The Montreal tea room scene? Apart from tea at the Ritz (more on that below), there wasn't much of one until the turn of the 21st century.
Apart from buying brand name tea at the local supermarket, heading down to one of Chinatown's small shops for loose leaf or indulging in a traditional English afternoon tea experience at select Montreal luxury hotels or in private clubs like Mount Stephen, you were lucky to find a tea room at all.
But since the late '90s, more casual and accessible tea rooms have been quietly multiplying, offering everything from classic English afternoon tea to Chinese, Japanese and Moroccan-themed tea rituals, adding multicultural flair to the tea time experience as well as proposing a stimulating alternative to coffee shops.
Whether you visit in the spring, when Montreal tea houses boast the freshest tea leaves of the year, gather friends and loved ones for a fun summer or fall outing, or seek comfort from the winter cold over a hot cuppa, you don't need a special occasion to enjoy the following hot spots on the Montreal tea room map.
The Grand Dame of Montreal's Tea Scene: Tea at the Ritz
Before there ever was a Montreal tea scene, there was the Ritz-Carlton and its sumptuous afternoon tea.
Served daily at two sittings -either at 1:30 p.m. or 4:30 p.m.- guests choose from a handful of tea varieties and each get their own teapot.
As per English afternoon tea tradition, a three-tiered tray is shared, topped with scones, clotted cream and rose petal jam. The second tier features savory classic crust-free sandwiches -cucumber, tomato, smoked salmon- and then bottom tray is adorned with French pastries.
Guests most reserve in advance, especially if they want the most coveted spot of all, the table by the fireplace.
Afternoon tea at the Ritz is $32 per person, $42 with a glass of champagne.
Afternoon tea time used to be a daily ritual only afforded to the elite and higher echelons of upper crust society in England in the 19th century when it was first popularized as a lunch and dinner go-between.
Well, a lot has changed in the last century or so.
A fresh wave of Montreal tea rooms have brought the afternoon tea experience down to earth, with some remaining true to traditional tea time form with all of its frills and requisite etiquette, while yet others deconstruct the experience, creating a new ritual altogether.
And a quick note on high tea. Enthusiasts have been mixing up the concepts of "high tea" and "afternoon tea" for years. High tea might sound uppity and exclusive, but history dictates that it's quite the opposite.
Afternoon tea is a delight, yes, but it's not the end-all.
Experience the pleasure of Chinese, Japanese, and Moroccan tea rooms in addition to classic English and find out which stores carry the finest tea leaves in the city by visiting Montreal's best tea rooms and tea shops.
Camellia Sinensis isn't just Montreal's top tea house with over 250 different leaves on offer, it's one of North America's most respected tea shops.
Its co-owners travel annually to China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, and Taiwan to track down the finest leaves to bring back to Quebec. They also age select teas in the Pu-erh cellar.