The first cup of tea was a serendipitous mistake. Legend has it that China’s mythical Second Emperor Shen-Nung discovered the brew when the leaves of a Camellia Sinensis bush fell into his cup of hot water. The libation created is now the subtle, invigorating drink that is so much a part of European and Asian traditions alike.
In the spring of 2003, Michael Obnowlenny became the first tea sommelier certified by the Tea Council and Tea Association of Canada. Obnowlenny is now in residence at the Fairmont Royal York’s centerpiece dining establishment, Epic, where he is breathing new life into the tradition of afternoon tea. Obnowlenny envisions a renaissance for tea in Canada. In the same way that the Ontario wine market has been reanimated through consumer and producer education, Obnowlenny hopes to see Canadians develop a palate for finer teas and a renewed appreciation for the social rituals associated with the beverage. Afternoon tea at the Royal York merges tradition and innovation with Obnowlenny providing new food and tea pairings to challenge the memory of anemic teas past. Traditional favourites like bergamot scented Earl Grey are always available, but you can also sample iconoclastic new blends such as Japanese Sencha and cherry blossoms or a delicious herbal tisane inspired by the fruits and flowers of Hawaii. Even children, Obnowlenny says, can appreciate the experience of taking tea with family and friends and so he has created a children’s tea menu at Epic.
A tea lover will tell you that each cup is different, a mystery revealed in taking time to savour the subtle qualities of the blend. With research indicating that the polyphenols and antioxidant flavenoids of black, green, and white tea help protect against cancer, it seems a wonderful thing to become reacquainted with your favourite cup.