Montreal tea houses that are the best of the best? That question used to take seconds to answer, the briefest of short lists it was just a decade ago, the kind you could count on one hand if only for the fact that so few afternoon tea or high tea sittings were offered in Montreal altogether.
It was a dark time.
Montreal Tea Houses: Camellia Sinensis
Montreal's top tea shop? Camellia Sinensis is either that or tied for first place with over 200 different teas available for sale on site or online. Camellia tea tasters travel annually to meet with tea growers, personally taste testing and handpicking desired selections to be sold to consumers.
The tea room itself is in Montreal's Quartier Latin, a small city centre district sandwiched between the Gay Village and downtown Montreal. In addition to sampling teas on location along with cheese platters, desserts and appetizer sides, loose leaf teas can be purchased by weight on location.
Camellia Sinensis teas are also sold right in front of the Jean-Talon Market.
Montreal Tea Salons: High Tea at the Ritz
Two tea time formats are offered at the iconic afternoon tea locale. Either stick with tea and a traditional tiered tray of goodies -finger sandwiches, pastries and scones served Devonshire cream and rose petal jam- for $32 a person (more like $45 with taxes and tip). Or opt for the royal treatment with a glass of house champagne tacked onto that tea and tray for $45 per person (roughly $60 with taxes and tip). Patrons are also free to order a glass or bottle of champagne of their choice as well.
Reservations are absolutely required to access Palm Court, the Ritz's tea time locale. Count on planning a weekend afternoon tea one month in advance as spaces fill up quickly. But you can probably get away with making reservations as late as 24 hours in advance if booking high tea on weekdays.
Afternoon tea at the Ritz features two sittings every day: at 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Dress code is at the very minimum casual chic (no sweatpants, clean look). Jeans are fine, but they must look crisp and clean.
This is the Ritz, after all.
Note that prices, packages and menu items are subject to charge without notice.
Montreal Japanese Tea Salon: Cha do Raku
Chao do Raku, a small flora-lined tea house on an unassuming side street in Montreal's Plateau neighborhood, doesn't do traditional high tea. What it does do is offer a unique experience in Montreal: Japanese tea time.
See Also: Montreal's Best Izakayas
And Cha Do Raku's specialty? Japanese green tea.
Sample visually appealing mochi, green tea cake, and other savory and sweet goodies with a pot of sun-grown sencha, perhaps Japan's best known green tea. Or try Gyokuro, a type of green tea shaded the last 7 weeks of its lifespan prior to harvest, a rarity outside of Japan. And of course, Cha Do Raku also features matcha, that powerhouse green tea powder that's all the rage among healthy living pundits.
Cha do Raku also sells loose leaf Japanese tea by weight.
Montreal Tea Room Revival: Cardinal
Think traditional high tea adapted to the times at St. Laurent Boulevard haunt Salon de Thé Cardinal, a two-floor tea room that wows guests with its interior design, an especially popular salon de thé with younger generations and owned by the same people as Sparrow, a popular brunch spot adjacent the tea room which is, coincidentally, one of my favorite pubs in the area.
See Also: Montreal's Best Brunch
Rather than serving finger food on old-school tiered trays at specific afternoon sittings, Cardinal is a little more flexible, proposing late morning to early evening opening hours and a series of à la carte menus: the salty (e.g., curried deviled eggs, cheddar bacon thyme muffins, smoked trout sandwiches) the sweet (e.g., blueberry scones, lemon drizzle loaf, shortbread cookies), the tea (everything from white tea to standard black like Earl Grey) and the cold beverages (think honey ginger lemonade).
Select loose leaf teas can be purchased on location.
Montreal High Tea Comfort: Gryphon d'Or
The most generous and comforting afternoon tea time in Montreal? The cozy Celtic tea house that is Gryphon d'Or, hands down. For $25 a person (plus taxes and tip), staff will fill up a tiered tray with so many goodies -scones, egg sandwiches, smoked salmon pikelets, crust-free cucumber sandwiches plus an assortment of lemon and butter pecan squares, cakes and shortbread- that you will need a doggie bag to finish it off. You just will.
They've even adapted their tea time formula for dinner, replacing finger sandwiches with meatloaf or veggie but-loaf sliders, green salad, traditional beef stew, chicken pot pie, rarebit macaroni and cheese and the like. It just costs $3 more.
As for the tea, it's standard fare. Reservations required at least 24 hours in advance. And don't worry about dress code. Just dress clean and you'll be fine. Gryphon d'Or is as down to earth as tea houses get.
Chinese Tea Time in Old Montreal: Ming Tao Xuan
You couldn't ask for a better selection of tea sets from the motherland at Ming Tao Xuan, a gorgeous Chinese-themed tea house lined by Old Montreal's cobblestone roads, just a quick stroll away from North America's most beautiful church.
Featuring an extensive selection of Chinese grown teas, Ming Tao Xuan proposes a traditional Chinese tea ceremony complemented by vegetarian dishes like steamed dumplings, vegan chicken on skewers, mango salad, and cheesecake.
All in all? The perfect setting for a relaxing lunch or afternoon of contemplation.
A Taste of Paris: Kusmi
Montreal's Kusmi store located on the Plateau's St. Denis Street is the Parisian tea brand's only Canadian location. In fact, the only other location in the Americas altogether is New York City. But before you try booking a table for afternoon tea, keep this in mind. It's a tea store, not a tea room.
But I just couldn't help mentioning Kusmi here because their tea blends are exquisite. They taste like beauty. And that's Kusmi's forte. The blend. They won't necessarily have leaves picked a week ago from the mountains of Darjeeling in reserve but their ingredients are high end, organic, and their magic lies in alchemy. The brand's skill at combining and balancing several ingredients to create a novel flavor is remarkable. Consider their BB detox blend for example. It features green tea, maté, rooibos, guarana, and dandelion flavored with a hint of grapefruit. Sublime, my fellow tea lovers.
And several times a summer without fail, I end up lingering on the store's sole outdoor couch -it's just by the door- sipping their iced tea of the day. It's one of my secret happy spots. Shhhh ;-)
Tea Time at the Coffee Shop: La Brume dans mes Lunettes
Quirky, fun and welcoming, La Brume dans mes Lunettes -an adorable way of saying "fog on my glasses" in French- is a coffee shop. A coffee shop that serves afternoon tea, complete with tiered trays and finger-licking goodies.
When You Need Tea NOW: David's Tea
Okay. So you're in Montreal and you need tea. And you need it now, tea houses and tea times be damned. Can't go wrong with David's Tea. They're everywhere. Just don't expect any finger sandwiches.
London in Montreal: Afternoon Tea at Le Parloir
Afternoon Tea in Verdun: Cha Noir
Comfortably off Montreal's usual beaten path is Verdun neighborhood's Cha Noir, a tea house offering afternoon tea time refuge as well as doubling as a tea store selling teapots, kettles with adjustable temperature -critical for any self-respecting tea drinker- and quality and rare loose leaf, including pu-erh bricks.
And rather than traditional high tea offerings on a tiered tray, finger foods and meals are à la carte featuring international flavors, cheese platters, and homemade desserts like red bean-filled mochis, matcha cookies and scones with strawberry jam infused with Earl Grey.
Moroccan Style: Orienthé
Just a few paces off a busy Plateau neighborhood street corner is Orienthé, a Moroccan tea house selling teas from Asia and Africa, notably Madagascar.
Take off your shoes, order homemade baklavas, and have seat amongst the pillows as you sip on traditional Moroccan mint tea or other varieties on offer. And check out the terrace in warmer months. Shishas available.