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.

Screen Shot 2019-03-21 at 3.27.38 PM

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.


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.


Pop-up workouts may be the future of Toronto’s fitness scene

ActifyCity’s unconventional business approach to Toronto’s fitness and wellness scene offers a pop-up community focused workout, that also includes meditation, massages, local vendors and networking opportunities.

“We wanted to create an experience where it didn’t matter where you were from, what you look like, what you do, you could find the space and time where we all come together and share this experience,” said Bryan Clyde Jones, founder of ActifyCity during a phone interview.

The company runs events where people pay up to $120 per ticket for three hours of sweat, mindfulness and opportunities to try or buy local products. Since February, the company has hosted five pop-up events in Toronto.

“Since we don’t have a lot of overhead costs because we don’t own a location, we just pop up when there’s a full moon, that saves a lot of money. Not only that, as the classes get bigger and there’s more exposure and hype, that will generate more sales,” said Clyde Jones during an interview.  He hopes that the implementation of more workouts and treatments will bring in more customers.

ActifyCity’s events follow the moon cycle, occurring only a few times throughout the year. Between events, Clyde Jones is continuing his practice as a yoga instructor and massage therapist.

Their last event, ActifyTO Unlocked, took place in The Attic in downtown Toronto last Wednesday. Those who purchased tickets experienced a warm-up and stretch class, a high-intensity interval training workout, a meditation class and a Reiki massage.

Technology played a unique and very important role during the event. Participants went through the entire evening wearing LED noise isolating headphones.

We wanted to focus this technology to the wellness community because we saw an opportunity,” said Clyde Jones during the event. “We all know the person who comes in late, grunts, does weird noises; all these distractions pull you away from the focus.”

While wearing the headphones, the participant can only hear the music, the instructor and themselves.

“I was a little hesitant about the experience at first, but when I came and put those headphones on for the first time, it was absolutely mind blowing,” said Danny Dulay, a chiropractor and instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp who participated at the event on Wednesday. “It centred me and I was able to focus. It was an experience that I have never had. For me this technology is a game changer.”

ActifyCity makes a point to keep their event surrounded in secrecy. Participants are informed of very little, with the location only being released three hours prior to the start.

Recently Toronto has seen a spike in popularity for clothing and food pop-ups, but this is one of the first fitness companies to use this model.

“It’s different every time, and we don’t tell anyone what’s going on. When you don’t give people that control, it’s kind of terrifying but it builds excitement,” said Clyde Jones at the event. “There’s beauty in the fact that you don’t know what workout you’re going to do, you don’t know where it’s going to be, you don’t know who your instructors are going to be, you don’t know anything.”

“The secret location just makes everything that much more special and fun,” said Dulay during the event.

According to the company, people are drawn to Actify because other fitness companies are not creating a community that people are looking for.

“The networking is great, Actify is actively seeking to participate with people who are like-minded, people who are also entrepreneurs and tries to build a network,” said Angela Furfaro, a transformation and strength coach who ran the warm-up portion of the event. For me, I’ve been loving to come and connect with the people. I see it growing and growing and every time it is different.”

This way of doing business creates constant growth, because we don’t limit ourselves by saying this is Actify and this is what we do, said Clyde Jones at the event.

The next ActifyTO Unlocked event will be hosted on Nov. 23. ActifyCity also plans to create events that are dog friendly and student oriented.

Ryerson University facing backlash after the unveiling of a new plaque

A newly installed plaque acknowledging Egerton Ryerson’s contributions to the Residential School System has caused controversies at Ryerson University in Toronto.

According to the Aboriginal Education Council, the controversy around Egerton Ryerson comes from his belief in different systems of education for white and Aboriginal children.

Members of the Ryerson community have expressed concerns that the plaque is not a sufficient step taken by the university.

After years of activism by faculty, students and Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council, the plaque was installed on June 25 next to a statue of Ryerson, the former Chief Superintendent of Education in Upper Canada and the university’s namesake.

“Although Ryerson did not implement or oversee residential schools, he contributed to their blueprint,” said Cyndy Baskin, an Indigenous professor in the School of Social Work at Ryerson University. “The Indian Residential School System has had a devastating impact on Indigenous Peoples,” she said at a news conference discussing indigenous concerns, at Ryerson held at the university on Wednesday.

