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Camellia Sinensis Turns 20: Looking Back

11 November 2018

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November 16, 2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of Camellia Sinensis. Some of you may have been following our “retrospective” photo album on Facebook that follows the great evolution from our humble beginnings – both in decor and haircuts!

An Asian approach to tea…in Montreal!

Hugo Américi opened the first Camellia Sinensis tea room in 1998 on Emery street in Montreal. Having thought to open a coffee-bar, he dropped the idea in favour of a teahouse. The concept would be focused on an Asian approach to tea. He had been impressed by a similar concept the previous year in Prague at the Dobra Cajovna teahouses and was fascinated by the ambiance. At first, Camellia Sinensis offered customers a variety of fifty teas along with a few cakes, all served in a relaxed atmosphere.

Curious to know more about our history? Read more.

A passionate and complimentary team

That same year, two students from the local university arrived on the scene, Jasmin Desharnais and François Marchand both started waiting tables and quickly ended up becoming co-owners of the company. As Camellia flourished and grew, a fourth player entered the fold, Kevin Gascoyne, who had his own tea company, Kyela Teas, focussed on the teas of Darjeeling in India. The four began to take on specific roles within the company. At home Jasmin took charge of HR and Operations he also focussed on the teas of Western and Eastern China. Francois becomes responsible for marketing, content and IT while focusing as a taster on Central China. Kevin handles international conferences, deals with HR in Montreal and uses his experience of India to oversee the Tea Studio. He buys all the Indian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan and African teas. Finally, Hugo oversees the global vision of the company, handles the administration, distribution and acts as taster buyer in both Japan and Taiwan. They find it advantageous to have their own networks abroad for buying while running the company at home.

The enthusiastic energy of the group fuelled them to open stores and tea houses in Montreal and Quebec city, publish various books, open a Tea School, open the first Chai bar in the province as well as launch an experimental factory in India (Tea Studio).

Did you know that:

  • Camellia Sinensis was almost called “The smoking teapot”;
  • For the first 5 years, most clients came to the store for the hookahs (water pipes used to smoke Egyptian flavoured tobacco) now long gone.
  • At first, Camellia Sinensis was a Teahouse. It was following a month long vacation that Hugo came back with the idea of opening a store
  • Camellia Sinensis has two Tea Schools, both in Montreal and Quebec
  • The company now employs over 50 loyal employees in the stores, salons, warehouse and in the offices
  • Camellia Sinensis offers an ever changing selection of well over 200 teas.
  • There are close to 500 restaurants worldwide that offers our teas. Some with Michelin stars!
  • Our tea workshops have been attended by over 10 000 tea lovers
  • Over the last 20 years, our four tasters have tasted tens of thousands of tea samples
  • The Montreal teahouse has served over 700 000 clients since its opening
  • We receive close to 32 tons of directly imported teas each year

Are you a new tea enthousiast? Discover our tea taster kits, a great way to discovering your preferences.

Team Portrait: Kevin Gascoyne, Tea Taster

2 January 2018

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Here at Camellia Sinensis we not only value the quality of our teas but also the quality of our team. How well do you know our four expert tasters ?
This month we’d like to introduce Kevin Gascoyne, co-owner of Camellia Sinensis since 2004.

How does your story with Camellia Sinensis begin?

Being the old man around here, I had another tea life and company before joining Camellia. I had been asked to be a guest on some local TV show and they were looking for another guest that was running a tea house. So I offered to go down and check out this new place that had just opened. On arrival I discovered 3 very cool guys running the most bohemian, eclectic and exciting little tea room I had ever seen. They were passionately into to both tea and having a good time, so we rapidly became good friends.
What is your role in the Camellia team?

Aside from tasting, sourcing and buying since 1993, I try my best to deal with Human Resources here in Montreal, staff training, public relations, our international projects and conferencing. I also love shopkeeping so I hop behind the counter to chat with the clients whenever I can.
Your tea highlight of the year?…

The Darjeeling Singell DJ 19 is probably my favourite tea this year. An exquisite example of the original Chinese seeds planted in the Himalayan terroir back in the 1860’s. That magic combination that gave the region its reputation all those years ago.
Do you have a recent discovery ?

Not known for my love of green teas I am really enjoying rediscovering this year’s spectacular Anji Bai Cha.

What are you best known for at Camellia?

Probably my obsessive enthusiasm for tea, my terrible dad jokes and for drinking large quantities the profits.

Team Portrait: François Marchand, Tea Taster

3 December 2017

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Here at Camellia Sinensis, we not only value the quality of our teas but also the quality of our team. How well do you know our four expert tasters ?
This month we’d like you to introduce François Marchad, co-owner of Camellia Sinensis since 2000.

