Plentea Brings A Culture Of Tea To Parkdale

After leaving the world of engineering, Tariq Al Barwani and his business partner came to Toronto to open up a speciality tea bar. Located in Parkdale, Plentea has become somewhat of a tea lover’s paradise. Their business is focused on a no tea bag concept, each cup of tea is freshly blended and brewed to your liking. Al Barwani’s teas are inspired by his childhood growing up in the United Arab Emirates, where tea was a social drink. At Plentea, customers are encouraged to grab a cup and head upstairs where seats are aplent(ea).  

Co-founder Tariq Al Barwani brings his love for tea to the residents of Toronto at Plentea tea bar. (Photo: Anastasiya Romanska)

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, what did you do before Plentea?

Before I started this business, I was in engineering, so very different. I moved to Canada in 2001, studied engineering at the University of Calgary and did that for 10 or 11 years before I started this business. It was great, but I wanted to do something a little more creative. Engineering is something a little more restricted so I wanted to get out of there and bring a little more wildness into the world.

How did you come up with the idea for Plentea?

We started off as most businesses do, as a totally different idea. We wanted to have little stalls in malls where you could pick up chai and snacks, something super simple, easy to maintain. But the idea blossomed from there because as I looked around Toronto trying to find a good place to have tea, I was really surprised that it was really hard to find. A lot of places you go just give you tea bags and the experience wasn’t great…let’s just go with that. You were expected to take your hot cup of water and tea bag and walk away without experiencing the true essence and tradition around it. So, there were only two options: the aspect of a to-go cup or something more traditional where you go and sit down in a tea house experience. I wanted to take something that sits in between where you can pick up a fresh cup of tea really quick, but you don’t have to sit and wait for it to steep. So Plentea provides you with a fast cup of tea, without sacrificing any flavour.

Plentea’s menu covers a full wall at their Parkdale cafe, safe to say there is no shortage of options. (Photo: Anastasiya Romanska)

What makes Plentea different from other cafes?

Well, we wanted to get rid of the tea bag, we wanted to let people come in here and really see what’s in their tea. You know, loose leaves, spices, and you actually experience your drink and see what’s going into it. Let’s say you’re making a chai. You see the black tea, the chai blend that we use, you see the cloves, the milk. Everything is made right in front of you, there’s nothing hidden. There is no disconnect from you and your beverage. We wanted to let people experience the real way to make your tea. At Plentea we provide a totally different connection between you and your tea. It’s now something you come in and you enjoy with friends, you enjoy with your partner, or just for yourself, say I’m gonna take time off from the world come in and enjoy myself.

Where do you source your ingredients from?
We work with three local bakers that supply all the snacks. It took us a while to find them, they are really creative with the ingredients they use, they don’t use anything artificial, it’s fully natural. And that’s why you taste the difference in the flavour.

Have you experienced any challenges?
There were a lot of challenges to be honest. Everything from finances, all the way up to having to operate everything. I’ve worked in cafés before throughout university, so I kind of had a feel for how they ran, but when you’re actually responsible for one it’s a totally different game.

Plentea’s no tea bag approach ensures that each cup is fresh and made just the way you like it. (Photo: Anastasiya Romanska)

How did you balance all of the different aspects of running a business?
There are so many spinning tops that you have to watch and keep spinning. The first challenge we had was finances, it is a big capital expenditure to open up a place like this so we planned out and put away money every month. While we were doing that we were looking for people to help us out with design, concepts and architecture. So the challenge is to shift your thinking. When you’re doing a nine to five you’re responsible for a small section of business and when you go home, you go home, that’s it. But when you start a business you are responsible for every single thing, if something goes wrong that’s your fault, if it goes through that credit goes to you. The mental challenge is having to train yourself to accept full responsibility for the whole process and really understand what’s required.

What about now? Has it gotten easier? 
As you go along, what was once a mountain becomes flat land and what was the sky is now your next mountain. Because the things that seemed impossible become more possible. You start to manage yourself a little better and learn to foresee solutions.

Customers come from all over the GTA to order a freshly brewed tea latte. (Photo: Anastasiya Romanska)

What is your vision for the future of Plentea?
We want to be on every single street corner in the city, in the province, in this country. I think we have a brand and service that is really, really needed. People come in and they love what we do, they love our tea, so we’re bringing something a little different to the city. Right now we’re in Parkdale which has been a great location so far, but it’s not really accessible to the whole city. So within the next five years we want to open up at least three more locations that are in key places of the city so that people can actually enjoy Plentea without people having to take the time to get here.

