The international tea scene may be experiencing a resurgence (if you haven’t heard, tea is the new coffee), but Victoria has long been one of the epicenters for tea culture. After all, in a vibrant, culture-rich town that uniquely offers a mix of old-world charm and new world experiences, tea is the perfect mascot.

With a solid selection of traditional tea rooms, cozy cafes and a growing crop of trendy tea bars pushing the scene forward, Victoria offers a seemingly endless supply of spots to sip on tasty brews. Pull up a chair and pick up a teacup, there is no better way to ease the fall chill than with a piping hot pick-me-up on a Victorian tea pilgrimage.

Victoria, BC Getaways

1. The Fairmont Empress

A tradition for more than a century, tea at the Empress is a rite of passage in the Pacific Northwest (a whopping 500,000 cups of tea are poured each year). Pop into the iconic, elegantly renovated building and cozy up on the plush couches for a comforting cup of tea.

Crack open the beautiful wooden menu and peek into the tiny glass window panes to pick from one of the 21 loose leaf teas available for your sipping pleasure. By the time your tea arrives at your table and has finished steeping, you’ll be ready to dive into the accompanying slate of phenomenal eats fit for a queen (after all, the Empress is the only place in town that has played host to Queen Elizabeth II herself), each more delicious than the last.

Be Sure to Try: Save room for the fresh, house-made scones. Topped with preserves made from local berries and lavender grown in the hotel’s little-known, rooftop garden, they will transport you to foodie heaven.

Indulge in exquisite tea at the Fairmont Empress. Credit: The Fairmont Empress
Indulge in exquisite tea at the Fairmont Empress. Credit: The Fairmont Empress

2. The Butchart Gardens

Acres of vibrant plants, blooming flowers and an exquisite selection of nine loose leaf teas combined with a classic three-tiered assortment of goodies, make The Butchart Gardens a must-visit spot on a Victorian tea tour. While it is about a century too late be one of Jennie Butchart’s thousands of personally-served guests (yes, she really did serve tea to everyone who visited The Gardens), tea in the airy and bright Dining Room Restaurant offers the perfect respite from peeping at the gorgeous leaves and blossoms scattered around The Gardens’ sprawling grounds.

Sip on a cup of the popular 100th Anniversary Tea (a blend of Darjeeling and black Hunan and green gunpowder tea), and gaze out the window on what was Jennie’s private garden to get a taste of what it might have been like to dine out on the lawn in the early 1900s.

Be Sure to Try: Pair your afternoon tea with the Backyard Flight, a selection of three Vancouver Island wines that have hand-picked by The Gardens’ expert culinary team to complement your tea treats. Sea Cider’s crabapple-based Pomona pairs excellently with The Dining Room’s signature ginger scones, the sparkling Glenora Fantasia Brut from Zanatta Winery goes well with savory sandwiches and Rocky Creek’s 100 percent blackberry wine is a superb companion to sweets.

Feast on three-tiers of tasty eats while being surrounded by a variety of gorgeous blooms. Credit: The Butchart Gardens
Feast on three-tiers of tasty eats while being surrounded by a variety of gorgeous blooms. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

3. Pendray Inn

A less than two-minute stroll up the street from Clipper’s Victoria terminal will land you at the Pendray Inn’s stunning, 1890 heritage property (A little insider tip: look up to catch sight of original frescos painted on the ceilings of some of the rooms). Duck inside the quaint Pendray Teahouse to sample the West Coast Tea for seafood-focused treats or feast on the Traditional Afternoon Tea. You’ll have your cake and eat it too with an overflowing lineup of locally-produced goodies, such as salmon pinwheels, cucumber sandwiches, mousse, cupcakes and chocolate dipped strawberries.

Be Sure to Try: Nosh on not one, but TWO mouth-watering types of scones. We’ll leave it up to you decide which is more delightful, the white chocolate lavender or Earl Grey.

Afternoon tea is a white cloth experience inside the historic Huntingdon Manor Hotel. Credit: The Huntingdon Manor
Afternoon tea is a white cloth experience inside the historic Huntingdon Manor Hotel. Credit: The Huntingdon Manor

4. Silk Road Tea

Situated at the gateway of Victoria’s historic Chinatown, Silk Road Tea provides a portal into the vast world of tea. With a fresh aesthetic and a relaxed vibe, the shop contains a wealth of all things tea, including an impressive variety of locally grown and blended tea selections that are sure to please novices well as avid tea enthusiasts.

Stop by the tea tasting bar and sip your way through a few tea varieties, experiencing the different flavor profiles before selecting the perfect blend. Be sure not to miss out on the shop’s mouth-watering tea and chocolate pairings or brush up your tea education with one of Silk Road’s fabulous workshops, where you will learn how to create everything from tea cocktails to tea slushies.

Be Sure to Try:  According to owner Daniela Cubelic, “The coziest of fall flavors can be found in Snow Apple Spice Tea. This seasonal release pairs sweet harvest apples with warming spices, sweet vanilla and hearty, yet smooth black tea. The tea is absolutely delicious on its own, but you can also easily transform it into a cocktail or an easy, instant dessert idea.”

Sample a flight of rare and exotic teas literally worth their weight in gold. Credit: Silk Road Tea
Sample a flight of rare and exotic teas literally worth their weight in gold. Credit: Silk Road Tea

5. Terroir Tea Merchant

Wander down Fort Street and duck to the modern Terroir Tea Merchant for one of the most unique tea experiences in the city. While the shop’s clean lines are a dramatic departure from look of a traditional tea room, the simple design allows you to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of meticulously crafted, pure tea. Owner Charity Hobbs explains, “I wanted to create a space where people could taste and buy pure loose leaf teas, learn more about tea and increase their appreciation of tea through workshops and tasting events.”

Follow your nose to the aroma bar to sniff a carefully curated collection of 20 pure loose leaf teas in order to pick out the perfect flavor. As your cup steeps to perfection, watch the leaves swirl about in the distinctive Steampunk brewing machine, (the first of its kind in Western Canada). Your elixir is then served up in a vacuum-sealed glass, along with the spent leaves, bringing the sensory experience full-circle.

Be Sure to Try: Cozy up with Terroir’s Ceylon Chai, a sweet and peppery mix of spices and black tea hand blended by Hobbs, which pairs amazingly with a slice of banana walnut bread or a raisin oatmeal cookie. Or, if you can’t decide on one tea to sip on, Hobbs suggests, “Sample Terroir’s custom tea flight of three teas (A little insider tip: the Organic Turzum Muscatel, Alishan High Mountain Eco Fall and Mangalam Assam, bring fall’s spicy, nutty and malty flavors straight to your cup) so you can take your palate on a journey around the world and learn more about tea.”

Tea brews to perfection in the Steam Punk brewing machine. Credit: Lucas Anderson
Tea brews to perfection in the Steam Punk brewing machine. Credit: Lucas Anderson

Victoria takes its tea seriously, but how you take yours is up to you. Discover the hidden gems of the tea scene inside the city’s downtown core, sip a comforting cuppa while gazing out at spectacular harbor or garden views or cozy up in a historic building to be served on china fit for a queen. No matter how you chose to enjoy your brew, you are sure to feel like royalty.

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Feature Photo: Lucas Anderson

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