On my recent trip to Vancouver, BC, we found ourselves walking down Main Street in what appeared to be kind of a hip, trendy neighborhood. As evidenced by the “geek” in my business name, you may properly guess that I found myself in a hip, trendy neighborhood completely by accident–it just happened to be between two other places we had planned on going. Anyway, as we walked along, we passed a place called Shaktea on the corner of Main and 21st.
What originally caught my eye was, of course, that it was a tea place. However, there are a lot of tea places that just don’t appeal to me–they’re overpriced, or only carry flavored or scented teas, or have employees who think that “oolong” is the name of a province in China. Wondering if this was one of those places, we looked at the menu and something else caught my eye: they served tea-and-cheese pairings, a topic of a previous Tea Geek class (taught by fellow tea geek Jenna May Cass at the Perennial Tea Room during the Northwest Cheese Festival).
Then I noticed that they offer classes at Shaktea as well. I thought, “This might be a place worth visiting.” Unfortunately, we were on the way somewhere else. I popped in, grabbed a business card, and we were on our way.
Well, the next day we stopped by again and sat down for a proper evaluation. It had a good feel–welcoming in that kind of vaguely Eastern, yoga-or-Buddhist way (rather than the less-appealing-to-me New Age spiritual bookstore way). It seemed a place where you could equally sit down and spend some quiet time with yourself, or bring in friends or business contacts for a low-key conversation over a cup of tea.
The menu had some delicious things, but the daily special was personal sized white chocolate cheesecakes with raspberry so obviously that’s what we both ordered, even though I was still intrigued by the cheese and meat pairings. But what about the tea? Well, their selection was pretty good. Was it the ultimate destination for those seeking the best the world of tea has to offer? Maybe not. However, it had a good mix of flavored teas and herbal infusions for those that go for that sort of thing, as well as more exclusive selections for people like me. Again, it seemed the kind of place you could bring people of whatever level and they’d have something to enjoy.
I ended up ordering their “China Keemun Superior” (which, by look and taste, is probably a Qimen Hao Ya). My partner ordered an iced Japanese Cherry (sencha and sour cherry). While deciding, I noticed that they carried a yellow tea, and had a tǒng (筒; “tube” or “cylinder”) of puer cakes on the shelf behind the counter, and other signs of approaching tea seriously and not just a lovely drink to accompany being social, or a vehicle for making money from the masses. The staff seemed reasonably knowledgeable, including one of the people who answered my question having talked about visiting countries of origin for some of their teas.
As it turns out, she is one of the owners and teaches the classes there. We had a nice conversation about the trade-offs of teaching about tea and balancing basic knowledge with the more interesting, advanced stuff.
All told, I think there need to be more tea places like Shaktea. It’s a cool, locally- and women-owned business. It has a little something for everyone, from those that know nothing about tea to tea geeks. They obviously care about the tea in and of itself, and go out of their way to learn more and teach what they know to those who care to listen. Was everything the perfect tea place for me? No, but that’s fine…it’s a place I feel comfortable recommending, which is a fairly rare thing. Obviously, for those who are looking for a specific kind of tea, or a specific experience, or specific knowledge, I might recommend someplace that specializes in that tea, experience, or knowledge. But I recommend Shaktea as a place to go and have a tea (and perhaps a bit of a nosh) if you’re in Vancouver, BC.
Note: I apparently took no photos whatsoever when I was there, so this post isn’t illustrated. But if you go to their website, you’ll see some shots of their space in the Gallery section.