There is a difference, Victor Vesely notes, between growing tea and making tea. In establishing Westholme Tea Farm north of Duncan on Vancouver Island, Vesely and wife Margit Nellemann accomplish both.
While other Canadians have successfully harvested herbs and flowers for tisanes (herbal infusions), the duo have produced the nation’s first known Camellia sinensis—a plant that yields black, green, and every tea in-between. After six years of cultivating the crop, this past Canada Day marked the debut of Westholme Tea Farm’s estate-grown teas: Tree Frog Green and Swallow Tale Oolong—recently joined by Island Green, Quail’s Nest, and Quail’s Plume.
Tea making is usually passed down within a family rather than through the written word; not having any first-hand experience growing the plant, the couple approach the task through intuition. “It has been a lot of basics of tradition and having tea makers visit and assist or give advice,” Vesely says. “A lot of folks call themselves tea masters or [tea] sommeliers, and that’s great, but my schooling is more trial and error.”
Vesely and Nellemann supervise every step on-site, drawing upon the Cowichan Valley’s mineral-rich soil and surrounding slopes for protection from wind, and they refrain from using pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
Sowing a seed is one part of creation, but organic progression—true growth—remains a critical element that Vesely and Nellemann make time for. “Our goal is to be the home for tea culture in Canada in a very small and humble way,” Vesely says. “For us, it’s about honouring the tradition.”
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