Ohanami, bicycles, and a West Coast sakura tea service

My favourite time to be outdoors in Vancouver is when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. Our new neighbourhood is lined with aged blossoming trees, shaped with an artist’s precision by city stewards. The avenue that we frequent the most, from a distance, looks as if a guard of bonsais had been trained to rain pink and white petals on Marpole denizens.

The sakura zensen, or cherry blossom front, is an official weather pattern in Japan, where citizens emerge from their homes in droves during the fleeting Ohanami season. Ways to reflect upon and admire the sakura are numerous, but for many, it begins with a picnic under the blooms, often enjoyed with treats and tea. Celebrations can also linger beyond dusk, getting tipsy as the night goes on.

You can approximate this Japanese tradition in Vancouver if you know where to go. My top picks, in no particular order:

Nitobe Memorial Garden (UBC)

My shutter finger goes wild at this beautiful Japanese garden retreat in UBC. This year, one of the trees is laden with tags that people write on with messages to loved ones. It’s said that the well wishes will spread as the petals scatter in the wind.

Bike the Blossoms – April 28, 2012

Got bike? Follow the flowers with your cyclist brethren on the 28th. Your route will be lined with petalled trees, and vendors that you pass will sometimes have goodies for you to enjoy when you pause.

If you’re bereft of bicycle or not free that day, find your own viewing spot using these resources from the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival:

The Urban Tea Merchant

The Urban Tea Merchant's courtyard of sakura

The Urban Tea Merchant remains unrivalled as my afternoon tea service of choice, much of it due to its rotating collection of top-tier teas and the seasonality of its tea services. Their courtyard on Alberni is canopied by cherry blossom trees each spring.

The courtyard blossoms have already come and gone this year, but their Ohanami tea service, featuring several items infused with cherry blossoms, is still being served until April 30th. This menu ranks as my favourite high tea food pairing to date–it is not to be missed.

Sakura West Coast Tea Service

$30 per person (minimum 2 persons; 90 minute seating)

to begin
Tea Sommelier’s choice of chilled white tea

sweets
tea-infused macaron, chevron strawberry, chocolate truffle
edible spring flowers, Sakura! Sakura! tea-infused jelly, sous vide vanilla watermelon, green tea-infused melon ** LOVED THIS! **

savouries
open-faced smoked salmon & wasabi aioli with in-house ponzu jelly
miso-maple glazed sable fish wrapped in butter lettuce ** LOVED THIS! **
spring rice roll with honey & balsamic, shiitake mushroom and crisp vegetables
Japanese fish crackers, crisp soba noodles with tangy seaweed salad and sesame crumble ** LOVED THIS! **

My seasonal tea pairing picks for the Sakura service

Both of The Urban Tea Merchant’s Ohanami tea features pair beautifully with the Japanese-fusion menu.

Urban Tea Merchant: Enchanted Beauty green tea

Enchanted Beauty Tea: “Sophisticated oolong tea leaves are handcrafted into a bouquet with amaranth and orange lily. This TWG Tea composition will bloom in the teacup.”

Urban Tea Merchant: Sakura! Sakura! green tea

Sakura! Sakura! Tea: “An ode to spring, this fragrant TWG blend evokes Kyoto’s most celebrated season. A scattering of cherry blossoms and green tea yields a most aromatic and elegant fragrance.”

Where will you go for your cherry blossom celebration?

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A list of places to do afternoon tea in Vancouver

Food cravings seize me with sudden and often inexplicable vigor. When I dream of tea, the mind spins in a vortex of earl grey, scones, and triangular cucumber sandwiches with the crusts sliced off. Need your tea fix? Here’s quick and dirty list of places in Vancouver that offer afternoon tea service. Comment below if I’ve left any out.

Adonia Kerrisdale Tea House
2057 West 41st Ave | Kerrisdale
604-261-0049

Adorabelle Tea Room & Gift Shop | $16-25
12051 Third Avenue | Steveston Village, Richmond
604-241-1947

Applewood Country Gifts | $10-22
6345 120 St | Delta
604-596-9007

Bacchus Restaurant at the Wedgewood Hotel
845 Hornby Street | Downtown
604-689-7777
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

Butchart Gardens (Vancouver Island) | $30-45
800 Benvenuto Ave | Brentwood Bay, Vancouver Island
250-652-8222

Little Saigon – Vancouver | $11-17
15223 Pacific Ave | White Rock
604-541-9010

Fairmont Hotel Vancouver
900 W Georgia | Downtown
604-684-3131

Fairmont Empress (Victoria)
721 Government Street | Victoria
1 (866) 540-4429 | (250) 384-8111
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

The Fish House at Stanley Park
8901 Stanley Park Drive | Downtown
604-681-7275
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >


Flueri Restaurant at Sutton Place
845 Burrard Street | Downtown
604-682-5511

Little White House | $14-18
9090 Glover Road | Fort Langley | 604-888-8386
2626 Montrose Ave | Abbotsford | 604-853-0909

Provence Marinaside
1177 Marinaside Crescent | Yaletown
604-681-4144

Provence Mediterranean Grill
4473 West 10th Avenue | Point Grey
604-222-1980

Salmon House on the Hill | $22-29
2229 Folkestone Way | West Vancouver
604-926-3212

Secret Garden Tea Company
5559 West Boulevard | Kerrisdale
604-261-3070
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

T Room (no website)
4445 W 10th Ave | Point Grey
604-677-2579
Read about our afternoon tea experience here >

Tracycakes
101 – 2636 Montrose Avenue | Abbotsford | 604-852-1433
15015 Marine Drive | White Rock | 604-541-4668

The Urban Tea Merchant
G3 – 825 Main Street | West Vancouver | 604-926-3392
1070 W. Georgia Street | Downtown | (604) 692-0071
MY FAVE! Read about our afternoon tea experiences here >

White Heather Tea Room (Victoria) | $18-55
1885 Oak Bay Avenue | Victoria
250-595-8020

I’d like to turn this post into a compendium of Vancouver high tea, but I know that the list is nowhere near comprehensive. Please help me add to this selection so that I may evaluate these offerings for you, as the compulsion to sip tea and nibble dainties hits me again and again. Feel free to raise a hand to join me on these adventures, too.