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 are wanting to ride with us but need a new bike make sure you check out these amazing hybrid bikes.

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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High Tea Series: The Urban Tea Merchant

Urban Tea: petite afternoon tea

It’s been a while since the last installment of my High Tea Series, but that is not because I haven’t been to tea lately. In fact, afternoon tea is probably the most stable gourmet routine I’ve had in the past year (my weekly trips to Uva notwithstanding – you can’t beat having such an awesome eatery at the foot of your building). However, my sense of adventure in trying new tea houses has been severely diminished** by having found what I feel to be the perfect luxury tea time in the city.

The Urban Tea Merchant: teapot waterfall

The Urban Tea Merchant moved within walking distance of our abode last year with the opening of their second location on Alberni & Burrard. The salon room possesses a tranquil opulence akin to your favourite day spa; it’s a welcome oasis amidst the bustle of Georgia Street.

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About the tea

The Urban Tea Merchant: pu-erh tea with a splash of milk

Afternoon tea is ironically less about the tea than it is about the accoutrements. At the outset, it was the preciousness of cucumber sandwich triangles, crusts without, and scones smothered in jelly and Devonshire cream that got me addicted to the whole experience. I barely registered the tea itself other than to wash down the goodies – and for the most part, the drink was so unremarkable at tea houses that it wouldn’t have made an impression even if I had been paying attention.

It took The Urban Tea Merchant to revert my focus back to the tea. And theirs is a global collection that has deeply impressed me with its clean notes, consistent quality, shelf life, and out-of-the-tin aromatics.

Urban Tea Merchant: Sweetheart afternoon tea

My favourite aspect of The Urban Tea Merchant — which I shall henceforth refer to as UTM for brevity’s sake — is the spectrum of options on menu. The tea list is a four-page pamphlet organized by country of origin, with secondary columns indicating type (black vs green vs rooibos, and so on) and one-line tasting notes…it’s a datasheet that seduces my inner nerd!

If you are overwhelmed by choice or don’t know where to begin exploring, ask your server. They’ll inquire into your tea preferences and usher giant canisters of tea to your table for you to inspect to your heart’s content. [You could discuss the finer points of a particular blend until your curiosity is sated, and even sign up for a one-to-one tea consult if you want a more educational experience.]

Urban Tea: two bins high

Once you choose, your tea will be brewed at the tea bar to the exacting specifications required for that particular brew. It’ll be strained of the tea leaves before being placed into your teapot and swirled in a most stylish, aerating fashion into your cup.

The Urban Tea Merchant: pro pour

My pot has been resteeped without extra charge if I happen to run through the entire serving, but one pot is usually more than enough for me. In fact, I savour my teacup for so long that my next portion is at least 15 minutes after the first…which makes the prior straining of the tea leaves a much appreciated detail of the service.

Favourite teas to date

Urban Tea Merchant: Theodor tea line

Urban Tea: green tea latte Urban Tea: iced Melange O Urban Tea: Tetrahizon byzantine, on ice

I usually ask my server to introduce me to a new tea each time I visit, so here’s a quick matrix of the ones that have captured my heart. I’ll update this list as others come across my radar.

Name Type My Notes Price
Chamann Flavoured rooibos My favourite tea out of everything I’ve tried. I’ll never run out of this in my pantry if I can help it. $32.95 per tin
Earl Grey Royal Black My usual afternoon tea selection when I want a milk-and-sugar experience. $32.95 per tin
Melange O Black Floral and fruity black tea that I drink iced on a hot summer’s day. $32.95 per tin
Milky Oolong Oolong Milky, creamy oolong taste even when served clear. I splurged on 50g of this on a friend’s recommendation and don’t regret the spend. I break this out to pamper myself or impress my guests. $66 per 100g

About the food

Urban Tea: Mad Hatter children's tea Easter sweets

Few, if any, tea houses in town can match UTM in the selection, consistency, themes, and variation of the food presented with your afternoon tea service.  The scones are delectable and flavours are rotated so that your table gets a full selection; the smoked chicken tian, now served in a mini waffle cone, is more addictive than the hardest street drug.