Residential schools were used to remove and isolate Indigenous children from their families, tradition and cultures in order to assimilate them into white culture, according to Indigenous Foundations at the University of British Colombia.

Since the plaque has been put up, students have expressed their concerns. There is also discussion about removing the statue altogether.

“I don’t know if this plaque is convincing to any of the students on campus that this is a finished story or this is a sufficient action. As a gesture of goodwill I think they should tear this down and rename the university, but that is just the first step and still wouldn’t be sufficient,” said Kevin Taghabon, a masters of journalism student.

Sarena Johnson, an Indigenous storyteller in the department of student affairs, said at the news conference, “I do go past the statue and I find it very problematic, I feel like the name probably won’t be changed and it just makes me feel like the truth and reconciliation work that’s been done is tokenistic and hollow.”

Sarah Dennis, an Indigenous student studying social work, disagreed at the news conference. “There is something within the willingness to go through those acts of tokenism that really is what it’s about for me. Cause I’ll be happy to see the statue come down but I’ll be more happy that folks were willing to do that for us and that is a story that continuously is shared.”

In a statement released by Ryerson University at the news conference, spokesperson for the institution Johanna VanderMaas said they are focused on hiring and welcoming more staff, faculty and students from Indigenous communities.

As of now no decisions have been made on the Egerton Ryerson statue or the renaming of the university, she said.

Written Work

The Rise and Fall of the Modern Day Hipster

How a subculture of anomalies became the new mainstream. 
26 December 2017 14:45 | Anastasiya Romanska


TORONTO, Ont.– A bearded man leaves his Kensington Market flat styling thrifted jeans, shaggy hair, thick-rimmed glasses, and cold brew coffee in hand. What was once a rare sighting of a hipster is now becoming an everyday occurrence for many.

Although any hipster would be caught dead calling themselves by such a name, their fixie bicycles and homemade Kombucha are a dead giveaway. The subculture of young men and women known for their indie progressive ideas about music, food, fashion, and lifestyle is no longer a small minority. Despite being stereotypically associated with Denmark and Portland; hipster hubs have begun popping up across the world. Toronto, Reykjavik, Berlin, and Stockholm are just a few of the many cities that have become home to the 21st-century hipster. How did a group known for their alienation from all things mainstream, become too mainstream even for themselves?

The term hipster was originated in the 1940’s to describe the jazz-loving youth straying from the path of their parents. Hipsters, as we have come to now know them, first reappeared in the late 1990’s and blossomed into the 2000’s. With them came thrift shops, craft brews, beard oil, and farmer’s markets. As this movement hit large cities, average citizens slowly began conforming to these odd lifestyles and there you have it, the assimilation of hipster culture. It is now normal for teenagers to shop at thrift stores and for their dads to rock flannels while growing vegetables at home. If your next corporate meeting is held at an independent tea bar, you can thank the hipsters.

In this new world of hipster ideals, the original hipster is left to fend for themselves. As for the rest of, we can only wonder what’s next for the subculture whose identity has been ripped away from them. To spot a true hipster in the wild before it’s too late, visit one of their frequented spots in Toronto:

Kensington Market– Toronto’s diverse bohemian neighbourhood; home to artists, musicians, and the most notable hipsters. Filled with vintage shops, trendy bars, boutiques, and independent coffee shops.

Chinatown– for all of your hipster’s organic, international grocery needs. The constantly busy neighbourhood is known for its Asian outdoor markets, restaurants, and herbal medicines- hipster paradise.

Trinity Bellwoods Park-  a nature oasis in Toronto’s West Queen West Neighborhood is booming with activities. Enjoy live theatre, sunbathing, drumming circles, and spot hipsters on their fixie bikes running late to their picnics.

Distillery District- enjoy a pedestrian-only neighbourhood, with cobblestone paths and plenty of indie restaurants for the Torontonian hipster. Stop by for an art installation or music performance and stay for everything else there is to enjoy.

The Annex- constantly filled with students, enjoying cold brewed coffee, vintage bookstores, and casual eateries. A dream come true for any hipster.