O5 exterior

Since September, Kitsilano’s O5 Rare Tea Bar has been filling up with customers interested in tasting and learning about some of the most unique single origin teas in the world. After being open for only two months, O5 has already garnered WE Vancouver’s Silver Award for Best Tea Shop in Town.

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Last night, I was part of a small group invited in to taste a few of tea hunter Pedro Villalon’s favourites.

Daily infusions are listed on a fresh sheet on the long wooden counter, serving as a social way to sip and savour. O5 stocks about 15-20 teas in total. These teas come from plantations that harvest around 10 kilograms a year, as compared to tens of tons of tea sold to larger companies.

Pedro personally visits the tea farmers in areas of China, Taiwan, the Himalayas, Korea, and other spots around the globe, ensuring that quality and taste standards are met before each purchase. He builds relationships with the farmers, often bringing batches straight home from the plantation. The rest of the teas are shipped. So far so good: he’s only had one problem with inconsistency since opening O5.

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The interior space is long and narrow, with modern lighting fixtures and metal stools. Pedro explained that his tea bar creates community by allowing visitors to ask questions, share their opinions of the tea that’s brewed right in front of them, and socialize.

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O stands for origin; 5 stands for the five elements in nature: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void. This combination produces the best possible tea, but when it comes right down to basics, Pedro’s criteria for picking tea boils down to good people behind the plantation, healthy earth, and no spraying. And it must be delicious.

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[Oaxaca region Hibiscus flowers]

Each harvest differs from one year to the next. What Pedro avoids is the same plantation’s harvest tasting the same each year. This is something best left to his friendly neighbours, David’s Tea, a few doors down. When I asked him how happy he is about the fact that two fanciful tea shops coexist on the same block, he said that David’s sends people over to O5 all the time, especially when their customers want a single origin, micro-batch tea. And if they want a fruity blend, Pedro sends them a few doors down in the opposite direction.

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Teas sold in the shop are labeled with the exact coordinates of where the tea was picked, the date of picking, and the name of the farmer.

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I am a recent tea convert (preferring herbals and white tea over black). Pedro is fully aware of my fierce love and devotion to coffee, and I’m sure he loves the challenge of people like me who he can both educate and perhaps turn on to the special teas on offer. We tasted a White Moonlight cold infusion tea with Kale & Nori’s Denman Bitters, served in a champagne flute. The Asian and sub-Gobi spices in the bitters stood out ahead of the softness in the white tea, and served as a nice start to the evening.

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Matcha shots take 20 seconds to prepare, and warmed on the heating element with a quick whisk to blend the powder with the water. The caffeine in matcha lasts longer than a cup of coffee and the buzz isn’t as harsh, explained Pedro. Green teas are stored fresh at 2C at the shop.

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The tea bar has an induction cooker, heating the water to its optimal temperature in 90 seconds. This way, the water is always ready to go for preparing the next tea.

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On the other end of the scale, a Pu erh tea cake needs three to five years minimum to allow proper aging of the tea. These cakes (displayed on the counter) appreciate in value over time. The stack of cakes in front of me have quadrupled in value over the past few months already! They’re nearly as valuable as gold after about 40 years.

Speaking of old age teas, we tasted a 1991 charcoal-roasted Oolong tea ($13/glass), with its smooth taste. This stunner forms part of the tasting flight menu.

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I uttered Pedro’s word of the night, delicious, when I tasted Oaxaca Hibiscus flowers in a tea grown 1,000 meters above sea level, in an area known as the “desert in the mountains“. It was served in a glass with fresh Kitsilano-harvested rosemary and Bittered Sling’s Orange and Juniper Bitters. Not too sweet on its own, but sampled with candied ginger, the flavour picks up speed in no time. Ask for the Issha Special when you come in.

While we didn’t taste the savoury tapas on the menu, we were treated to a Darjeeling caramel ($3) in between sips. This is the smoothest, creamiest form of caramel I’ve ever tasted, prepared by O5’s own chef. I’d recommend picking up several to go if they’re in stock.

O5 tapas
[Tapas. Photo credit: Issha Marie]

O5 hosts various events during the year; the next one is 2 Alchemists & 2 Tea Hunters on January 18, from 6 to 9:30 pm. Tickets are $50 and include four cocktails and four tapas.

O5 tapas
[Tapas. Photo credit: Issha Marie]

All items will be prepared using O5’s teas, and drinks will include Kale & Nori’s Bittered Sling extracts.

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Both vegetarians and dairy-free needs can be accommodated at the time of booking, advance notice preferred.

The shop can accommodate up to 30 guests at a time. O5 has quickly become the destination for fine tea sips and socializing, with its projection screen on the far wall showing photos of Pedro’s visits around the globe, procuring the most delicious tea possible to bring home to Vancouver. O5 is located at 2208 West 4th Avenue in Vancouver.

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