Tea culture at Pekoe Tea Lounge

I sat down with Pierre Leonardon, owner of Pekoe Tea Lounge, to chat about the growing popularity of tea in Vancouver.

pekoe_tea_lounge
Pierre Leonardon, owner of Pekoe Tea Lounge, working behind the counter. Photos by Wanyee Li.

"It's a good thing to drink tea all day long," Pierre chuckled as he revelled in his passion for tea. Walking into Pekoe Tea Lounge at 895 West Broadway, it's clear that the owner, Pierre Leonardon, is sincere about his love for tea.

The tea house sells over 170 different kinds of teas, which is mind-boggling when you think about the number of coffee blends a coffee shop usually sells. And now, you can get a slice of pie with it, too.

"The tea and pie idea is our way of re-launching the business," explained Leonardon. "Competition is growing, so tea alone is not enough anymore."

I nodded as I savoured the slice of raspberry pie he had set down in front of me moments earlier. Clearly, they mean business. The bright filling was tart but sweet enough, and the crust was delicious, as I washed it down with a sip of darjeeling, a brilliant pairing suggested by Leonardon.

I asked him for his take on Vancouver’s changing and growing tea culture. He suggested that the emphasis on healthy living in recent years is a huge reason for the increasing popularity of tea in Vancouver. Coffee shops often promote drinks that are loaded with sugar and cream and although they are popular, health-conscious people would probably jump at the opportunity to buy something that is both energizing and healthy. In a city where yoga is the norm and dodging joggers on the sidewalk is routine, tea appears to be a perfect fit. Leonardon also cited a strong Asian influence in shaping tea culture on the West Coast. Japanese teas such as sencha and genmaicha are popular, and Chinese teas such as oolong and jasmine have long been staples in the Vancouver tea scene. More recently, chai has become a mainstream beverage, served at many coffee and tea shops. 

Undoubtedly, tea shop chains such as Davids Tea and Teavana are cashing in, but Leonardon said there's room for small businesses like his own as well. He points out that Pekoe Tea Lounge offers a sitting area for customers to enjoy their tea (and pie, if you so choose). The ambiance of the lounge is quieter than your average coffee shop. There is no whirring of blenders or hissing of milk steamers. Also, customers can choose their own tea cup, which is a nice touch. I appreciate the business idea of encouraging customers to enjoy their tea in the lounge, as most tea shops sell tea as a drink-at-home commodity. I prefer tea as opposed to coffee, so I enjoy the idea of drinking premium tea among friends in a tea house, or as a pick-me-up on the go.

gourd_bombilla

A growing trend among tea drinkers is mate or maté. This herbal tea, made by steeping yerbe mate leaves, originated in South America. It is touted for its health benefits, thanks to its a high antioxidant count. Mate is drunk using a metal straw, called a bombilla, which has a sieve in the submerged end. Essentially, the bombilla acts as a filter so that the mate drinker does not ingest the yerba when sipping the tea. I personally haven’t seen anyone carrying around a gourd mug, which is what mate is traditionally served in, but Pierre assured me that it’s the next big thing. Low and behold, as I was leaving, a customer bought a gourd and bombilla set. Now I know what kind of tea I’m trying next.

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