Urban Tea: Mad Hatter children's tea savouries

The macarons that are flown in from Paris are difficult to top, even if I did wish it was possible to be served local macarons without sacrificing quality. Perhaps things will change once their new neighbour moves in this year.

Urban Tea: macaron rainbow

There’s also an exemplary à la carte menu of casseroles, sandwiches, and nibbles for those with specific cravings or a smaller appetite. Many of my friends swear by the pear and brie sandwich. I’m partial to the pot pie, myself.

Urban Tea: Scone and iced tea

Getting your money’s worth

You do pay for all the quality that you get. The Signature Afternoon Tea runs at $48 per person, while the other options range from $20-30 a pop. This puts UTM in the upper end of the pricing spectrum, but they’re hardly alone at the top. The Fairmont Empress in Victoria still takes the title at $55 a person, while Bacchus and the Empress’ Vancouver counterparts start at $30.

Urban Tea: signature afternoon tea nibbles

If we’re talking about value, however, your money goes a lot further at UTM than at the others in the business of luxury tea. Practically every food item served is top-notch: the savouries are excellent, the scones one of the best in town, and the desserts worth saving room for. If you go out for afternoon tea a lot, you’ll know that inconsistency across these tiers is rampant. I’ve griped about it when trying the tea services at Bacchus, Secret Garden, and Adonia. But no complaints here.

The Urban Tea Merchant: orange and ginger scone

If a high price is a dealbreaker, that doesn’t mean you should strike UTM off your list:

  • Go splitsies. The $48 Signature Afternoon Tea is a lot of food for one person, even on an empty stomach; the Petit Afternoon Tea is consequently my staple. However, the Signature can be a great choice to split between 2 people with a light appetite or those who want to go lighter on the wallet. There’s a surcharge – around $10 to cover the 2nd diner’s drink and such – but it’ll allow you to experience the exclusive nibbles offered in their top-tier tea service for ~$30 each.
  • Order à la carte. You could grab your choice of a $3 scone and a $5 pot or an $8 sandwich with your tea without causing your wallet to cry. The macarons are a buck and change apiece if you want to go the sweet route.
  • Book a featured tea service. UTM announces featured tea services every month, usually at a discount to the regular price. I’ve enjoyed the occasional Petite Afternoon Tea at a $19 price point – it’s usually $25 a person.
  • Go for brunch. Start the day off with elegance – the Signature Brunch Service is $24 and the Petite Brunch Service is only $16.

The verdict

The Urban Tea Merchant is unequivocally my tea salon of choice in the greater Vancouver area. I go there so often, in fact, that the staff has watched my daughter grow from infancy to toddlerhood.

Urban Tea: Reza's youngest customer?

Urban Tea Merchant: 2 tea canisters high Urban Tea: tea helper Urban Tea: scavenger hunt delight Urban Tea: Easter grape juice Urban Tea: two bins high

If you haven’t tried them yet, save up your pennies and go. And call me up so I can join you!

The Urban Tea Merchant on Urbanspoon

The Urban Tea Merchant
G3 – 825 Main Street | West Vancouver | 604-926-3392
1070 W. Georgia Street | Downtown | (604) 692-0071
urbantea.com

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** PS: Don’t fret. This post does not conclude additions to the High Tea Series. I have a backlog of experiences to recap from 4 of the tea salons on my list, plus a particularly impressive afternoon tea nestled in the woodlands around Harrison Mills.

High Tea Series: T Room and Bakery

Of the four afternoon tea experiences I’ve had since my High Tea Series began, it is strange that the first one I embarked upon is the last one I’m writing about. It’s not that I was reluctant to publicize the place – more that the days slipped by without me ever taking the topic off the backburner. Thank goodness for Blogathon days! You and I both get to catch up on the subjects I should have brought up long ago.

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Anyhoo, let’s get back on that subject of the T Room & Bakery in Point Grey.

