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Drink up: It's tea time in Toronto

Coffee’s out, tea is in. At least that’s the hope of organizers for this weekend’s Tea Festival at the Reference Library.

While coffee shops have ruled the real estate roost since the mid-90s, the last five years have seen a relative explosion of specialty teashops in the city.

“Tea is not new to this country,” say Tao Wu, owner of Tao Tea Leaf and one of the festival’s organizers. “People just needed a chance to learn more about [it].”

With a mandate to fostering excellence in the world of specialty tea, the Canadian Tea Guild, who are co-presenting the festival, share Wu’s view of tea culture in Canada: the base is there, if only they can be steered away from the Red Rose.

Tea and coffee are often uttered in the same breath, but Wu says wine is the more apt comparison.

“You’re talking about the region, the season and who is the tea master making the tea.”

George Brown even offers a course to train tea sommeliers. And like wine, there’s a world of varieties and flavours.

“We have some very famous regions, but it’s hard to say where the best tea is from,” says Wu. It comes down to personal taste.

Wu comes from a tea family — growing up in the mountainous Wuyishan region of China, his parents worked in the tea trade. As he demonstrates aspects a Chinese tea ceremony in his Yonge St. store, Wu recalls how when he came to Canada in 2007, he assumed tea shops were none-existent.

“I thought people just go to the supermarket.”

It wasn’t until Wu, now 30, read about a Sri Lankan teashop that he decided to open his own.

“I also have a tea background,” he remembers thinking.

“Why don’t I do something like that? I love tea!”

Toronto Tea Festival — Saturday, February 2. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St. torontoteafestival.com

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