François, tell us about your beginnings in the company…

Camellia Sinensis opened back in 1998, I became a regular, quickly becoming friends with Hugo and Jasmin. At the time, I was studying arts at UQAM and lived nearby. A few months after they had opened, late evening after all the clients had left, Hugo threw me a rag and asked “Could you help me clean up some of the tables?”.  That was my “interview” 19 years ago….

What is your role within the team?

A big part of it is sourcing and buying in Central China each spring, meeting our suppliers, finding new gems. The other part is the marketing: I’m responsible for everything that pertains to the image of the company (packaging, advertising, key visuals etc..). I also take care of all the IT and our  website.

Your favourite tea is…

On my first exploratory trip to China, after a long adventure I finally found the elusive Taiping Hou Kui.  Not accessible by land, only by boat, its beauty is as incredible as its tea. To this day, I’m still good friends with the owner – he is an incredible tea maker.

What is your most recent discovery?

A classic Chinese green tea, the Xin Yang Mao Jian: I recently found a supplier a little outside the main production area but doing an amazing job. His garden is beautiful, natural and wonderfully balanced – it’s one of my highlights of this year.

At Camellia Sinensis, what are you known for…

I am mainly known for the image of the brand but also my mischievous sense of humour.

Team Portrait: Jasmin Desharnais, Tea Taster

31 October 2017

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Here at Camellia Sinensis we not only value the quality of our teas but also the quality of our team. How well do you know our four expert tasters ?
This month we’d like to introduce Jasmin Desharnais, co-owner of Camellia Sinensis since 2000.

Jasmin, tell us about your beginnings in the company…

While studying psychology at UQAM during the fall of 1998, I saw a flyer offering a waiter’s job in a teahouse that was about to open. At the time, I often hosted my friends at home with cheap “Gunpowder”, so I thought ‘This was meant to be!’

Following an interview with Hugo (who was painting the red room in the back of the tea house), I was offered the job. The opening was delayed but I was still there to work so I drank a Darjeeling 1st flush instead. My first shifts were Fridays and Saturdays from noon to midnight.

What is your role within the team?

I am officially the vice-president (sounds serious). That means that I am responsible for HR and Operations. I also travel for to Eastern and Western China each spring since 2003 to meet our suppliers, select and source new teas.

Your favourite tea is…

Without a doubt, Anji Bai Chaç, a Chinese green tea that that is back with a vengeance this year. I haven’t seen this kind of quality in years. Maybe I should keep quiet about it as I don’t want it to sell out too quickly!

What is your most recent discovery?

The De Jian Long Zhu, a Guizhou green tea that I personally developed with some Chinese suppliers in the spring of 2017. It had no name at the time so I ha ve baptized it based on its production county (Dejian) and the shape of the leaf (Long Zhu).

At Camellia Sinensis, what are you known for…

I am constantly teasing Kevin and Hugo that the only good teas come from China. (Though I have enjoyed 1st flush Darjeeling every morning for the last 20 years!)

Team Portrait: Vincent Moreau

4 September 2017

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Here at Camellia Sinensis, the one thing more important than the quality of our tea is the people that make it all happen. This month, we’d like to  you to meet Vincent Moreau.

How did you end up working with the company?

I arrived at Camellia Sinensis from my native France as an intern six years ago to do tea market studies. The connection with the team was instant: all real tea enthusiasts! It was like paradise: daily tea tastings to this day!

What is your role in the team?

Over time, I took on different responsibilities within the company. Being of a very social nature, sharing tea is important for me so consulting in the two Montreal stores was a perfect way to continue. I still continue this and am now also responsible for the ‘ESC – Tea at Work’ program where we distribute a specially designed line of tea and teaware for offices and workspaces.  I give regular workshops at the tea school, tastings and events on the road.

Your favorite tea is …

I always had a soft spot for the Gaba Cha, with its woody and spicy notes (cinnamon), as well as for Nadashiko, a Japanese black tea with truly unique character. In general, my tastes tend to gravitate towards Darjeelings and Pu Er. Having said that, over time I have come to realize that the beauty of tea is to choose a tea that fits the feeling, climate and mood. Try it, listen to what tea your body wants to drink.

What was your most recent discovery?

To be honest, tasting the seasonal teas from all corners of our selection and observing the nuances from one harvest to the other, plus feeling the evolution of a tea over the months is a constant discovery … For example, one of my favourite Pu Er has recently developed a rocky and mineral finish that was to subtle to distinguish before. Even if though Shou Pu Er has a slow evolution compared to that of Pu Er Sheng, these are the beautiful subtleties I love to discover.

