Raintree Wellness Spa is a local favourite of mine. The ambiance is warm and comforting, service is superior and treatment options are diverse. Their major point of differentiation for me is the focus on an impeccable customer experience. You feel valued as a client with the level of personal attention given to every customer. You’re always greeted with a smile and warm shoulder wraps and tea are offered as you wait for your treatment.
Adding to the mix of offerings, owner Barbara Bell recently began hosting tea tasting and education workshops at the spa. I attended my first workshop in March where we sampled and learned about white tea – the only tea I had never tried!
Eight of us gathered around a long, beautifully set table. Tea Master Bill Lee led the workshop with Barbara, who is also a newly certified Tea Master. Together they took us on a tasting journey of white tea while telling the story of how the tea is picked, dried and proper methods for brewing. Being an avid loose-leaf tea drinker who has read books on the history of tea and researched brewing methods, I was surprised by how much I didn’t know! For example, I didn’t realize that with any tea, the first infusion should be treated as a rinse for the tea leaves, and discarded. They taught us that rinsing the leafs removes any debris and also actually removes some of the caffeine from the leaves. I also never knew that to achieve the highest quality brew possible, water should not be re-boiled once it’s previously reached temperature because of the deoxidisation from the first boil.
White teas of fine quality should be brewed with just about boiling water, and only for approximately 5 seconds before removing the brewed tea from the leaves for serving. The time increases with each infusion you make from the same batch of leaves.
White tea is unfermented and the least processed of teas. Young buds and leaves are picked in the early harvest and are left out in the sun before being lightly dried with heat, rather than being oven toasted, like black teas. There are three main types of white tea: Silver Needles, White Peony and Shou Mei.
Silver Needles is the most pure of the white teas comprised only of the young buds of the tree, not the leaves. The buds are covered in very soft, very light ‘peach fuzz’ that gives the tea its namesake white colour. These buds produce a very delicate flavour.
White Peony has a mixture of both buds and more mature leaves to achieve a richer, fuller flavour of white tea. Bill and Barb noted the crispness of White Peony and the toasted almond aroma. They paired this with an Almond and Chevre Crostini to play off the almond notes in the tea. We sampled many infusions from these leaves and it was amazing to distinguish the differences in flavour and texture as they opened up between each brewing.
Shou Mei has the fewest number of buds and mostly was comprised of the mature tea leaves. As a result the flavour was even more developed, but still very delicate. Bill and Barb paired this with chicken tossed in a peanut sauce atop of a slice of cucumber. Very refreshing!
As a special treat, attendees were the first to experience a custom tea blend that Bill and Barb created themselves. It is called Raintree Relax Tea and features Silver Needles with chrysanthemum buds and osmanthus flowers. It was a beautiful tea that reminded me a bit of chamomile, but much more crisp, clean and delicate. We enjoyed a serving of White Peach and Lavender Sorbet made especially for the white tea workshop by a local Steveston patisserie – The Sweet Spot. I am a huge fan of using lavender in cooking and baking, and the pairing with white peach was heavenly!
Once attendees have participated in three workshops they will automatically become a member of the Raintree Tea Club, where tea and tea accessories will be offered at 10% off retail price. Members will also have access to a tea member-only section of Raintree’s website, set to launch in May.
I truly enjoyed experiencing the white tea culinary tea series at Raintree and can’t wait to attend another workshop.
For more information on Raintree and their tea workshops, please visit:
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