Think “tea” and “Canada,” and curling up by the fire with a cuppa likely comes to mind.
But here’s a twist. Westholme Tea Farm is Canada’s only tea-grower, allowing you to sip Canadian tea in the place where it’s grown, British Columbia’s Vancouver Island.
“It’s the most unique tea experience in Canada,” says tea farmer and custom blender Victor Vesely, who owns Westholme with his wife, ceramic artist Margit Nellemann.
All tea comes from the same plant. Whether green, white, oolong or black, the type is determined by the heat processing that creates oxidization — or doesn’t, as in the case of green tea.
A former chef, Nellmann also creates Westholme’s tea and tisane (herbal tea) blends. Her fanciful clay teapots and cups are on sale in the Westholme tea shop gallery, tactile treasures that all but beg to be held.
Westholme plans to expand the tea program with new, outdoor, small-group tastings and educational sessions when COVID-19 restrictions lift. Visitors will walk around the tea terraces with Vesely, then learn about flavours and histories of a range of teas, hearing stories of the most-widely consumed beverage in the world — after water.
The program will focus on small-scale global growers, including high-quality teas that are hard to find in North America. Westholme’s estate-grown green and black teas will also be tasted.
Tea history and tradition
“The connection to tea history and tradition is the foundation for Westholme,” says owner Vesely. “We still honor all teas from all the tea-growing regions around the world.”
Westholme is located in a lush spot in Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Valley, about a 45-minute drive north of British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria. The small-but-expanding tea farm is on a former dairy farm in a shallow valley ringed by three mountains.
This region of farms, forests and rolling hill has been called Canada’s Provence for its Mediterranean-style climate, wineries, markets and excellent restaurants. I love spending time here, and visiting the tea farm added to the pleasure.
This is tea?
So, what does tea look like before it hits the cup? I was expecting tea bushes to be something exotic, but they look pretty much like the squat evergreens you might have growing in your backyard.
They’re covered in leathery, serrated-edge leaves, the same Camellia sinensis plants whose leaves have been plucked, processed and drunk as tea beginning thousands of years ago in East Asia.
By the way, all tea comes from the same plant. Whether green, white, oolong or black, the type is determined by the heat processing that creates oxidization — or doesn’t, as in the case of green tea.
The Canadian-grown teas sell out quickly. I like Westholme’s delicate Tree Frog Green as well as the Maple Smoked Green, which incorporates cold-smoked wood chips from a big leaf maple felled on the property.
The couple recently purchased the two-acre property next door for 2,000 more tea plants that should be ready to be used for tea within five years.
“There’s a lot more to tea than the lukewarm metal teapot with a teabag,” says Vesley. “We offer a high-end experience that complements attention to detail and aesthetics. There’s no parallel experience. You can’t find this anywhere else in Canada.”
Napa of the North
“They call Vancouver ‘Napa of the North,’” Vesely says.
Cowichan means “the warm land” in the language of the region’s first inhabitants, the Quw’utsun people. That temperate climate is a farmer’s delight. It also makes it a good place to spend a few days hiking, cycling and exploring. The ocean is nearby and there are small towns to explore.
One of my favourites is the waterfront community of Cowichan Bay. North America’s first Cittaslow community, an offshoot of the slow food movement, is home to a pretty houseboat village and commercial fishing harbour. You can often spot seal lions and swooping eagles. Whale-watching tours depart from the harbor dock.
The main street has some good places to eat and charming boutiques. I like to drop in at Wild Coast Perfumery, where owner Laurie Arbuthnot creates all-natural artisan fragrances blended to evoke memories of British Columbia locations like Tofino and Salt Spring Island.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Visiting a tea farm to learn how tea is grown and processed, its history, and what to look for when tasting will appeal to lifelong learners and tea lovers. Tasting Canadian tea is a unique experience.
- Visits are safe, small-group sessions held outdoors.
- You’ll enjoy the fresh air of one of the most beautiful places in Canada. The Cowichan Valley is a great spot for active, curious seniors, with hiking and biking paths. Try kayaking or fly fishing. Feeling like a lazy afternoon? Try a slow trip tubing down the Cowichan River.
- Visit nearby wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries. The 14 wineries on the Cowichan Wine Trail are small operations, some with accommodations and dining. Many are award-winners. Be sure to pop a cork of Charme de L’ile at Unsworth Vineyards, Vancouver Island’s sparkling nod to Prosecco.
- The tea terraces are easy to walk through and on a gentle grade, although they are not fully accessible.
Vancouver COVID-19 Update: What you need to know
- The U.S.-Canadian land border remains closed to non-essential travel, which is discouraged throughout British Columbia at this moment.
- People who travel by air, regardless of citizenship, must show a negative Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours before departure. They will need to be tested again upon arrival and wait for three days at their own expense (about $1,575 U.S.) in an airport quarantine hotel. Anyone who tests positive will have to quarantine elsewhere for 11 more days.
- Masks are required indoors at all retailers and restaurants (except when eating and drinking).
- Since COVID-19 restrictions are rapidly changing, check with Canada and British Columbia government websites for travel updates.
IF YOU GO
Read the full story of Linda Barnard’s team firm experience, Westholme Tea Farm Is Turning Heads in the Tea World, in YAM Magazine.
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