japan that’s still hand picked! It had a very grassy, clear flavour that I found became even more apparent as it warmed up in your mouth.
By the time the night was over, we were all a little wired on caffeine but it was a very enjoyable evening and I had a chance to try some lovely “new to me” teas and gained a new appreciation for the ritual of preparing tea – something, as I’ve mentioned before, that I’ve always found so soothing and deliberate. Everything about 05 was warm and soothing with the decor (watch a slide show of the staff as they visit their growers throughout Asian – some beautiful photos). The staff are so passionate about what they do – you will not leave with an unanswered question – that it’s infectious.
If you’re in Vancouver you can visit o5 tea bar at 2208 WEST 4TH AVENUE, VANCOUVER, BC or if you live too far away, you can shop on-line. I will definitely be heading back next time I want a slow and calming cup of tea!