Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tea In Vancouver: O5Tea



Last weekend one took a ferry off the island and ended up spending time in Pedro's new brick and mortar tea shop, O5tea, in Vancouver. The shop is located on 4th, an upper scale Kitsilano business area for those unfamiliar with the city. A large window with displays of bamboo wrapped puerh tongs, hand carved matcha stone grinders, and Japanese style electric braziers welcomes you- the front door is wide open. When inside you are invited by the smiles of staff to sit down and try some tea at the long tea bar which stretches the full distance of the long narrow retail space. The space has high ceilings with funky lighting that receives as much attention as the tea. In the far end are pictures of the farms and farmers where the tea is sourced. Hanging on spaced wooden paneled walls opposite the tea bar are clean displays of packaged loose leaf tea and teawear (by David Louveau among others) for sale.


There is an iron tetsubin purchased from Hojo that boils water at lightning pace on a induction heater that smoothly blends into the sleek interior. The bar surface is composed of natural wood which adds a natural touch to the contemporary feel of the teabar. There are stainless steel drains built into the bar which offer contrast. The staff behind the bar, some of Japanese and Korean descent, keep the cups full and the conversation and tea info rolling. It is a charmingly social space where one effortlessly fades in and out of conversation with those to the right and left at the bar. Over the few hours drinking tea, numerous people of different ethnicity, age, tea experience, and walks of life cycle through.


During the few hours spent there one managed to sample some cold infused and bottled 2011 Autumnal Flush Margret's Hope Estate and 2012 Silver Needles, hot 2012 "Noeul" (Sunset) Kim Jong Yeol (Butea) Balhyocha, 1991 Oolong, slow-sugar reduced preparation of Jamaica, as well as some paring-chasers of old factory sake, and aged Mezcal. The comparison to Victoria's Jagasilk is hard to not make from the wood bar to the cold-bottled infusions, the influence is obvious. On the other hand O5tea has a more contemporary edge and a much more engaging space. Pedro, the once owner of Daotea, has done well in creating a special tea space- an experience much enjoyed!


Took home some 2012 "Noeul" Kim Jong Yeol (Butea) Balhyocha, watch for a review of this tea in the weeks to come.

Peace

19 comments:

MarshalN said...

I've seen their website before, and I must say if the website were a tad bit more functional and a little less hipster-compliant, it'll actually be more attractive. Right now you don't even really know what you're buying just judging from the website.

Matt said...

Marshal'N,

Surprised you think that, I think website is very intuitive almost like using apps on an I Pad.... oh, yeah... that's what you probably mean by "Hipster-Compliant" Hahaha...

The web site has details such as exact GPS location of where the tea was grown, the exact date the tea was produced, and the name of the farmer/ producer- all good info. However it lacks some good photos of the infused liquor (infusion by infusion would even be better) and the wet leaves which probably tells us more about the tea than the dry leaf pics.

Think the way tea shops and factories market their product, in the East and West alike, is changing and some are most definitely gearing their product to the "hippster-friendly"- Canada's DAVIDsTEA is another example of this. Have you seen some of the art and design on some of the 2012 puerh wrappers? Very contemporary, slick, and modern feeling.

Peace

MarshalN said...

Well - let's use the 1991 oolong as an example. The "GPS" label they used is actually just the generic google label for Nantou county. Nantou is a big place. The coordinates they provided is that of Nantou city. Nantou city is not 1000m elevation (google it). It's a lot lower than that. So, one, or the other, is wrong. Also, it is rarely the case that you find aged oolongs with the precise year indicated. I'd love to know how they know it's from 1991. So to me, the map looks more like a lot of false info - it convinces you (and it worked for you) that they have solid, precise info, when in fact that's not the case at all. I won't be surprised that in some cases they do pinpoint you to the location, but that's obviously not the case for all their teas.

Also, I don't believe information like that has any bearing on how the tea tastes. It's info for info sake, but it doesn't actually tell you how the tea is like.