Team Portrait: Catherine-Emma Tremblay

6 August 2017

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(On the right side of this picture)

At Camellia Sinensis, the quality of our teas has our reputation but the quality of our team makes it all possible. This month, we introduce to you Catherine-Emma Tremblay.

How did you come to work at Camellia Sinensis?

It’s my love for tea and all things tea that brought me to work for Camellia Sinensis back in 2007. I was a loyal client for a long time and eventually, I found myself behind the counter in the teahouse and eventually in the store as a consultant.

What is your role within the team?

Since 2011, I’ve been mainly working out of the offices, where the tea school is located. Part of my role is accounting for the Montreal stores, our online store and the warehouse. I’m blessed to work with such quality people and also a world-class product. To this day, I still have the same passion when it comes to talking and sharing tea with clients and co-workers.

In 2013, I was lucky enough to go to Taiwan and Japan with Hugo during one of his yearly trips as he visits tea suppliers and potters. It was a unique experience and it helped me really grasp all the hard work that goes behind what we believe is a “simple” cup of tea! But trust me, when it comes to Camellia Sinensis, it’s really straight from the garden to the cup.

Your favourite tea is…

Hard to chose only one. Actually, it really depends on the day and also the seasons, but normally I like to begin my day with a black tea. The Darjeeling 1st Flush such as the Thurbo DJ-16 and the Jungpana DJ-3 are my morning favourites these days. Their liquor is just so textured, fruity and spicy.

Tell us about your most recent find.

One of the great things about working at Camellia Sinensis is that you’re always sharing teapots with your collegues. Recently, Josianne made me taste the Jingxian Jin Jun Mei, a Chinese black tea that swept me off my feet with its richness and floral/fruity aromas with a side of cocoa.

I’ve also been really into this Chinese green tea : Anji Bai Cha. Jasmin really made a great find with this one. It has a great balance between its sugary gourmet notes and a stringent delicate side.

Team Portrait: Josiane Monette

20 July 2017

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(Josiane is on the left side)

At Camellia Sinensis, the quality of our teas has our reputation but the quality of our team makes it all possible. This month, we introduce to you Josiane Monette.

How did you come to work at Camellia Sinensis?

After I got weary of selling upscale furniture, I found Camellia Sinensis and I haven’t let go since – that was almost 11 years ago. The funny thing is that I never had tea outside of your “everyday commercial tea” but I thought I’d try interviewing regardless. I got a lucky because they needed seven new employees, (the Jean-Talon boutique was about to open) so my lack of tea knowledge wasn’t a barrier. To be honest, after the first interview, I really felt a good vibe and knew we would all get along– I knew I wanted to work there and be a part of the team. That’s why I was really happy to have been chosen and I can safely say that after 11 years of working for such a humane company, being hired has been a turning point in my life on many levels.

What is your role within the team?

I’ve worn many different hats over the years and what I do on the daily is quite diverse. Part of what I’m responsible for is scheduling for both Montreal stores and the teahouse. I also assist for accounting; I plan workshops for the tea school and also some logistics for events. I give conferences in various venues and also for the tea school. I also try to go to the Jean-Talon store to help out with clients as much as possible. It helps me stay in touch with our awesome clientele and learn about their tastes. Office work can be great, but it’s not the same than face-to-face interactions and a cup of tea.

Your favourite tea is…

A black wulong tea from Taiwan called Gabacha, I can never get tired of drinking it. I find it so comforting with its spicy cinnamon and ripe fruits notes. It makes me daydream which actually works out great because I tend to multi-task, and think up of many projects at once. What’s also great is that if I over infuse it by forgetting it, it won’t turn bitter– actually it’s at its best after a good 8 minutes. Otherwise, I like all Pu Er’s with accentuated earthy notes and my Darjeeling Thurbo morning tea.

Tell us about your most recent find.

With all the new springtime arrivals, it’s hard to make a choice. A tea I recently rediscovered this week is the Jingxian Jin Jun Mei, an excellent Chinese black tea. It has floral and woody aromas and a velvety texture reminiscent of honey. Its finesse is unmatched and its just excellent with croissants and jam on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Team Portrait – Sébastien Collin

7 May 2017

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At Camellia Sinensis, the quality of our teas has our reputation but the quality of our team makes it all possible. This month, we introduce to you Sébastien Collin.