What is your favourite tea on the menu?
Actually, it’s not even on the menu! It’s a black tea with ginger and cardamom, and we steep that in a little bit of milk with sugar. It’s off-menu but it reminds me a lot of a tea I used to drink growing up. Whenever I drink it, it takes me back to being a kid. It reminds of family get-togethers, everyone having teas. Usually that’s the blend that they do, so it reminds me of having family and friends all around you, so that’s my favourite.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?
We want Plentea to become a part of people’s daily life, a part of their routine. It’s an exciting feeling to be able to envision that for yourself.

Students in Ryerson University’s most expensive faculty are least likely to work part time, recent survey suggests

More than two-thirds of students in Ryerson’s faculty of engineering and architectural science said they do not have a part-time job

Despite tuition costs being higher than any other faculty, Ryerson engineering and architecture students are least likely to work part time while in school, according to a survey done by first-year journalism students.

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The survey suggested that 68 per cent of FEAS students did not work a part-time job this semester. This is 16 percentage points higher than science, the second highest faculty of students without a part-time job at Ryerson.

According to Ryerson’s admissions site, domestic engineering and architecture students were expected to pay anywhere from $10,881 to $12,241 for the 2018-2019 school term. Their average tuition cost is about $3,000 more than the average across all faculties.

Future payoff

IMG_4637.JPGOlivia Nunn, an architecture student at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Olivia Nunn, a first-year architecture student at Ryerson, said in an interview that she doesn’t think her program provides sufficient time for her to succeed if she was committed to something other than school. But she believes that tuition costs can be manageable with the job she will be able to get after graduating.


IMG_6798Marinus Lurz, a master of robotics and engineering student in his lab in Toronto on Wednesday.

Marinus Lurz, an engineer at a Toronto company designing UV products and a master of micronics, robotics and engineering student, did not work while completing an undergraduate degree. He said juggling six classes with his workload during the semester made it very difficult to find time for hobbies, let alone committing to a part-time position. In the interview he said he too hopes that his salary after graduation will make up for not being able to work as much.

Fortunately, students who successfully complete their degree can expect a well-above-average income.

The average Canadian salary in 2017 was $46,700 according to Statistics Canada. The average salary for an electrical engineer in 2015 was almost double, at about $89,000, according to Neuvoo, a Canadian job search website.

More hours, less breaks

Peter Wowk, a professional engineer and manager of special projects at SNC-Lavalin, said in an email that while he was able to work while studying, he sees how now the greater number of courses, hours per semester and workload required in the faculty of engineering can deter students from working part time.

IMG_3769Alicia Biggs, Ryerson graduate and civil design engineer working on a project in Toronto on Wednesday.

Alicia Biggs, a Ryerson graduate working as a civil design engineer, thinks it’s unlikely to find engineering and architecture students having part-time jobs “because of the hours they spend focusing in classes, labs and finding time outside of those hours to study and having sufficient rest in between.”

Ryerson architecture and engineering students have a 13-week term, as opposed to the 12-week term for students in other faculties. The reading week in first semester is eliminated.

First-year Ryerson School of Journalism students surveyed 1,179 Ryerson University students in person and online between March 1-4, 2019. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20; it may be larger for subgroups.


The TCDSB’s backlog for repairs is bad news for aging schools


The Toronto Catholic District School Board’s $1.3 billion backlog for repairs is affecting maintenance of aging schools, said Deborah Friesen, executive superintendent of facilities services for the TCDSB.

Friesen said that although the TCDSB is constantly working to fix damages reported by schools, many factors influence the time that it takes. Damages have to be triaged to prioritize those that relate to the health and safety of students and staff, but this can leave many other things unfixed.

The TCDSB receives around $51 million for repairs and improvements every year, but its billion-dollar backlog, along with the board’s aging schools, is going to result in damages that are not getting repaired fast enough, said Emmy Szekeres Milne, the senior co-ordinator of communications for the board.

Sent from Oles LazoukaA broken radiator is exposed in the boys’ bathroom at Bishop Allen Academy in Etobicoke, Ont. (Courtesy – Oles Lazouka)

Recently, students at Bishop Allen Academy Catholic Secondary School in Etobicoke, Ont., complained of damages throughout their school, such as missing bathroom stall doors, falling ceiling tiles and heating problems throughout the building.