I look at their longjing, for example, and notice the purple edges of some of the dry leaves. That rings alarm bells for longjing - processing problem. Wet leaves will tell us a lot more, but I just can't trust the colour of the dry leaves to even know if what I'm seeing is really what it is. And of course, a caveat about this Longjing being produced hundreds of miles from Hangzhou is probably necessary, but missing.

As you mentioned, pictures of the infused liquor, wet leaves, etc are much more interesting and useful. We don't get any of that. A really closeup picture of the dry leaves (in sepia tones, in some cases) is really not a very good tool to help buyers choose.

Plus, the prices are not cheap.

So all in all, a disappointing website that has forsaken reliable info for hipster-compliant look and feel.

hster said...

Hipsters tend to spent their disposable income on things with a hipster vibe so you can't blame O5 for pandering to the fattest potential wallets.

On not providing enough info- O5 does tell you that their aged oolong is charcoal roasted which is the important bit of info for me.

H

Matt said...

Marshal'N,

No doubt Pedro has some kinks to iron out, caught a fairly significant mistake on the web page a few weeks after it was launched. It stated that the harvest date of Kim Jong Yeol's MLH Balhyocha was "early April", which it was obviously not. It was corrected within days of pointing it out.

As far as the 1991 Oolong goes, was also too curious to know how they sourced it and how they know that it is truly a 1991 and not a 1995 or 1998??? Can remember that I couldn't contain my grin while asking. Pedro says that he took the oolong to a few knowledgeable tea people in town to confirm its date, Daniel from The Chinese Teashop was one of them. According to him, they all said that it was a plausible date so he decided to keep it as such.

That was the only tea that I personally asked to try while there because I wanted to let my taste buds reveal the truth about this tea. Only had a few pots before having to shuffle out of there. The tea exhibited the aged oolong profile but as I admitted to Pedro, that's as accurate as my tastebuds are for this kind of thing as I don't have extensive experience for such teas. The 1991 harvest date is at the very least, plausible.

Think there is always a balancing act that is done as far as pleasing over the top serious tea drinkers without intimidating or ostracizing the average person and marketing to the hipsters without offending or making the serious tea people feel like they are a sell out. This balance is often hard to achieve that is why there are so few tea shops that can manage to stay in business that try to walk this line (Essence of Tea, a case in point).

Peace

Matt said...

Hster,

You are one easy to please Hipster! Hahahaha...

You are probably correct in implying that O5tea does offer more info than most teashops about the tea they sell.

Was editing a list of all known online English Korean tea vendors today (see here: http://mattchasblog.blogspot.com/2010/07/updated-list-of-english-online-korean.html )

and was blown away by how many vendors have no idea (or who simply choose not to show or tell) the harvest date of their Korean tea, where it was produced, and who produced it. They know or state only one thing- it is Korean!

Peace

MarshalN said...

I think a much more honest way of presenting the aged oolong would simply be "1990s". That way, there's no doubt. 1991... plausible, perhaps, but in the absence of certainty, seems to be a slight bit of overselling. I'm being picky, of course.

I think adding a few useful pics of liquor, wet leaves won't scare anyone away.

Nick Herman said...

It is amazing to me how many fancy cafes there are in San Francisco which have an incredibly sleek look, serve high quality food, and are probably paying some of the highest property costs of any businesses in the USA, yet still serve such average (or below average) tea. It feels so deceptive to me. I guess it's just another indication that the level of tea-education and appreciation here is so incredibly low compared to other products. So much work to be done!

Matt said...

Marshal'N,

The difference between a 1999 Oolong and a 1991 Oolong is significant- pretty much the difference between a 10 year old tea and a 20 year old tea, more or less. Even "Early 1990s" perhaps seems more appropriate. Who knows maybe Pedro will change it after reading this or maybe he feels his source is real solid and he is comfortable with the exact "1991" designation???

