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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.

AN INNOVATIVE TEA FACTORY: TAKE A TRIP WITH US TO THE TEA STUDIO!

4 October 2018

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Innovation in the tea industry

The Tea Studio is a prime example of a new wave of artisanal approach to manufacturing tea of high quality. It relies on many innovative elements, in its design, technology and its environmental and social responsibility.

Furthermore, this project has brought together tea experts from 3 continents. The team has an avant-garde approach to tea making through experimentation in order to meet the growing market of boutique-style tea with a wide variety of “custom” teas.

The Tea Studio is located in India, more specifically in the region of Nilgiri, which offers an excellent source of clonal and classic tea, grown and cultivated with Camellia Sinensis seeds var.sinensis and Camellia Sinensis var.assamica.

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Have you been following the Tea Studio evolution?

Back in March 2018, we had officially announced the launch of this new project, labelled as an experimental tea factory located in the Nilgiris. Today, the factory has been operating for a full year and our four expert tasters have already are over there for some hands-on research and development. Have you had a chance to taste our first batches?

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A busy travel itinerary!

From October 1st to 20th, Hugo, François, Jasmin and Kevin will be at the Tea Studio with their Indian partners, fine tuning the way that the factory operates as well joining them for meetings and providing support to the production team. It will also give the collective a chance to plan and organize the next phases of this project. So plenty of work ahead… but constantly surrounded by that incredible view of the tea gardens!

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China arrives…in India

Two of our favorite Chinese tea producers (Mr. He and Mr. Tang) will be joining the team on this journey to share their expertise and fine tune their production methods. Mr. He, is the producer of several classic Chinese green teas (Huiming, Jingning Yin Zhen, Bai Ye Long Jing, Long Jing Zhejiang, Long Jing Jingning Bai). At home he is a well known agronomist, processing specialist, scientist, director of a tea research center and taster, will be helping to improve the tea factory’s overall quality. This will be his first trip outside of China! We are so lucky to have this opportunity to benefit from his experience on this type of project.

Though the quality of our first batches greatly exceeded our expectations, this is very much a learning process so this is a unique opportunity for us to improve.

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From tea tasters to tea producers?

After 20 years in the tea industry, Jasmin recently admitted he’s looking forward “to getting his hands dirty”! This will be an opportunity to do so, as our four tasters will not only be tasting teas at the Tea Studio they will be actively help producing it. Look out for the new batches produced by either Hugo, François, Jasmin or Kevin.

Participate in the local community’s development

Our team’s quality of life is an essential part of our mandate. The Tea Studio is gradually raising funds to provide access to education for girls from the rural villages in the valley.

Drink up!

12 September 2018

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tasses tasting

 

Following the recent article in La Presse about the democratization of wine tasting, the Camellia Sinensis team sat down to discuss tea’s evolution over the past 20 years. (translated from the French)

 
Tea… an elitist passion?

As with wine and other fine tasting products (coffee, cheese, chocolate, spirits …), there is always a risk of rigidity when talking about tea. The specialization and knowledge that come with any form of fine tasting, and the apparent expertise that ensues, can easily lead to lack of compromise in one’s discourse, especially early on as we begin a new passion.

Are Camellia Sinensis purists?

We are of course no exception, and we’ve had all been through our own personal purist periods. When we opened back in 1998, the atmosphere was more Bohemian, to say the least. Then we gradually developed an expertise that led us to into what we call our “purist era” (about 2001-2003). Early trips to Europe, especially France, had given us the false impression that to be credible, one had to project a certain elitism. This, we later realized, is not only completely wrong, but plainly against our company ethos!

It is tempting for the enthusiastic tea folk in our team to spread their knowledge in this way, especially when they first join the company. For some, it almost seems to be a mandatory stage before they can feel at ease in their dialogue. As in many other industries, it takes time to understand how much or what type of information a customer needs. The team receives constant and intense training in may aspects of tea, but we always emphasize the importance of keeping everything accessible to the client.

