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Where We Steep: Camellia Sinensis, Montreal
Beautiful tea should ideally be an everyday, not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and Montreal's Camellia Sinensis teahouse—Maison de Thé, rather—treats tea as just that: with a level of quality that is expected, rather than the exception.
Stepping into the calm, green room, you're immediately surrounded by a quiet array of people preparing and serving themselves tea in all different fashions at their own tables. The staff will prepare your tea for you first if you prefer—but most who come to sit and stay will choose to perform their own infusions with selections from the well-described and lengthy tea menu. Seats at the bar allow a more interactive experience where one can sit, watch, talk, and actively taste.
Start with a sample of the day's tea—like an almost sugar-sweet Hualien Fengmi oolong from Taiwain, airy and completely free of bitterness—and then take on the herculean task of selecting from the extensive tea list. Seasonal choices included a Shincha, Hong Xue Cha organic, and a Fair Trade Darjeeling—and then choose your method of preparation (Yixing clay pot, Gaiwan ("zhong" in French) or Kyuusu) and enjoy working with your tea yourself. (Don't worry—you can totally still get a soy matcha frappe made for you in the back if that's your thing.)
It's inspiring to sit surrounded by so many people on their own, experienced, tea explorations, but the teas themselves are yet more inspiring. The Guricha, which we chose to prepare in a Kyuusu pot, was a savory, dry-finishing coffee with a coconut effect. Thick and brothy, the mouthfeel was pleasingly fuzzy; subsequent infusions tasted greener, richer and drier.
Education is in abundance here, from the tea menu's detailed origin information and descriptions of gong-fu cha to Yerba Mate, to the extensive retail annex next door featuring teas and wares of all varieties, from practical and inexpensive to lavish and rare. The preferred tongue here is French, and indeed their coffeetable (tea table?) book is only available en francais—but any visitor here who speaks the language of tea will feel more than welcome.