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Vancouvers new TWG Tea boutique & salon promises to disrupt teatime as we know itone Earl Grey, Darjeeling or chrysanthemum black toucha at a time.
“In Asia, tea is more commonplace than water,” explains TWG Tea founder Maranda Barnes. “People drink it to hydrate—from their kettles, in thermoses they bring to work, in public spaces. When you’re thirsty, drinking water just isn’t done.” You’d think, then, that the idea of the world’s most luxurious tea leaves—some infused with 24-karat gold that retail for over $1,000 per 45 grams—would be a difficult sell in places where the tea flows like, well, water. But then you wouldn’t be talking about TWG Tea, one of the fastest growing luxury brands in the world.Barnes is seated at the table at TWG Tea’s newest boutique in Vancouver, the brand’s first bricks-and-mortar foray into North America. The American-born concert violinist with multiple languages under her belt explains that over a decade ago, she was keen to leave her busy luxury-fragrance day job. Based in Paris, she yearned to spend less time travelling and more time with her son and husband Taha Bouqdib. It just so happened that Bouqdib, whose father worked for the King of Morocco, fell in love with tea at the age of 12 thanks to a green tea gift from the Chinese embassy; he bucked family tradition—his siblings all work for the king—and pursued a career with a French tea company. With their collective tea, luxury industry and fragrance experience, the pair intuitively made the next step. “For almost every category out there, there’s a pinnacle,” explains Barnes. “Cars, fashion, wine—but for tea, there wasn’t anything luxury-oriented.” The couple decamped to Singapore to launch TWG Tea with the sole aim to make it the finest tea brand in the world.That was 2008. Fast forward to 2016, the company now has more than 4,000 employees (to put that in perspective, it’s twice the size of luxury-brand heavyweight Bvlgari); its meteoric ascendancy is due in part to having captured the imagination of fashion brands, innovative retailers and foodies alike. Served in private shopping suites at Louis Vuitton, Tiffany’s and Holt Renfrew, the tea is also a staple at Dean & Deluca and Harrods, as well as the novel lynchpin behind recent three-Michelin-star chef collaborations (Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy).Highlighting premium leaves from every tea-producing country in the world, TWG Tea’s range now includes more than 800 single-estate harvests and exclusive blends, all offered directly from source gardens. And although it’s billed as uber high-end, prices range the gamut: the Amour De Thé, a medley of Darjeeling tea and Turkish rose blossoms dusted with 18-karat gold, runs $47 per 100 grams, but the Paris-Singapore green tea, redolent of cherry blossom, clocks in at $29 for 15 tea bags (all bags are hand-sewn in 100 percent cotton, not paper, so they don’t absorb the flavour of the brew thus making your tea especially fragrant). That works out to less than the price of a Starbucks tea.Not all 800 teas can be sampled in the Vancouver boutique, but that will change when the entire line eventually makes its way here. For now, there are over 500 to try, in no particular order: there’s traditional High Tea or the full gastronomic range with breakfast (scrambled farmhouse eggs with genmaicha leaves), dinner (Darjeeling quiche, wagyu beef burger with smoky Earl Grey bbq sauce) and dessert (chestnut crepe with vanilla bourbon tea).In today’s soup, there are lapsang souchong tea leaves, or smoked tea, which are traditionally smoke-dried over pinewood fires that give a distinctive, bacon-y flavour. “Legend has it the leaves were a happy mistake,” says Barnes. “The Chinese had to find a way to preserve their teas on clippers so they didn’t get wet during shipment; strangely, it’s a tea that’s not consumed in China—it’s strictly for export.” For now, it’s definitely food for thought.
1070 West Georgia Street, VancouverOpening Hours: Monday to Sunday, 10 am to 8 pm.TWGTea.com | 604.692.0071