Nick Herman,

You are right, the general public doesn't have an idea of what "good tea" is. That is all the more reason for teashops to be upfront and as clear as possible about the product they sell. Tea shops exist to make money, so naturally the teas they sell are the focus of discussion when it comes to quality. If you went to someones tea shop and they were discussing and tasting someone else's tea, and going on about how good it is, that would be really strange right???

Peace

Nick Herman said...

Here's another vendor (local to me), with similarly (unwarranted, I'd say) atrocious prices: http://redcircletea.com/index.html
Tie Guan Yin's for $25 an ounce and almost $200 for a '98 CNNP cake. I guess the rationale is that when you're around tons of busy, rich people, they don't have time for education, and a 300% markup on tea is just a drop in the bucket for them, so they just substitute money for learning..

Matt said...

Nick Herman,

Rarely do I get into issues of quality to price here on MattCha's Blog as I feel that is a personal choice based on how much you feel a certain tea is worth based on your enjoyment of it as well as accessibility issues, the cost for the service tea shops provide by weeding out lower quality teas out, your willingness to order tea from the source, the risk of auction sites such as Taobao, ect...

However, I wouldn't go as far as saying that the prices at O5tea are "unwarranted" or "atrocious" just a touch high, not unreasonably so. Fairly stated by Marshal'N, "the prices are not cheap".

Have a look at O5tea's Korean tea. If you wish you can order the stuff in Korea, direct from the source, for the Korean shelf price on Butea's webpage and pay: $45USD vs O5tea's $57USD for 80g of Seajak green tea or Noeul Balhyocha/ $65USD vs. O5tea's $91.00 for 80g of Saebyok Balhyocha. Not a great deal but consider shipping and accessibility as well as a smaller unit, it is probably fair.

See here: http://www.butea.co.kr/

Peace

hster said...

Oh no Matt you didn't!

>You are one easy to please Hipster! Hahahaha...

I make fun of hipsters all the time as there's an ever growing army of them in the Bay Area. They're always giving me the once over and sniffing at my crocs. But if hipsters have to boost the economy- why not tea?

H

Matt said...

hster,

The hipster capital of Canada is probably Victoria.

And probably a big reason why the local economy has stayed relatively strong over the recession.

Peace


Ainee Beland said...

It is all so lovely in Vancouver. I imagine always tranquility there; hence tea haven as well. Thank you.

Matt said...

Ainee Beland,

Vancouver most definitely has a few wonderful places for tea- O5tea is one of those great places.

Peace

Centranthus said...

Sufficiently jealous. Am looking forward to a time when I can visit Canada! As for the website, I too find it intuitive - and, as Matt mentioned, errors that are pointed out are quickly rectified.

Have seen websites where almost no info (including year of tea!) was posted, rather just some poetic flim-flam description.

Dao/o5 was the first vendor I've ever purchased from, and so far has had the best "batting average" if you will.

By the way, Matt, do you have tasting notes on the '12 Silver Needles? I'd love to compare!

Matt said...

Jess,

Have a sample of that 2012 O5tea Silver Needles that was gifted by Pedro. Read your post on this tea a month or so back:

http://centranthus.blogspot.ca/2012/09/2012-spring-harvest-ancient-tree-silver.html

Since requests are taken here on MattCha's Blog- look for a post in the coming weeks on this tea. ;)

Interesting note: the O5tea 2012 Silver Needles, White Moonlight, and Yunnan Golden Curls all are produced on the same farm in Jinggu, Yunnnan, by the same tea family, the Zhang Family.

See here:

http://o5tea.com/shop/growers/zhang.html

Peace

JL K said...

Thanks, Matt. Did some site changing, so that link isn't going to work, unfortunately. http://gongfuchaadikt.blogspot.com/ that one will.

Look forward to reading your notes.

Matt said...

Jess,

Thanks for updating us on the link to your new site.

Very minimal- happy tea experiences there

Peace