Tess van Straaten
Monday Magazine columnist
There are more than 800 farms in the Cowichan Valley, but none are like the one I’m visiting today. It’s actually the first of its kind in Canada and I can’t wait to get steeped in nature – quite literally.
“Would you like to try our tea of the day?” asks Kim King of Westholme Tea Farm, as she sets out two beautiful ceramic taster cups. “It’s called Holy Spice.”
|Tess van Straaten|
The flavourful tea explodes in my mouth as I take my first sip. I can taste the basil, fennel, orange peel, cinnamon and cardamom that give this hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind tea its spice. It’s one of more than 100 organic teas on offer at Canada’s first tea farm.
“No one else in Canada is making tea at the level we are and no other tea in the world is going to taste like this,” says Westholme owner Victor Vesley, who planted the first Canadian tea seedlings on the south-facing slope of the farm a decade ago. “All the elements of tea: earth, water, fire; combine in the environment, and being here is so special.”
The fertile landscape of the Westholme Valley, near Duncan, has created a unique microclimate that fosters the growth of camellia sinensis tea plants.
“All tea can be made from it and it has a smaller leaf and is hardier for our climate,” King explains, handing me a tea menu, complete with tasting notes, of all the locally-grown and imported premium tea blends.
Sitting in the former milking parlour of the old dairy farm, surrounded by the coveted, hand-built ceramics of Vesley’s talented wife, Margit Nellemann, I try the Organic Bengal, with a subtle touch of spice and cinnamon, and the Organic Black Lavender with beautiful notes of bergamot and the fresh, floral fragrance of lavender. For a sweet treat, Vesley suggests pairing it with a raw chocolate brownie and an apple Ceylon cake made from Gravenstein apples grown on the property and with tea baked in.
My next stop is Cobble Hill Mountain, for a refreshing hike through the towering tree canopy to wear off the decadent desserts. It’s then just a short drive to Marifield Manor Bed & Breakfast, which is perched on a hilltop overlooking Shawnigan Lake. The beautifully-restored Edwardian mansion is filled with antiques and charming character details, and owners Jocelyn and Mitch Williams couldn’t be more welcoming.
After a delicious gourmet breakfast in the formal dining room, we stop at Masons Beach to watch birds frolicking across the water before heading to Merridale Cidery & Distillery, one of my favourite spots in the Cowichan Valley. It’s harvest season and the trees are laden with fruit at B.C.’s first estate cidery, which will have some of the best farm-crafted ciders on offer at its popular harvest festival at the end of the month.
On our way home, we stop at Bridgeman’s Bistro in Mill Bay for lunch on the water with a beautiful view. Noshing on fish tacos and a black and blue Cajun burger as the sun glistens off the bay, I can see why Cowichan’s slogan is to slow down and savour life.
Read past columns by Tess: