Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Reza Nasooti recognizes himself in his customers who walk into his store for the first time and express both astonishment and overwhelming awe. Those sensations can be followed by a feeling of not knowing what to do next. Nasooti is a tea sommelier and his passion is helping the public who enter TWG’s restaurant in downtown Vancouver to select the brew that is right for them. No easy feat because TWG stocks more than 500 teas from around the world. That fact will boggle just about anyone’s mind — including mine.
When I made a reservation for lunch in March, I expected a refined afternoon tea experience similar to what I have participated in at establishments in Canada known for the service. What I encountered was a two-hour journey that opened my eyes to the world of tea — a beverage I’ve been drinking ritualistically since I was a child. I was stunned by the options at TWG and enlisted Nasooti to do what he enjoys doing most — selecting the best tea for his guests.
“I thought I knew tea. I’m from an Iranian background and drinking tea is a natural thing, something I did on most days. It was a routine part of my life growing up, so I thought for sure I knew what it was. Soon after I started studying it, I learned how little I knew,” recalls Nasooti, the franchise’s director of corporate sales.
Nasooti’s tea education blossomed when he became part of the first TWG franchise operation in North America. The brand is ubiquitous in Asia, where it is known as a symbol of elegance and connoisseurship. As franchisees, Nasooti and his wife, Casey James, the company’s director of marketing and communications, flew to TWG headquarters in Singapore to participate in an intensive training curriculum that provided them with a depth of knowledge on tea. Like with wine, there were lessons in learning about the different terroir of countries that grow tea, blinding tastings, and an education of how to pair tea with food.
The education coalesces at TWG, where the afternoon tea experience is unlike anything else in Canada. You have tiered trays like you might expect from the venerable hotels that offer afternoon tea, but you also have a-la-carte menu options and a full-service bar to choose alcoholic beverages from, and then there’s the expertise of Nasooti and his staff.
“It can be overwhelming. You have 500 teas from around the world to choose from. I can see how a western consumer might feel some intimidation,” he says. “We’re aware of that and our role is to make some recommendations to help guide them through the experience.”
For me, he selected a Pu-erh black tea to pair with a Wagyu beef tenderloin, because – like many red wines — it has an earthiness and a complex flavour. It was a revelation to learn that a sip of tea can enhance the flavour and enjoyment of such a delicacy as Wagyu. I became immediately curious about Nasooti and his vocation.
Launched by James’s parents, the Vansing Distribution Group owns the rights to the Vancouver location of TWG (whose name is an acronym for The Wellbeing Group). James said the company is planning on expanding, including possibly to Toronto within the year. With small-business ownership in beer, wine, and coffee booming around the world, it seems tea could be next to find a strong niche of its own in the marketplace. As Nasooti points out, its similarities to wine can help it attract a clientele that wants an indulgence that’s a bit slower paced than the coffee experience.
“Tea is an activity where you sit and sip. Coffee you grab it and you have it on the go. So in that way tea is like wine, where you sip, you savour,” says Nasooti, who is a member of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada. While he is a tea sommelier with that organization, TWG refers to its staff who hold the position as tea connoisseurs.
If tea does have a boom time ahead of it, expect more people to find themselves caught up in the culture surrounding the beverage. There are 46 tea-producing countries in the world and TWG has products with ingredients sourced from each of them, as well as the largest tea list in the world. The company blends its own tea using leaves, flowers, fruits, and spices.
“As I gained an increased knowledge and as my passion grew, I really started to get into the different nuances of the tea world,” Nasooti says. “It’s one of those things that does impact global cultures. Each culture that enjoys rituals of tea has differences and similarities, and I find a lot of it is fascinating.”
MORE ABOUT TWG VANCOUVER TEA SALON & BOUTIQUE
Location: 1070 West Georgia Street (see map below)
Menu Price Range: The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and its afternoon tea service runs from 2-6 pm daily. A-la-carte entrees usually range from $19-$32. Tea options include a selection of finger sandwiches ($24), and regular set menus ($19-$39). For May, a special set menu features Atlantic lobster as the main course ($68).
2018 Mother’s Day Special: Mother’s Day brunch, tea, and dinner promotions are available. Check the company’s website to view menus.
TOP MOTHER’S DAY OPTIONS IN VANCOUVER AND WHISTLER
BOULEVARD KITCHEN & OYSTER BAR: A Mimosa Trolley will be among the highlights for Boulevard’s Mother’s Day brunch buffet (10:30 am to 3 pm) in downtown Vancouver. There will be housemade pastries, artisanal charcuterie and cheeses from the outstanding Oyama Sausage Co., and seafood specialties for which the restaurant is noted. The cost is $80 per adult. Boulevard’s dinner buffet (4:30 to 9 pm) will include carving stations featuring meat and fish. For reservations, visit the restaurant’s website or call 604-642-2900.
NITA LAKE LODGE: In Whistler, Nita Lake Lodge’s Aura Restaurant hosts a seafood brunch (10 am-1:30 pm) in its recently renovated space. Guests will savour an unlimited selection of sustainable seafood, such as chilled prawns, crab legs and smoked salmon, as well as other brunch favourites. Nita Lake is a wonderful boutique hotel with elegant rooms and one of the best spa facilities in British Columbia. The cost is $79 per adult. For reservations, call 604-966-5700.