Tell us about how you started at Camellia Sinensis…

I had an immediate friendly connection with these tea ambassadors and related strongly to their desire to democratize tea.  I found the teahouse inspiring and was happy to have an opportunity to be a part of such a dynamic and innovative company. I still have fond memories of the early days: organizing small spaces to manage the inventory, tending to clients at the Emery boutique….and concocting our homemade blends in the back store.

What is your role within the team?

Throughout the years, I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of many creative initiatives and projects.  I have worked in the development of our stock management, store management, quality control, client servicing, employee training, website content.  I also host various tasting events, write blogs and have been a big part of our educational program and various publications. After years of living my passion for tea in our stores, I am now back in the warehouse dealing with numbers and our ever changing inventory.

Your favourite tea is…

Although not my “every day” tea, the Pu er are my favourites for their fuller and richer taste. They are so powerful and vibrant and can create the feeling of time standing still. The 1992 Menghai Hou Gen Pu Er has a special place in my all time favourites as it brings back fond memories of my travels in China.

What is your most important discovery?

Keeping it simple and basic.  I have learned the value and appreciation of the daily ritual. The importance of delving in with “body-and-soul” when tasting.   A good tea will please me with its aromas, taste, mouthfeel and after taste but also impact my body through stimulation, relaxation and many other more subtle sensations.

Team Portrait – Émilie Poissant

26 March 2017

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At Camellia Sinensis, the team behind the company is as important the quality of our tea and teaware. This month, we’re happy to present you Emilie Poissant, the manager of the Jean-Talon store in Montreal and our in-house pairing specialist.

Émilie, what is your role within the team? 
I’ve been working with the Camellia Sinensis team for 6 years now having previously worked as a pastry chef, cheese expert, chocolate maker and trained as a wine sommelier. With this background you can see how I developed an interest for food pairing. I’ve been managing the Jean-Talon store since September.  I also run four different workshops and conferences, generally pertaining to food pairings between tea and cheese/chocolate.  I am also in charge of elaborating the Table d’Hôte tasting menus for the Tea House.

Your favourite tea is…
That’s a tough one. My everyday morning tea is Kamairicha, a Japanese green tea. Having said that, I’m also very keen on Chinese wulongs from the Wuyi region, notably the Qi Lan Wuyi,  the Rou Gui Da Wang and the Bai Rui Xiang. I have been very loyal to Mr. Nen Yu’s Dong Ding (roasted) from Taiwan recently, as it is very interesting for pairings. I also love the rounder, darker and fuller flavours of Darjeelings and the Autumnal Nepalese teas, or the Chinese Feng Huang Hong Cha.

Can you name us a recent discovery?
It would be the Rou Gui Da Wang but I wouldn’t call it a new tea as it’s been in on sale for a couple of months now. I love its roasted notes that are like grilled nuts, its sweet, mineral finish and its long persistence.

Employee profile – Manuel Legault Roy

21 March 2017

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At Camellia Sinensis, the team behind the company is as, if not more, important than the quality of our teas and teaware. This month, we introduce you to Manuel Legault-Roy, who has worked with us for many years.

Manuel, tell us how you started with the company …

By the end March, I will be celebrating 7 years with the company! Time enough that I have had the chance to wear several hats, including that of editor of the Tea Tasters Blog and assistant-manager at the tea salon.

What is your current role in the team?

Since last December, I have switched role to be in charge of the in-house staff training. Basically, my role is to ensure the smooth circulation of tea information through our entire team, so that everyone in the company can easily find their way through the rich and complex world of tea. To do this I have to make sure that my colleagues are constantly refining their knowledge using various resources (specialized training with our expert tasters on specific points, taking workshops in our Tea Schools, collection and distribution of tea articles, one on one trainings or small group meetings to respond to particular themes and/or issues …).

Your favourite tea is …

I don’t think I am can pick a tea and call it my ultimate favourite, not for any period of time! I tend to appreciate tea, in major phases, by style. For instance, when I was first hired by Camellia Sinensis, I drank a lot of Chinese black tea, with a particular liking for Xiao Zhong and Zhenghe Hong Gong Fu. This phase ended about two years ago, to be replaced by a deep thirst for Japanese green teas, in which I have developed a special affection for Sencha Saitama and Kabusecha Saemidori.

What has been your most recent discovery?

I must admit that my discovery of the year for 2016 was a black tea from China. A rather special tea in fact, as though Chinese, this one was transformed with parameters usually reserved for the black teas of Darjeeling. The Jingning Bai Hong Cha 1st flush from Mr. He represents a curious hybrid whose flavours and aromas were unknown to me. After about 10 years of tasting, it is really fantastic to be able to be completely bowled over by a new tea. So in my book I give this honour to this exceptional experimentation by Mr. He.

 
 

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