Earthy Pu'erh tea at Cally's Teas in Edmonton
Tea and Synchronicities,
Story and Photographs by Gary Singh
he tea in the West Edmonton Mall is CRAP," Clara tells me, as I
relax with a pot of dark earthy Pu'erh tea inside Cally's Teas on Whyte
Avenue in Edmonton.
I have voiced my disregard for that hideous abomination, the West Edmonton
Mall, and informed the folks at Cally's that I prefer independent businesses
like theirs, eclectic joints like theirs with just a handful of tables,
all different, and quirky. The Pu'erh is so tastefully murky I can almost
chew on it. I feel connected to the earth.
Clara, a 14-year-old year Francophone girl, doesn't
even work at Cally's per se. She draws gift cards for the shop, which
they sell at the counter, so she just hangs around the shop and talks
to people. The proprietor, Cally, after hearing I'm a journalist, has
brought Clara over to my corner table so I can see her drawings.
Original drawings for gift cards at Cally's Teas
"She's an interesting person," Cally tells
We then look at Clara's artwork. Some are watercolors,
others pen and ink, and the gift cards are only some of what's offered
in this relaxing tea sanctuary. Probably 100 loose leaf blends occupy
one wall, while a mishmash of gifts are scattered about the rest of
the place. Cally herself is a very nice woman, easy to talk to. Another
employee operates the counter in the back and steeps the tea.
Over 100 teas line the wall at Cally's
Cally's Teas represents a perfect example of what emerges
on Whyte Avenue, the bohemian spine of Edmonton's Old Strathcona neighborhood,
a smattering of independent retail, piercing shops, eclectic eateries,
junk dealers, music clubs, dive bars, fashion designers and historical
buildings. Street murals are aplenty. Cally's itself sits right between
a tattoo parlor and men's underwear shop.
Hearing a 14-year-old French-Canadian girl raise her
voice and declare the tea in the homogenous shopping center to be CRAP
just makes my day. So I order another pot of dark Pu'erh. I am connected
to the earth. I can't tell if I'm in a Graham Greene story or a Nabokov
Return of the Muse
In two recent trips to Canada, tea followed me everywhere,
or to be more precise, tea kept appearing in scenarios and conversations
over and over again, without me even looking for it. The network of
synchronicities became my muse. It was inspiring.
In Edmonton, upon leaving Cally's, the muse emerged
all over again. I slithered into Mystique India, an Indian importer
business several blocks down Whyte from Cally's. With furniture, bedspreads,
clothing, jewelry, and countless artifacts from India, the place just
looked interesting. While perusing, I learned that owner, Pankaj Goel,
leases land in the old country to grow his own tea. An entire section
of the shop features his tea, plus teapots and tea artifacts. I did
not enter the store looking for tea, but there it was, interconnected
with the entire business. The high-altitude Assam looked quite intriguing.
Tea items emerged unexpectedly at Mystique India.
I did not go looking for this
Departing Mystique India, my mind raced. The tea muse
was back, infiltrating my thoughts yet again. What would happen next?
Tea was probably going to follow me throughout this trip as well. I
just knew it. Strolling down back down Whyte, the next few blocks went
by in a few seconds, as if the space-time continuum had contracted.
My mind wandered.
As a result, I didn't even get three blocks before encountering
a Taiwanese tea poster, a placard, facing me on the sidewalk. It seemed
invented just for me. Also right there on the sidewalk, suddenly next
to me, was a table of free samples for an establishment called Gama
Store, way off in the back of an alley somewhere. A employee named Hazel
worked the table, offering tiny cups of what looked like green tea with
a head of foam on top.
Out of nowhere, the muse appeared
"Do you like tea?" Hazel asked me. It all
happened so fast--my thoughts racing, the emergence of the placard,
and this muse, er, I mean, woman, offering me free tea. I told her she
wouldn't even believe the series of tea-related weirdness she was now
a part of. In Canada, this beverage follows me everywhere, I said to
her. Wherever I go in this country, tea finds me.
You're supposed to drink it like a beer, says
Hazel then motioned for me to visit the store, which
was down a side alley and through a few clothing racks. Turns out Gama
Store is the only place in North America that sells this type of Taiwanese
cold green cap tea. The foam is made of milk, cheese and salt, to compliment
the sweetness of the green tea. The whole package functions as a fresh
alternative to the more common Taiwanese Bubble Tea with unhealthy tapioca
balls. Proprietor Paul Liu is from the southern part of Taiwan,
Kaohsiung to be exact. He would not disclose anything else about the
tea or its ingredients. He said it was a secret.
