A New Era for Victoria’s Coffee and Tea Culture 2

photo: a selection from Jill Heffner’s teacup collection. Servers expertly match suitable cups and saucers for each customer.

Part 2: Move over, Murchie’s

I’m actually a big fan of Murchie’s. They make good coffee as well as tea, and their scones and pastries never fail to impress. They are undoubtedly one of the reasons (along with Afternoon Tea at the Empress and Butchart Gardens, not to mention White Heather and the Blethering Place) why Victoria is often referred to as Canada’s tea capital.  However, the focus seems to be shifting from teatime to tea experience. This shift began with the opening of Silk Road a few years ago, but the trend has continued more recently with last summer’s arrival of JagaSilk Teabar. This serene spot tucked into a corner of the Nootka Court is the perfect place to visit for a masterfully brewed cup of single estate, organic Japanese maccha tea. Their limited offering loose teas are imported in micro batches to ensure the highest quality. Owners Miyuki and Jared Nyberg impart their expertise as they serve, using master potter Harumi Ota’s ceramic mugs and cups as vessels for their crisp, aromatic green teas.


The most recent addition to Victoria’s collection of tearooms is Venus Sophia. Located at 540 Fisgard St., in the heart of Chinatown, it was described by one visitor as an “eloquent tea room”. Before I paid my first visit, I wasn’t sure how a tearoom could be eloquent, but when you walk in, it becomes evident that the place does speak to each visitor differently, triggering various memories and evoking distant locations. Owner Jill Heffner reports that many guests have approached her, saying how it reminds them of a place they visited in Paris, or a teatime ritual shared with grandparents.  Jill describes this as “combining the outer world of geographics with the inner world of experience”, and seems to be a big part what she and her husband Rod Shouldice set out to create.


Jill is very clear when she tells me that this is not a business concept, but a reflection of who they are. They wanted to develop a tearoom that truly supports the culture of tea; a culture which they obviously appreciate and respect whole-heartedly, stressing how different it can be from the coffee culture. The latter often seems designed to speed things up, increase productivity, grab your coffee and go, while the culture of tea offers “the possibility of peacefulness”, a time to slow down and contemplate.


Which is not to say that the family doesn’t like coffee. On the contrary, Jill and Rod take great pride in bringing in freshly roasted Oso Negro beans from Nelson, including a Venus Sophia blend that has been made just for them.  They also serve Level Ground coffee, Red Espresso (a South African rooibos prepared as espresso would be) and of course, a wide range of teas from Two Leaves and a Bud, Silk Road and organic teas blended in California. For the time being, the menu is à la carte, although they are considering a fixed tea menu for the summer months. They offer a number of options for people with dietary restrictions; while the business continues to put the finishing touches on their kitchen, J & J Raw Foods supplies a variety of raw treats, from carrot cake to cheesecakes, and Cascadia provides the bread for their selection of house-made sandwiches. We are not talking about cucumber triangles, either. I sampled the scrumptious open-faced Prosciutto, Pear and Gorgonzola, sharing Rod and Jill’s fondness for mixing fruit with savoury foods. Soups and salads are also made in-house, and requests have been made for Jill to bottle and sell her special (lemon, garlic tahini) dressing.


Increased curiosity and education surrounding tea production and consumption has led to happy changes in Victoria’s tea scene. Whether you are looking for a traditional teatime, or a brand new tasting experience, Victoria has tearooms that cater to all.

Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

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