I love tea and drink pots of it every day. Yes, pots. From my extra strong black tea first thing in the morning to green, herbal or fruit teas in the afternoon, I both drink a lot and love the variety of flavours tea comes in. Plus, many varieties have some health benefits so I can feel good – or at least, not bad – about my tea habit.
I also love learning about different tea cultures so it was no surprise that when I was living in Korea, I explored the tea culture there. Along with attending a few tea ceremonies, adding to my tea pot collection, and learning that a green tea bath was very soothing; I also spent a lot of time in traditional tea shops in Korea simply drinking tea.
So it should be no surprise that when I moved back to Toronto, I looked for a Korean traditional tea shop here. And looked. And looked. But while there were lots of Korean restaurants, noraebangs (노래방, Korean private karaoke rooms) and grocery stores, as well as some bars, there were no Korean tea shops in Toronto. Oh, there are several tea shops that serve British high or afternoon tea, bubble tea shops, some Chinese tea shops, and a ton of regular tea shops where you can buy good loose leaf tea… but no Korean traditional tea shops.
Soohyang (수향 – 전통찻집) just opened on October 15th and I’m so happy it did. I visited on Sunday afternoon and as soon as I walked into the tea shop, I was immediately greeted by the owner. She was super friendly and helpful, sharing her knowledge about Korean tea – even some of the research she did before opening the shop – and talking about some of the benefits of the teas.
Want to know more? Of course you do.
The menu for the tea shop is on a slice of bamboo which is interesting and fits with the ambiance of the place. There are 11 different Korean traditional teas you can order; six of which can be ordered both hot and cold, while the other five can only be ordered as a hot tea.
There are also a variety of snacks you can order to accompany your tea, most of which are rice cake based.
You can also order a fruit smoothie of the day or coffee.
What I Tried at Soohyang
While I had tried many of the teas on the menu when I lived in Korea, and like quite a few of them, I asked the owner for a recommendation of what tea I should try, and after asking me a few questions, she recommended I order the jujube tea (대추차, daechu cha) as it was high in vitamin B and C and would be good for my slightly sore throat and help boost my immune system. As I like the taste (I’ve had it before), I ordered it – as did one of my friends while my other friend ordered medicinal herbal tea (쌍화차, ssanghwa cha) because she had a cold.
My jujube tea arrived on a wooden tray with flower handles, complete with a spoon holder and a small dish of candied ginger and a traditional Korean cookie (약과, yakgwa). The presentation was lovely and the jujube tea was delicious, flavourful and mildly sweet – just like I remembered. I was surprised at how soothing it was to my mildly sore throat and would definitely drink it again when my throat was sore.
As we stayed a few hours – I was helping my friends with a project they were working on – we ordered another tea and snacks later. This time we all ordered the schizandra tea (오미자차, omija cha) as we were told it was good for women, and well, we were all women. Again, I had drank it before (and quite like the complexity of the flavours) but neither of my friends had. I’m not quite sure I can taste all five flavours – it’s known for having five distinct flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent – but it’s definitely complex and you can taste the sweet and sour fairly easily.
Of course, we had to try some of the snacks so I ordered the Korean rice cakes with honey and my friends shared the glutinous rice cake pizza. I thought the rice cakes complimented the tea nicely but we all enjoyed our snacks.
The next time I go, I want to try either the apple tea (사과차, sagwa cha) or the green plum tea (매실차, maesil cha) as those are two I don’t think I tried in Korea. Or perhaps the chrysanthemum tea (국화차, gukhwa cha) as it’s one of my favourites.
I loved it! If the location was closer to me, I would probably visit weekly as I found it relaxing and friendly, with a good assortment of Korean traditional teas. It would be a good place to drink tea and write or drink tea and chat with friends. Unfortunately, it’s about an hour from where I live so my visits will be less frequent but I’ll definitely be back. If you like tea, especially if you live in the north part of Toronto, I definitely recommend visiting Soohyang.