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Eat & Drink

February 24 2016

First Nations Flavours at Home in Gastown

What inspired you to open a teashop?

I’ve been working as a freelance communications designer for a long time with a First Nation social justice focus and was looking for a career change as well as a business I could start with my daughter. We envisioned a tea house that we could create that would be a peaceful space where we could express our culture and teachings. We also love the local maker movement and wanted to participate alongside small artisanal food companies that we really admire. The teas and sodas allow us to express creativity, culture and our love of delicious, Indigenous foods.

What can we expect in the way of flavours?

When we design a recipe, it starts with an inspirational ingredient like juniper or sage or nettles. Something local or meaningful or super nutritious – it might have all three elements. Then we spend time in a tasting lab pairing teas, herbs or flowers with a “flavour-first” approach. We work collaboratively on some of the blends like the Weaver’s Blend where we brought our spiritual mentors into the lab. 

Chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph, master weavers from the Squamish Nation, designed the Weaver’s Blend with a focus on creating a tea that clears the mind while encouraging focus. Their sage, blackberry leaf and mild black tea is delicious, unique and has become very popular. 

This “local meets global” approach to tea blending is what sets The Capilano apart. We blend Indigenous teas with black, green, white and rooibos teas from around the world. Some of the blends, like Juniper Rooibos, are teas we have been making at home for years. In this way, the teas communicate our urban Indigenous lives where we are enjoying every cultures foods and beverages and now we are creating space for everyone to enjoy ours too. 

Is there one tea that’s drawing the most interest?

Juniper Rooibos has developed a strong following and sells out regularly. There’s some magic alchemy within the tea that blends the earthy tones of juniper and rooibos with a hint of floral from the lavender and rose. Our teas are truly small-batch in that they are packaged 5 kgs at a time so the flavours are always fresh. And, we do not us any artificial flavours or added aromas so the steeped teas taste as great as they smell. This is a major differentiator for us and another reason we entered the tea market.

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All photos by Eyoalha Baker

For our botanical sodas, its a similar approach where we knew that we could create impactful flavours with a plant-love focus. Paisley has been making sodas at home for years so it was natural for us to build a business around her passion for flower, herb and root flavours. Her Real Root Beer is incredible and she just developed a Wild Cherry Bark Cream Soda for Nice Vice Creamery in Yaletown for their dairy-free floats. Her Rose Lemonade topped with rose petals is a big seller in the summer. We are currently building a six tap soda system and are excited to see the sodas take off in Gastown. 

You had the opportunity to do a few pop up openings before your official start. How has the reception been?

It was really great to spend last year doing pop-ups and markets. The teas and sodas have been well received and so we knew we had a great product-line. We were also able to get to know an amazing network of food-preneurs, and local business mentors, who helped us grow quite quickly while feeling very supported. It was also important to refine our operations and decide that, after all the start-up year trials & tribulations, we really love the business and are ready to keep growing. 

Capilano3Tell me about the space itself. There are décor elements that tie directly to your heritage. 

The space was designed by Paisley and expresses her First Nations heritage as well as her identity as an urban artist. She’s lived on-reserve and off-reserve, growing up primarily in Gastown, Chinatown and Strathcona. She also studied illustration in Portland and spent time in New York. Within the shop, visitors will feel the east-end cool factor balanced with the the spiritual warmth of our Coast Salish culture. We’ve are so fortunate to have been gifted with a wool weaving from our spiritual mentors Chief Janice George and Buddy Joseph. It is mounted in our front window above some rocks and driftwood from the Capilano River. Visitors will also see vintage cedar root weavings next to contemporary copper weavings adorning the tops of our retail shelves. 

Two other interesting features are the benches and small tables we commissioned Basic Design, out of Maker Labs, to create for us. They referenced Squamish longhouse architecture in the joinery of our reclaimed fir benches. And, carved the designs from my grandmothers (Paisley’s great-grandmother’s) cedar root baskets into the tops of our small tables.

And finally, why Gastown?

We chose Gastown because it’s the creative hub of Vancouver. On a business level, we see it as a neighbourhood of innovators where we can express exactly the look, feel and approach we envisioned for our tea house. On a personal level, we have both lived in the neighbourhood and love the intersection of old and new – its a perfect fit.