Vancouver Island

The Queen of Tea

Meet Daniela Cubelic, a leader in Victoria’s vibrant tea scene

by Valerie Berenyi

Daniela Cubelic, founder of Silk Road Tea, Photo courtesy of Chung Chow

Victoria has long been steeped in tea; both British and Chinese tea traditions have been honoured in the city for well over a century, the venerable Fairmont Empress Hotel began serving its legendary afternoon tea in 1908, and, around 25 years ago, tea master Daniela Cubelic founded Silk Road Tea, a highly acclaimed shop that has led the way for other modern, tea-related businesses in the city and beyond.

Opened in 1992 in a heritage building in Victoria’s historic Chinatown — and filled with the welcoming aroma of tea-infused body products, not to mention shelf after shelf of loose-leaf teas, stylish tea pots, and plenty of other Camellia sinensis paraphernalia for sale — Silk Road was the first organic tea company and tea-tasting bar in North America. Today it carries more than 100 kinds of fresh, organic teas, with two other shops in Victoria and one in Vancouver. The original shop even has a spa offering tea-based facials.

The interior of Silk Road Tea Vancouver, founder of Silk Road Tea, Photo courtesy of Silk Road Tea

Revered for her dedication to educating people about tea’s many health benefits and its preparation, Cubelic began studying tea at the tender age of 15 and formally became a Chinese tea master 10 years later.

Here, she chats with us about the benefits of drinking fresh tea, the unique experiences that await at her shop and some of her other favourite tea spots throughout the city.

Q: How does tea help to promote health?

A: Tea puts your body in harmony and helps it function at peak level. It also combats stress, boosts the immune response, is anti-aging, has anti-cancer properties and helps lower blood pressure, which is linked to a host of health benefits. Green tea is especially rich in the powerful antioxidant EGCG. But tea must be fresh for the best health benefits and flavour. I am obsessed with freshness. Freshness equals more antioxidants.

Q: What should we look for to get better-quality tea?

A: Buy organic, artisanal tea with uniform leaves and no dust. It needs to have an aroma, and the dried leaves should have life and colour. Beware of dyes, additives, artificial flavours and sugars.

Tea and chocolate pairing, Photo courtesy of / a_namenko

Q: Silk Road offers tea tastings, sometimes pairing tea with chocolate. Why do tea and chocolate go together, and what can visitors expect from this sort of pairing experience?

A: Tea can bring out nuances and flavours in ways you wouldn’t expect. For example, imagine pairing mint tea with dark chocolate; you’re essentially creating mint chocolate in your mouth, but in a richer, fuller way than flavoured chocolate. Or, try jasmine tea with white chocolate for a rich, creamy, delicious experience. There are many combinations. It’s a fun approach to discovering and exploring tea and chocolate in a new way. During the tasting sessions, you gain a better understanding of both, and also learn the basic principles of pairing the two.

Q: What are your favourite places (outside of Silk Road) for tea-related experiences in Victoria?

A: I love afternoon tea in garden settings. It’s a lovely way to relax and unwind. In Victoria, Abkhazi Garden is a hidden gem set just outside the neighbourhood of Fairfield, while Point Ellice House is a historic house and garden near downtown.

I love a good tea cocktail, too. Veneto at Hotel Rialto and Foxtrot Whisky Tango Bar make excellent tea cocktails using Silk Road tea. We also partner with Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, which makes some delicious chocolate truffles with Silk Road tea in addition to an ongoing rotation of amazing seasonal beers.

Q: Tea isn’t just for drinking. The green tea facials you developed at the spa in your tea shop have a bit of a cult following. Can you tell us more about them?

A: The spa opened a few years after the retail store. Tea is part of a lifestyle in Asian culture and goes beyond beauty to also be about wellness. We really embrace all aspects of that culture and so it made sense to add the spa to our offerings.

Green tea, Photo courtesy of / Lucia9

Green tea is really an ancient Asian beauty secret. It’s recognized there that green tea is beneficial for your skin when you drink it — and modern science backs that up — but it also has excellent properties for skin when applied topically. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, nutrient-rich and soothing. Our facials are unique in that they aren’t invasive. We boost the skin with applications of organic, all-natural ingredients, especially green tea, and the result is healthy, radiant, happy skin.

Q: What is your personal favourite tea?

A: I have hundreds of favourites, which is why I still love what I’m doing 25 years or more later. I love what is freshest and in season — which is a very Asian way to drink tea.