Focus on sharing

For us, tea remains both a passion and a pleasure, and our approach is first and foremost focused on taste, pleasure and sharing. Possessing a thorough knowledge of tea is an intellectual endeavour but is not necessary to appreciate its fascinating diversity of flavour profiles or to enjoy its benefits immediate and longterm. This is a message we advocate in all the classes in the Tea Schools, many of which are focused on tasting, sharing and exchanging impressions without censorship.

As Jasmin often likes to say, “ Everybody should drink tea!” – whether it be in our shops, our teahouses, our tea classes or anywhere else, our role is the inclusive democratization of tea for all.

Three things to know about Tai Ping Hou Kui

10 May 2018

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Our team has ecstatic at the discovery of Tai Ping Hou Kui tea, not only because it is an exceptional tea of great delicacy and complexity, but also due to the heavenly location of its garden. If that weren’t enough having know the producer, Mr. Ye, for many years, we know we have a friendly and authentic partner and that’s why this tea has been one of our favourites since 2007. Here are three things to know about this tea.

No roads lead to its garden

Located in the beautiful province of Anhui, you’d have to travel on country roads before arriving to the edge of a river. You then need to take a boat to get to the garden. The tea is made near the river in the Sanhe region. On the other bank, hidden further back in the rugged mountain terrain is where you’ll find Hou Keng, which is the village in which the original terroir of this tea originates from. It’s been roughly 4 years since Hou Keng is connected to the road. That’s how we can visit Mr. Zhang who produces Taiping Hou Kui Hou Keng, a more expensive, but exquisite tea. The steep and very rocky soil gives the tea a very complex mineral and floral taste.

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Pure craft: a special tea transformation

Mr. Ye, our producer in Taiping Hou Kui, uses an astonishing artisanal processing method to obtain flattened leaves, each on average six centimeters in length. In 2018, he was awarded the certificate of excellence from our team.

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A rare tea

To start off, we only select the terminal bud and its following two leaves. After the harvest, the leaves are then sorted and sent off to get manually desiccated. The leaves are then individually placed on a wire mesh in a way that no leaves touch each other, at which point, a second wire is placed over them. We then apply a cotton cloth on the frame, then, with a quick gesture, we pass a roller over them. We let the leaves dry, gradually and for about an hour, inside the frame over a wood fire. Impressive!

Sencha: 3 Distinct Styles

14 April 2018

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Steam and fire (for roasting) are two essential elements of the transformation of Sencha. These two processes are largely responsible for the tea’s flavour and aromatics.

In Japan, steaming is used by almost all producers but they don’t all approach it in the same way. By exposing the leaves to different levels of steaming, they are able to create three distinct styles of sencha, each with specific nuances.

Asamushi Style

Obtained by a short steaming (20 to 40 seconds), asamushi style Sencha can often be identified simply by the leaves remaining whole. Light and slightly tannic, their ample taste is reminiscent of green vegetables and fresh grass.

Fukamushi Style

With a longer steaming (80 to 200 seconds), we get a Fukamushi style. The leaves become softer and easily breakable, due to the longer steam time. The result: an intense taste and a lively, darker infusion.

Chumushi Style

The Chumushi style is a mid ground of the two previous styles of sencha, the leaves that are steamed for 40 to 80 seconds. These teas have a more classic Sencha taste are big in the Japanese market.

The Nomenclature of Japanese Teas

11 June 2017

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In Japan, the concept of terroir is much less prominent than in China. The names given to teas relate more to the production and transformation methods of leaves. Discover the eight main types of Japanese tea: Sencha, Bancha, Hojicha, Genmaicha, Tamaryokucha, Gyokuro, Kabusecha and Matcha.

SENCHA

By definition, Sencha means “infused tea”. It is the most common of Japanese teas as it accounts for about 80% of the country’s total production. The quality of the Sencha teas varies as some are intended for everyday consumption, while others are much more high- end, rare, complex and subtle.

