By Jacey Gibb, Opinions Editor
Nestled in the epicentre of the Quay’s River Market, you’ll find an open bar with several matching stools positioned in front of you, just begging for you to take a seat. But you won’t find a Coach Pantusso waiting behind, ready to mix your favourite highball and dispense surprisingly sage advice. Instead, you’ll be faced with an armada of horizontally piled tea leaf containers and enough tea trivia to overload a super computer. Welcome to Great Wall Tea Co.
One of the original inhabitants of the River Market since it underwent a radical resurgence two years ago, Great Wall fills the role of a niche store that picks a speciality and then kicks ass at it. The menu is understandably basic, consisting only of regular teas, latte variations, and, the most seasonally appropriate at the moment, iced teas. They also sell the tea leaves on their own, for those antisocial civilians who are just looking to get their hands on some great tea before rushing back to the Batcave before nightfall.
The first encounter with Great Wall is a daunting time for everyone. The wall behind the bar is made up entirely of over 400 various tea canisters—but don’t worry champ; there’s only 160 or so different kinds to choose from, so that narrows it down slightly. If you’re looking to avoid mild vertigo, I’d suggest seeking solace in the printed, double-sided menu that outlines the numerous flavours being offered
Luckily, all of the staff is as passionate about tea as you are about Community’s themed episodes. Each employee is a well of tea knowledge, taking sympathy on newbies who are clearly overwhelmed with options and they’re usually able to help pick out a kind that caters to your cravings.
The menu is also divided up into select varieties, making it easier to navigate. Such categories include black, flavoured black, English favourites, oolong, matcha, chai, green, flavoured green, rooibos, herbal, and tisane (fruit).
While I’m no tea guru, I used to think I had a pretty solid handle on what I liked to put in my cup of hot water, but since I started visiting Great Wall, it’s like I was wearing the wrong prescription of reading glasses for years. Chocolate orange, lychee conga, and mango rooibos are just a few of my new favourites, while I’m still working up the courage (and finances) to dive into their desserty flavours—which I’ve heard go divinely in the latte format.
Of course, what would a speciality store be without some ridiculousness thrown in? While the majority of the teas range between $8 and $14 for a 100-gram bag, there are a couple varieties that clear the $30 mark. One tea in particular, the jasmine dragon tears, has a production process that makes its $40 price tag seem almost reasonable. First, the leaves are handpicked, as to not damage the delicate plant, and then are placed in a room full of jasmine flowers. The jasmine is then changed out on a daily basis for three weeks, to ensure that maximum flavour infusion occurs, after which several leaves are hand rolled together into tiny balls. In case you’re wondering, yes, apparently the tea is well worth the extensive process.
If you find yourself hankering for an invigorating cup of tea, but want to stretch your comfort zone beyond the Waves/Blenz/Starbucks Triforce, then mosey on down to the River Market, pull up a stool at Great Wall Tea Co., and get ready to subject your senses to a tidal wave of tea.