A visitor to Victoria recently asked me: if they were to buy a souvenir that truly reflected the essence of Victoria, what would it be? I pondered the question for a short moment and responded “Probably tea - or a tea pot or a tea cup or a tea cloth or a tea cosy”. After all this is English Canada and we don’t call it English for nothing.
The British have had boots on the ground here since the 1850’s when the Hudson Bay Company arrived and established a fur trading post on the current site of downtown Victoria. Reminders of our rich and vivid British history remain deeply etched into the modern culture of the city.
An example of which is the sheer abundance of specialty tea houses, staffed by expert tea sommeliers, that line the streets. I cannot tell you about all of the fabulous places to have tea in this blog, so I’ve chosen to tell you about three of my favourites.
Venus Sophia’s Tea House is situated right in the middle of old Chinatown; this place oozes English. It seemed like an odd location for an English style tea house at first but then I remembered the Silk Road and all the tea in China and realized that the location is probably perfect. Sophia’s décor appeals to my taste for pretty, pink and peaceful. Be warned, you will be confronted with the daunting task of deciding which tea to have from the dozens of organic leaf options. All served to your table in fine English china – with scones of course. The light lunch menu is vegetarian and the sweet delicacies are an indulgence to say the least. The atmosphere is quiet and the experience is often accompanied by a distant aria that threatens to waken the romantic in all of us.
The Bengal Lounge in the Empress hotel is just down the hall from the famous Empress Tea Lobby where Queen Elizabeth herself has been known to have sipped gracefully. Think of the Imperial days of the Raj and imagine yourself taking tea in old Bombay while gazing out across the lawn to the inner harbour. The décor here is large leather and a pot of Empress Blend is my recommendation. Worthy of note is the fact that the prices here are just a little kinder to the wallet than in the Tea Lobby. This room, originally the Reading Room, still offers that tranquil setting where tea can be savoured and good conversation enjoyed.
Finally, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. In Oak Bay the fine art of tea drinking is so entrenched in local society that one might forget for a moment that they were not in England. My favourite seat is in the grand lobby by the fire or near the window overlooking the ocean that gently caresses the shoreline below. The furnishings are living room style comfort and the view is stunning. Try from their selection of hot toddies and Spanish Teas – guaranteed to warm you from the inside and put that silly smile back on your face.
Welcome to Victoria where it’s always time for tea.
Thank you Pamela! Any traveller headed to the most British of Canadian cities can meet Pamela and converse over a pot of tea, or a walk along Victoria’s spectacular shoreline, on one of her private half or full-day chauffeured tours.