Consult our Sencha teas

BANCHA

Bancha is usually made from leaves and stems from late summer or autumn harvests. However, the best quality of Bancha is produced from June harvests.

Consult our Bancha teas

HOJICHA

The Hojicha is a Bancha whose leaves have been roasted for a few minutes at a temperature of about 200 ºC. While this method may remove many of their properties, it does gives them a honey taste with hazelnut notes.

Consult our Hojicha tea

GENMAICHA

Made with a green tea base mixed with grilled brown rice grains and puffed rice, Genmaicha are ideal for an everyday tea. There is however, a higher quality of Genmaicha, depending on the tea base used. You can also find a third variety to which Matcha has been added.

Consult our Genmaicha teas

TAMARYOKUCHA

There are two types of Tamaryokucha. The first, the Mushi Sei Tamaryokucha (or Guricha) undergoes a steam desiccation. Produced in the country as a whole, but mainly in Shizuoka, this tea tries to duplicate the appearance and taste of various Chinese green leaf teas. The other type of Tamaryokucha is called Kamairi Sei Tamaryokucha (or Kamairicha). Its desiccation is made in vats and its production is concentrated on the Kyushu Island. Although most of the production is now automated, there are still a few factories that produce hand-made batches.

Consult our Tamaryokucha

GYOKURO

By definition, Gyokuro means “precious dew” and is known to be the highest grade of tea in Japan. Its production is limited to a single harvest per year, towards the end of May or the beginning of June. The aim of the Gyokuro culture is to develop the rich flavour of this tea, which is one of the tastiest in the world.

Read our article on Gyokuro
Consult our Gyokuro teas

KABUSECHA

In order to obtain a Kabusecha, a covered crop is also required albeit of a shorter duration. While some growers hang synthetic blankets over the tea plants, others place it directly on the plants for about 12 days.

Consult our Kabusecha

MATCHA

Introduced by Buddhist monks at the end of the first millennium, Matcha is the first type of tea to have been drunk in Japan. Originally, the dried leaves were cut into small pieces and crushed using a stone mill. Today, the plants are often covered to produce the best Matcha.

Read our tips on matcha preservation
Consult our matcha and its accessories

The Darjeeling’s Annual Flavour Cycle

17 April 2017

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The First Darjeeling harvest is upon us! As we wait to get our first taste of its exciting and complex flavour, here is a guided tour through each of the production seasons – a small preview of what’s to come.

Spring or First Flush (March – April)

The cool, dry Himalayan Spring offers an optimal balance between the sun’s heat and rainwater which awakens the plants from their dry winter dormancy and enhances the quality of the harvest. This slow, yet progressive growth that the crops are picked, according to the region’s standard, which is from the bud out to the two first leaves.

The transformation begins with a long withering, known as a ‘hard-wither’ which removes a large quantity of moisture in the leaves (often more than 60%), this explains why the First Flush is often quite green in appearance. The subsequent oxidation on the partially dried leaves, captures the precious aromatic chemistry that is the trade mark of these Spring teas. The final leaf composition is a blend silver buds with light, dark and green leaves.

Whether lightly rolled, for sophisticated and supple new taste trends, or tightly rolled for a more classic and full-bodied flavour profile, they are renowned for their vibrant, floral and fruity liquors, embodied by that greenness best suited for that early Spring thirst for aromatics. It is also the season that truly reflects the flavour diversity of the region as each garden’s specific signature flavour is more apparent at this time. Each tea is a reflection of its terroir: the type of plant, the know-how and the pre-harvest climate which inevitably have a unique impact from one lot to another.

Summer or Second Flush (May – June)

The Summer harvest is generous and offers beautiful, bright and juicy leaves. The rolling process induces the release of its luscious juices while the oxidation benefits from the heat and humidity to transform its flavour and darken its shine.The liquor is coppery, woody and generally structured. Black teas lovers rejoice at the accents of ripe fruit, citrus and muscat, all are at their peak. Warm hints of spice and brown sugar are also typical of the Second Flush.

