Small metal capsules, no larger than a chicken’s egg, are magnetically adhered to a matcha-green painted wall near the back of the shop. A meticulously prepared label that provides the name, type and origin of the aromatic leaves inside accompanies each capsule. The gentle fragrance of tea-infused body lotion beckons curious folks further into the shop without overpowering the scent of each individual tea.
Jonathan Kane opened the Naked Leaf in Kensington this September. The former dancer is stepping into the small-business world for the first time with his teashop. After earning his Entrepreneurship Certificate at Mount Royal College last fall, Kane began mapping his plan for a teahouse in January 2008. He said that he “[realized] that was beyond [his] scope as a business owner” at the time and instead chose to stick with a store for now.
Kane’s passion for tea began 25 years ago while he earned his bachelor of fine arts in dance at New York’s Juilliard School.
“Coffee made me vomit,” he recalled. A ballet career spent travelling across Europe and Asia has provided him with countless opportunities to drink many teas. He originally moved to Calgary to teach dance in the bachelor of fine arts program at the University of Calgary. When that move didn’t live up to his expectations, he opted to start his own business.
Kane wants to become a source for delicious high-end tea, striking handcrafted cups and teapots and uncommon tea-based products such as soap, chocolate and chewing gum.
“I wanted tea that I couldn’t find anywhere else,” said the sole owner and only employee of the Naked Leaf. “I try to find teas that will open people up to more concepts of tea.”
The tea that Kane wasn’t finding elsewhere is fresh, unflavoured and organic. Naked tea, one could say.
“‘Naked,’ for me, really meant pure,” Kane said, referring to his shop’s name.
Purity and being free from pesticides and fertilizers is especially important in tea, he said.
“[Tea is] not like a carrot where you peel it, or an apple where you wash it. Tea – you steep it!” For that reason, Kane’s magnetic wall provides about 80 different flavours of tea from familiar black breakfast teas, to green, oolong, rooibos and even a fermented tea called pu-erh, which is fairly uncommon in North American teacups. Over 80 per cent of the tea at the Naked Leaf is organic.
Some of the teas that have earned a spot in Kane’s shop include the delicious Silver Needle Chrysanthemum organic white tea, hand-rolled Yunnan Supreme Jade Pole green tea, a tangerine stuffed with pu-erh tea and organic grapefruit black tea.
Teas, like wine, are priced based on availability, season and quality. Weather conditions can affect availability and because Kane buys tea in small quantities to maintain his freshness standards, he may only have certain varieties for a limited time. Many Japanese teas such as Jasmine are farmed and therefore consistently available but others, like the “wild-crafted” teas grown in reserves in Ontario are uncontrolled.
Kane sought to set his shop apart through his support of local artists. Currently, he is selling chic teapots that are hand-made by Calgary artist Eric Au and hopes to expand his local collection.
Teas at the Naked Leaf are available in two sizes, customers who opt for the larger quantity get to choose an art tin decorated with the work of a local artist. In the future, Kane has aspirations of using some of the store’s space as a gallery to display local talent.
Kane said he isn’t interested in selling mass-produced goods, and nearly every surface of the shop is covered by hand-crafted teapots and cups.
Playfully detailed ceramic teapots from Britain’s Teapottery come disguised as a jukebox, a king-sized bed, a bathtub complete with rubber ducky and even a bathroom sink with a tiny tube of toothpaste, and all are fully functional.
For tea drinkers who prefer traditional teapots, the Naked Leaf has a variety of cast-iron Japanese models. Kane also sells Yixing clay teapots from China, one of which is an exquisitely designed piece that features three serpentine dragons entwined into the spout, lid and handle of the pot. Yixing clay absorbs a small amount of the tea that is brewed and the pot becomes flavoured over time. As a result, you must only use one type of tea in the pot for its lifetime to avoid an unpleasant mixing of flavours.
Beyond teapots and cups, Kane has tracked down a number of other tea-related merchandise for both the connoisseurs and casual drinkers of tea.
The list of products goes on and it’s likely that the Naked Leaf can fill any void in a tea lover’s cupboard.