Without thinking, I grabbed a straw and stirred the
concoction. Paul scolded me.
"Don't stir it," he said. "You supposed
to drink it like a beer."
That was enough of segue for me to repeat that tea is
my muse, my creative inspiration. It seems designed for solitude. I
told him that tea-related synchronicities happen to me sometimes, especially
when traveling. After finishing the drink, I promised to return, especially
if Hazel was working.
To Serve the Muse
In regards to synchronicities, the mystic filmmaker
Antero Alli suggested that rather than engage in narcissistic fantasies
of self-importance by egotistically attaching grand significance to
the synchronicities, a more mature approach is to creatively allow the
synchronicities to function as your muse. You don't use the synchronicities.
They use you. Instead of harnessing the unknown forces for egotistical
purposes, the writer or artist functions in service to these unknown
forces. That's a better way to creatively operate.
Tea in downtown Edmonton
emerges unexpectedly. I did not go looking for this.
"We are talking about awareness of, and participation
in, a transpersonal event beyond our control and comprehension,"
writes Alli. "Though we can experience it, I doubt it can be willed
or figured out like some puzzle. The phrase 'active use of synchronicity'
has the ring of self-delusion to me. It is more likely that synchronicity
actively uses us. To benefit from being 'used' by synchronicity requires
nonchalance. Don't make synchronicity a big deal. Synchronicity may
simply be the standard time zone behind the common misconception of
time as defined by the clock face."
This happened on my last two trips to Canada. Tea can
be my muse to begin with, so I didn't even have to go looking for tea-related
scenarios on those trips. They just emerged automatically. I felt in
tune with the grand-scheme of time.
"Wherever interaction and dialogue with autonomous
archetypes can guide the ego to serve creation, rather than identify
as a 'creator,' the playing fields of creation open wide," Alli
writes. "Any process where the personal ego serves transpersonal
forces expresses a mature relationship with creation while opening the
doors of perception to synchronicity."
So while back in Canada, this time in Edmonton, just
as before, the muse of tea synchronicities arrived whenever I wasn't
looking. She was always around somewhere. Rather than use her, I felt
the need to be of service to her. That's how this story unfolded. It
was well worth it.
Tea for One
I'm sitting in the Fairmont MacDonald, the most famous
hotel in Edmonton's history, learning that Queen Elizabeth drank tea
here in 2007. I didn't even ask about this. The Assistant Outlet Manager
just volunteered the information. It came out of the blue.
All Fairmonts famously provide their own tea service,
so I took tea, by myself, the following afternoon. A new song, "Tea
for One," began to run through my head.
Lawrence Durrell once said there exist three components
of any journey: time, loneliness and something else I can't recall.
In any event, there is nothing lonelier than taking tea service for
one person and looking at the nearly-bare plates on the table in front
of one's self.
There is nothing stranger than tea for one person
But, again, tea is a muse that can enhance one's solitude.
I repeated myself all throughout this trip by telling everyone I met
that tea is designed for solitude. Chinese hermits have known this for
thousands of years. But on the flip side, right there in the Fairmont
MacDonald's Harvest Room, the muse was with me and seemed to be guiding
me toward the home stretch, toward the end of this adventure. The muse
was my companion, this time, in the form of the Fairmont's Organic Genmaicha
With that, the conclusion of the journey necessitated
a reconnection to where it began: the earth and a dark Pu'erh loose
leaf. I actually sought out Cha Island Tea Company, where I set up shop
before flying home. Part reggae bar, part tea lounge and part island
paradise in the gritty underbelly of Old Strathcona, Cha Island feels
like the earth itself. Probably 60 loose leaf blends sat in front of
a lit display.
The loose leaf teas available at Cha Island Tea
Proprietor Jake Raynard spent years in Taiwan and when
it comes to tea, he knows his stuff. At Cha Island I felt grounded.
Or earthed, I should say. Raynard boiled the Dayeh leaf Pu'erh right
on the burner, poured the tea into one of those single-person steepers,
and gave me the goods. Away I went, into the earth.
The muse of tea synchronicity was telling me it was
time to go home. And that my journey had come to an earthy conclusion.
Back to the earth with a young Dayeh leaf
the Road in Montreal; The
Ravan in Edmonton; Prince
Rupert/Digby Island Airport; Calgary
Folk Fest; Canadian