Monsoon (July – August)

The next growth cycle occurs in the midst of the warmest and rainiest period of the year, resulting in an abundant harvest from accelerated growth. The juices and flavours are therefore concentrated and thus naturally diluted. As such, the teas produced during the monsoon period, are often full-bodied and darker, mainly serve to feed the production blends of the “morning teas”.

Autumn (October – November)

During the Autumn harvest as dry climate and cold nights dominate, the growth of plants is greatly slowed down. This slight “climatic stress” can help produce exceptional teas, similar to the ones from the Spring season The brown, ocher and silvery leaves, offer soft and woody liquors, with caramelized and floral aromas are quite appealing.

So shine up your teapots as Kevin travels through India – he’s sure to bring us some unique teas, often referred to as “the champagne of teas”.

Gyukuro 101: Shade Teas

26 February 2017

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Also known as “Precious Dew”, Gyokuro is a very popular Japanese green tea produced mainly in the regions of Uji, Yame and Shizuoka. Called “shade” teas, Gyokuros have a particularly fine taste and a characteristic sweetness. It is said that they have a taste of umami, this fifth basic flavour reminiscent of a pleasant taste of broth covering the whole tongue.

How is it that this mysterious tea taste so sweet? The secret resides in the garden pratice, that differs from the majority of teas. To produce Gyokuro, or any shade tea, it is essential to deprive the tea bush of sunlight. The story goes that a producer, during a dry spell was protecting his plants from suffering too much sunshine and decided to cover his tea bushes with straw. Once the leaves were  transformed he was pleasantly surprised by the result.

This method reduces the process of photosynthesis and prevents the transformation of theanine (not to be confused with the theine) into catechin, the flavonoid responsible for the astringency of tea. To produce Gyokuro, shade must be placed over the tea bushes for 2 to 3 weeks before harvest. During a period of 7 to 10 days, 55% to 60% of the luminosity is blocked, and during the last 10 days, 95% to 98% of the luminosity is cut off. This results in a tea of great sweetness endowed with a rich aromatic complexity.

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What about the price? The lack of light slows down the growth of the tea bush so its yield is naturally reduced.  And as with most rarer teas, it is hand picked adding to the price.

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What is the best way to taste Gyukuro?

To taste the characteristic flavour of Gyokuro, it is recommended to infuse it at a lower temperature (60-70 degrees Celsius) in a small volume of water (between 100 and 150 ml) for 2 minutes. For this amount of water, use about 1 teaspoon of Gyokuro.

Enjoy!

Tea: should it always be organic? Our opinion on the subject.

20 February 2017

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The virtues of tea have long been recognized; it contributes to our longevity by stimulating the functions of the heart, strengthening the immune system and preventing cell mutations. In recent years, however, the issue of pesticides has been raised in discussions around this beverage. Here is the position of Camellia Sinensis on the subject.

At Camellia Sinensis, our main criterion for choosing to import a product is its overall quality; a tea with exceptional taste, cultivated with respect in a healthy garden, by people we know personally. Since our first voyages to producing countries in 2003, we have been working directly in the field to guarantee not only the high quality, but also, the wholesomeness of the teas we import.

Tea is an agricultural product in the same way as vegetables or wine; it is quite usual for cultivation to  require fertilizer and / or biological or chemical repellents to guard against insects and fungal infestations. When possible, and as a rule for tea produced in large quantities, we always select a certified organic tea. But it is important to know that international organic certification is expensive and that for many family artisan producers it is a huge sum. Since we travel deep into the countryside, the producers we meet are more focused on their local market than on the international market. This is the case for many Chinese and Japanese producers who sell the majority (if not almost all) of their products locally. What we buy from them is rarely enough to make international organic certification profitable.