T Room: tea and cookies

Design partner Jason Lau accompanied me on my first afternoon tea excursion to the hard-to-spot T Room along the far west stretch of 10th Avenue. Finding the storefront, which presents itself more like a cookware store than a tea room, was worth it: the left-hand side was a cozy but bright and modern bakery, with plenty of kitchen gadgets to peruse on the store off to the right like the best steak knives in the world, if you´re into having the best utensils in your kitchen, then you better make sure to buy one for yourself.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

We were seated for our $13 mini-tea at 2pm to a table decked with spring flowers and plateware adorned with a scroll wrapped in green ribbon. Unravelling it revealed the tea menu – and what a menu it was! Nearly 40 varieties to choose from, as easily seen from the wall of leaves to my back. I went dizzy with choice.

Inside the T Room

Luckily, our server was more than happy to recommend a tea to fit our individual tastes. Within minutes, we each settled on a tea: I with an unusual fruit tea and Jason with a black tea variant. Wish I could tell you more details, but my mommy brain is blanking on me at the moment.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

While I cannot report the specific tasting notes this far removed from the experience, I can tell you that unlike most other afternoon teas I’ve had, this first visit still strikes up memories of delight, intrigue, and curiosity to explore the rest of their tea arsenal. Jason enjoyed his tea as much as I did mine, though I must say that in hindsight, I really should have ordered a tea that went with the food that came with our service.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

The 3 tiers that came with expedience sported your standard afternoon tea fare: savoury sandwiches, scones, and desserts at the top. Other than the desserts, which numbered one per person, we were treated to at least two of each item. I’m not sure if this was because we were a table of 2 and they had a minimum service amount, but we did deliberately order the mini-tea and were surprised by the quantity.

Afternoon tea at T Room & Bakery

The consistently of quality was what struck me most about the dainties we sampled. Usually, the places I’ve tried excel at savouries, or have terrific scones, or make fabulous sweets to the detriment of the other categories. Here, we were satisfied with the entire selection, though I cannot say that any one tier would get top ranking against the others I’ve now had.

The verdict

By the end of our meal, we still had half of our food left on our plates. Not because we didn’t want to eat it (it sure was good enough for that) but because we couldn’t possibly stuff ourselves further.

This quantity, combined with the consistent quality of both food and drink plus the cheapest price tag I’ve seen yet, makes the T Room my value pick for anyone that wants good eats without paying a premium for the typical chintzy or ritzy atmosphere.

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High Tea Series: Bacchus

Another recap of a jaunt with Island Bites contributor Bruce. Where did we go? To the Wedgehood Hotel, home of the luxurious Bacchus Restaurant, whose lobby delivers an afternoon tea in the midst of purple plush.

Inside Bacchus

We were both impressed by the refinement of the Bacchus lobby. A fireplace exuded warmth at the far end of the room; the bar reached floor to high ceiling, slightly resembling the elegant yet creepy bar in The Shining. we are definitely thinking about buying outdoor fireplaces for out home, they look awesome.

Inside Bacchus

We were much less impressed by the people that served us. Our receiving hostess was pleasant enough, but our server! By God, I swear she could have been an Air Canada attendant, from her haughty demeanour to the figure skater’s bun to the scarf she tied to her neck. That is not a favourable comparison, dear readers.

Bacchus: afternoon tea

At any rate, we did our best to enjoy the food and drink despite the chilly reception. Our servicable Pear Tree Green and Thunderbolt Darjeeling teas were served in ultra-modern clear teapots that are basically French presses.

Bacchus: afternoon tea

Our sweetener was a nice touch: multi-coloured rock sugar in a little bowl at our table by the window.

Bacchus: afternoon tea

I particularly enjoyed the bottom-tier savouries that accompanied our tea. My favourites were the smoked salmon pinwheel and shrimp salad sandwich featured above (even though I had to spit out a piece of shrimp shell during one bite – oh well, at least I know they peeled it themselves!).

Bacchus: afternoon tea

Bacchus’ scones are on par with the others that I’ve had to date. While no one has yet to top those made by the Secret Garden Tea Company, Bacchus does stand apart in offering chocolate eclairs as an alternative (or addition, as is your fancy) to scone indulgence.

