“I love these teapots,” says Maranda Barnes, motioning to the metallic gold pot with black accents that sits on a table, her tiny reflection staring back at her. “Because they have this kind of rounded mirror: I can see you, and I can see you, I can see the guy over there. It’s a community. The teapot here incarnates the experience you are going to have in a tea salon.” Barnes is co-founder of TWG Tea, arguably the most luxurious company of its kind in the world. Founded in 2008 in Singapore by Barnes and her husband Taha Bouqdib, TWG is known across the globe, especially in Asia—but it is only now expanding to North America, and chose Vancouver as its first flagship.
Occupying the space that once held The Urban Tea Merchant, the Vancouver TWG Tea Salon & Boutique has carried with it a change in aesthetic, bringing in marble, dark wood, gold trimming, and brass embellishments, and a whopping 500 teas (though the company’s full collection features over 800). The Vansing Distribution Group, previously the owners of The Urban Tea Merchant, are now TWG Tea’s Canadian purveyors, and it seems like a natural partnership: both teams have a penchant for the details, and a passion for enriching the tea experience.
It is fitting that tea is what brought Barnes and Bouqdib together in the first place. Barnes, an American, was attending school in Paris; Bouqdib, a French-Moroccan, was working at a French luxury tea company whose salon Barnes liked to visit. “There was always a great team, and on occasion, there would be this one guy hiding behind the flowers,” Barnes recalls. “For four years, we just caught glimpses of each other—we would chat, but I was learning French, and he didn’t speak English very well at the time. He was literally hiding behind the plants!” One day, Barnes wandered into the shop with a peculiar feeling that something was about to change. Bouqdib was at the salon that day, and he came over and suggested a tea for her to try—but once finishing, Barnes became nervous and paid without saying goodbye. “I thought, ‘This is kind of scary, something’s going to happen today, and I don’t know if I want it to happen,’” she says. “I walked out but then I felt bad, and I thought, ‘I didn’t say goodbye and he was so sweet.’ So I came back. Can you believe that? Ten minutes later. And he was outside on the street looking for me.”
The couple always knew they would end up doing something together, and a shared love of tea made it the perfect thing: full of history, full of nuance, and, especially for them, full of meaning. They moved to Singapore to be closer to the tea plantations within Asia, and launched TWG with 250 tea variants—sourced from countries around the world, but all of the best quality that the earth could grow. Now TWG has 60 Salon & Boutique locations, as well as an app, a marvelous guidebook outlining each product, and even scented candles infused with six kilograms of tea.
The Vancouver Salon is a treasure chest for tea lovers, but knowledgeable staff will undoubtedly ensure that even a newcomer can walk in, smell some things, learn about a strain or two, and walk away with something great. “We just want to show that there’s care, and a process, and time that needs to be taken in the preparation,” says Barnes. “And if there’s time taken in the preparation, there should be time taken to appreciate it.” The candles are available here, along with some special collector’s tins, and those looking to dine in can have a cup of their favourite blend (hot or iced, or perhaps mixed into a cocktail) along with lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, with each meal or snack infused with and inspired by tea.
Though perhaps not every salon-goer will be so lucky as to meet her life partner inside, tea is an undeniable connecting force. It has been bonding people for thousands of years, be it during ceremonies in China or afternoons in England. There’s something about the colour, the smell, the ritual of it all. The steam rising from the cup, the reflection on the pot.
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