It is also important to know that non-certified production does not amount to poor quality production. Many farmers care about the health of their gardens. And rightly so, because it directly affects the quality and safety of products placed on the market. Conversely, certified organic production does not guarantee the quality of the tea: many commercial products have no other value than their organic certification. That is why it is first and foremost important for us to favour considerate agriculture and the local purchase of high-quality products from artisans. By visiting them on a regular basis, we make sure not only to create beneficial bonds of trust in our procedures, but also to verify the state of health of a garden in the short and long term.

What about biological certifications at Camellia Sinensis? Our company is in fact certified organic by Ecocert since 2004 – our shops, the warehouse, the commercial resale and all the selection of organic teas that we offer. We have also taken steps for the tea gardens of Mr. He, in China, where we obtained Ecocert organic certification in 2008. However, in order to continue offering the teas at the same price, we took the decision to drop the certification, knowing that its gardens pass the most stringent standards at the organic level.

Since 2007 we have also been testing several teas per year for chemicals. First of all at the Centre d’expertise en analyse environnementale du Québec (CEAEQ) and now with the SGS laboratories, directly in the producing countries, to ensure the safety of our teas before export. All tests are carried out according to the European Union standards, i.e. the strictest in the field.

As we also are big drinkers of our teas, it is quite natural to undertake this type of approach to ensure that the liters we drink every day are healthy.

To learn more about our approach: here.

Trends come and go but are never quite the same!

27 January 2016

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Since its appearance in Japan in the middle of the 18 century, the Sencha style quickly established itself.  At first it developed as an export product then was gradually adopted domestically in several phases of increasing popularity. Some current techniques and processing methods retain aspects of these original traditions. Other modern methods developed to supply constantly evolving tea markets and then reacting to the competitive arrival of other drinks such as coffee and cola.

Senchas remain popular and now represent over two-thirds of Japan’s tea production. In their various adaptions around a central theme, they are now offered in bulk or packaged in attractive vacuum bags or pouches to attract the largest number of varied interests and tastes. To appreciate this diversity, it is good to have indicators to decipher the origin of taste styles offered. Thus, in addition to the types of cultivars, terroir and harvest seasons, both processing steps such as the vapour drying and the final drying (hiire) jointly produce distinct teas according to time changes and the intensity of their parameters.

Following are three senchas to explore that will lead you from one from one ‘sub-style’ to another refining your palate to the subtleties of these delicious green teas.

DSC_7334 - copie copieSencha Tsukigase Icho-ka: Asamushi without hiire

In the tradition of the style, this hand-crafted lightly steamed (Asamushi) sencha did not undergo intense heat to finish the drying. Its large heterogeneous leaves, indicative of a light sorting, offer a bright and clear liquor, displaying the character of fresh herbs and spring flowers. Perhaps the closest we get to the taste of tea as it grows in the field!

Sencha Ashikubo: Asamushi with high hiire

This other Asamushi tea, i.e. made with a short steaming, releases the typical liveliness of the original style, accentuated with a fine tangy zest while retaining its herbal character. The final drying, which is increasingly popular in the current industry, gives it a surprising aromatic complexity. While valued for its effect on the conservation of tea as well as its ability to standardize mixtures of different lots, here we appreciate the intense hiire primarily for its taste impact, most delightfully enhancing the liquor and its fruity gourmet nuances. Expertise on the lookout for a modern aesthetic!

Sencha Fukamushi Tsuyu HikariFukamushi without hiire

The longer steaming known as ‘fukamushi’ usually generates teas with smaller leaves, with many broken under the repeated effect of rolling. Created in this way, true to the modern style it offers a sweet, rich and textured, dark green and opaque liquor, marked by classical accents of green vegetables and herbs, indicating a transformation with a final drying at lower heat. The rapid infusion releases generous tannins that give it body, perfect for the current use in bags and other forms of express consumption. A custom creation for the needs of today’s world!

For the more epicurean among you it remains worthwhile to vary your tastings from one style to another- encouraging artisanal producers with unique teas and sometimes discovering products from less common cultivars such as Koshun or Saemidori …

 
 

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