“There has always been issues at BA, at least as long as I have been there, but they seem to be getting worse. We have holes in the walls, broken bathroom stall doors and locks, and the heating’s always messed up… Last week my history class had to be moved to the cafeteria because it was so hot we couldn’t go into our class,” Bella Iacovone, a Grade 11 student at Bishop Allen, said in an interview.

Bishop Allen has been one of the top-rated Catholic high schools in Etobicoke for years. But recently students have taken to social media to express their concerns about the school’s building structure and facilities.

Sent from Aleksander JaskielewiczA broken stall door lies across the boys’ bathroom floor at Bishop Allen Academy in Etobicoke, Ont.  (Courtesy – Alek J.)

“On the second floor, there’s a washroom with one stall. The door to the stall has fallen off, and it’s just been on the floor for about two years now. Toilets are continually clogged, the walls are covered in graffiti, and we’d be lucky to find soap in any soap dispensers, if the dispensers are there at all,” Alek J., a Bishop Allen student in Grade 12, said in an interview.

Freisen said that broken heating systems in schools are one of their top priorities. In the case of Bishop Allen’s missing bathroom stall door, the TCDSB is still waiting on parts to be delivered in order to replace it.

Students have been describing how waiting for these damages to be repaired has been affecting them.

“It’s really hard to feel comfortable or safe at Bishop Allen. It’s so crowded and there’s always something wrong with something,” said Iacovone.

Alek J. believes that students “should first feel safe in our school environment before being ready to learn.”

Friesen said that student safety is always their primary concern, but some repairs, such as cosmetic ones, are simply not high on their priority list.

These types of maintenance concerns are not solely affecting Bishop Allen Academy and a backlog in deferred maintenance is not isolated to the Catholic board, according to the TCDSB.

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Water damage is peeling off the ceiling tiles in a classroom at Bishop Allen Academy, in Etobicoke Ont. (Courtesy – Alek J.)


Bob Woodward’s takeaways from the U.S. midterm elections

The Democrat’s victory in the U.S. midterm elections does not mean that people should expect change, said Bob Woodward, an American-Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and author.

As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday the Democratic Party has 222 seats in the House of Representatives, slightly over 50 per cent, during the midterm elections.

“The Democrats now have the House of Representatives. … But it is not a situation that necessarily means change,” said Woodward at an event at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto on Wednesday.

Woodward believes that the law does not make a lot of difference to current U.S. President Donald Trump and that the president has gained more power as time has gone on.

“There is a concentration of power in the presidency which I think Americans don’t fully appreciate and understand,” said Woodward.

He believes that presidents have the power to start wars, and this should not be overlooked.

Andrew Peat, portfolio manager at TD Bank who attended Woodward’s talk, said, “Amidst all the chaos in American politics right now, which can seem entertaining and intriguing, there’s a serious point of view that any sort of miscalculation or misjudgment can lead to escalation, especially war,” said

During the conversation, Woodward also spoke about another important reality of the midterm elections.

“The influence of women is much greater in American politics, thank God. It probably is not fully realized yet but it is going to become more and more realized in coming years,” said Woodward.

These midterm elections have broken records for the number of female candidates and women of colour running, according to Business Insider.

This is the first time Native American, Muslim and Korean-American women have been elected to Congress.  It also had the highest early-voter turnout in a non-presidential election in the United States.

“I hope that this (election) has engaged a base of people that were disengaged or that were apathetic to get on board and get involved. I think we saw a lot of women, and a lot of minorities coming back into play last night and at the end of the day it’s apathy that got us here, so it’s encouraging to see a more engaged base,” said Rhiannon Traill, president and CEO of the Economic Club of Canada in an interview.

Wednesday’s event, which was hosted by Canada 2020, provided Woodward an opportunity to comment on the election and engage in an interview with editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail, David Walmsley.

Woodward also spoke on his recently published book, Fear: Trump in the White House, where he exposes secrets of the Trump presidency.

Trump has denied the allegations in Woodward’s book.

“The Woodward book is a joke – just another assault against me, in a barrage of assaults, using now disproven unnamed and anonymous sources. Many have already come forward to say the quotes by them, like the book, are fiction. Dems can’t stand losing. I’ll write the real book!,” he said in a tweet on Sept. 10.

The next U.S. presidential election is scheduled for Nov. 3, 2020.