It’s official. Coffee is no longer the reigning king in the market for trendy hot beverages. Over the past decade, tea has been moving up in the world. Chains like David’s Tea are springing up all over eastern North America and Starbucks recently bought Teavana when too many of its coffee drinkers switched over to the health-conscious alternative. But why settle for generic when you are lucky enough to live in a city brimming with independent tea houses? Sure, the Chai Lounge on Parc and Milton is a great place to start, but it’s time to get out of the McGill Bubble and explore all that Montreal has to offer. Here are five tea houses, tea rooms, and cafes that are definitely worth checking out.
1. Cardinal Tea Salon
Just this past Christmas, the Mile End received this wonderful addition to its eclectic scene of thrift shops and off-beat coffee hubs. The Cardinal Tea Salon, a bar-turned-tea room, boasts a 1920’s-style, spacious downstairs restaurant complete with an antique Steinway and a Gatsby-esque bar. The upstairs loft circles a grand chandelier and sports eccentric couches and tables, perfect for settling down with piles of studying and a pot of English Breakfast. The menu is British-centered with a selection of mostly black teas served with traditional sugar cubes in porcelain, painted pots. To accompany your five o’clock break, Cardinal also offers sumptuous tea sandwiches and scones made onsite in a tiny baking nook in the upstairs loft. This time-travel experience is definitely worth the trek up St. Laurent and is sure to make you feel too hip for your own good!
5326 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
2. Thé Kiosque
True to its name, this much smaller establishment in the Concordia neighborhood is unassuming from the outside but has enough space for a few high tables and a bar running along the window fusing a modern Asian style with the cozy charm of a tea shop. From Jasmine Flower Green Tea to Belgian Chocolate Rooibos, Thé Kioske boasts a selection of about 120 loose leaf teas to sniff and choose from. I asked the owner for a surprise and he set me up with a pot of rare chrysanthemum tea hand-picked from a mountaintop in China. Halfway through the visit, the owner also offered me a free cup of a goji berry, apple, and honey tea they happened to be brewing for the first time. The prices are quite affordable ($3.50 for a small pot) and, because the pots all have loose leaf filters in them, each pot can be re-filled four to five times free of charge. Tiny chai and matcha cookies are perfect complements to any brew. Exquisite glass terrariums add an earthy charm to the Thé Kioske, making it a great place to grab a cup of tea to-go, sit and study for hours, or meet with friends.
1428 Mackay St.
3. Camellia Sinensis
When it comes to tea, this upscale tea house in the heart of the Latin Quarter does not play around. The tea room itself is a showroom for the boutique next door which sells 250 teas that rotate on a weekly basis. Each year, the four co-owners travel to Asia to sample and select about fifty teas (changing every three months) to serve in the tea room. The menu boasts an extensive selection of green, black, white, wulong, and rooibos teas served on a wooden platter with a vessel for the leaves and a large pitcher of hot water. One of my favourite teas is called a sencha. Hot water is poured over the loose leaves and steeps for intervals of about twenty seconds, depending on the tea. The result is a flavor so decadent and pure, your senses will be left in awe. At $5-$10 for a pot, the prices may seem steep. However, each order of tea makes seemingly infinite cups so bring your friends along to share one! There is a “no electronics” policy but don’t fret, the serenity is well worth it.
351 Rue Émery
4. Café Aunja
This quaint underground café is a gem for its proximity to campus, comfy couches, and its unique tea wall. The barista gives you a filter and lets you choose your own blend from a selection of about 60 jars – perfect for the most indecisive tea drinker! Free wifi, delicious sandwiches, soups, and breads along with plentiful table and couch space make this café-tearoom hybrid a great place to study, have lunch, or relax. Café Aunja doubles as an art gallery so be sure to check out some of their great events.
1448 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest
Another Concordia hangout, this cozy tea room is a bit less intimidating to tea newcomers than some of the aforementioned spots. Hestia has about twenty loose teas that change seasonally, but they specialize in tea lattes. In addition to the classic Chai latte, Hestia offers unique beverages like the ‘Green Cappuccino’ (Vanilla, Matcha, and Espresso- pictured above), the Matcha latte, and the ‘Montréal Fog’ (Hazelnut, Chocolate, and Vanilla). All of the drinks can be ordered hot or cold, with or without sugar, and with almond, soy, or regular milk. These specialty drinks are, best of all, affordable and are not overly sweet and syrupy tasting such as those from Starbucks or Tim’s.
2325 Rue Guy