Bacchus: afternoon tea

The sweetstuffs were just that – too sweet. Even the lemon curd cakes were sickeningly overloaded with sugar. It competed too much with our rather delicate choices in tea, and caused Bruce, who already has an aversion to sugar, to barely touch the top tier.

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The verdict

All in all, the quality of the tea and dainties plus the ambiance that we experienced at Bacchus merited the $29 a person price tag. The customer service was disappointingly lacking – both of us felt like our server didn’t think we were classy enough to be in her Lobby. It was more than enough to taint our afternoon and dissuade us from being regular patrons.

That is really a shame, because everything else is something both Bruce and I would have otherwise endorsed.

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High Tea Series: The Fish House at Stanley Park

On July 11th, I was joined by 7 lovely ladies and 2 distinguished gentlemen for another tea party for my High Tea Series. The venue: the Fish House in Stanley Park, tucked away between the tennis courts and Second Beach inside Vancouver’s largest urban greenspace.

The Afternoon teapartiers (by julesjulesjules m)

Photo used with permission from Julesjulesjules

We started off slow due to guests being delayed by the changes to the Burrard Bridge, but that just gave us more time to admire each other’s creative choices of hat.

Afternoon tea at the Fish House in Stanley Park

What wasn’t acceptable was the slowness of pace that continued even after our full contingent arrived. Tea took 15 minutes from the time of order; the food didn’t show until nearly 20 minutes of tea drinking had passed. By then, some of us who had deliberately fasted for this 2pm meal were getting frustrated and somewhat dizzy from hunger.

Afternoon tea at the Fish House in Stanley Park

Our table tried 5 of the 7 teas on offer. Those who took cream and sugar favoured the Flowery Earl Grey. A couple were seduced by the concept of the Mountain Berry, a rose-hued tea that contained Saskatoon berries, red and black currants, hibiscus, and Seneca root.

Afternoon tea at the Fish House in Stanley Park

I wish I could say a few good things about the tea that the Fish House served, but the general feel was that our drink was poorly set up, flat in taste and occasionally in aroma, and at best, forgettable.

Afternoon tea at the Fish House in Stanley Park

Sad to report that the food verdict is similar. The overall selection was plainly presented. Overall tastings felt bland and lacking in contrast. A few piped up to defend the scones and the brownies, which were the best of the bunch, but I’ve personally had better at all of the other places I’ve been to for afternoon tea.

Scones (by julesjulesjules m)

Photo used with permission from Julesjulesjules

The one true highlight for me was the Devon cream, whipped energetically to airy deliciousness. It would have been more appropriate to say that I took my Devon cream with scones – in fact, I might have eaten it on its own if I hadn’t been concerned about what my companions might think.

Despite this small bit of praise, don’t you think it’s a shame that something akin to butter is the best offering in the Fish House’s afternoon tea array? I do.

The verdict: don’t bother.

You can probably sum it up like this: while the Fish House does have afternoon tea on the menu, they only pay lip service to it. No one else was there to have tea. Not many people were present in the dining room, period. I guess they’re not known as a lunch or tea destination, as we learned the hard way.

Ah, well. Our $24 a person fees weren’t entirely for naught. It did give our party an excuse to don fancy clothes and frou-frou hats, and we did have a great time just being in each other’s company. But if I were you, plan your next afternoon tea excursion elsewhere – I’d rather you to enjoy both your friends and your food.

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High Tea Series: The Empress Hotel (Victoria)

My recent trip to Victoria with Coast Hotels & Resorts gave me the perfect opportunity to take on the mother of all high teas in British Columbia: the historic Empress Hotel.

Around the Empress Hotel

At an eye-popping price tag of $55 (make that $67 for Royal Tea), I was a huge skeptic. Even if the tea really is fantastic and the dainties to die for, can a bunch of micro sandwiches, scones, and leaf-infused hot water really be worth all that money?

Read on and decide for yourself.

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First impressions

Our group of six strolled around the ivy citadel that is the Fairmont Empress, already in awe of its Victorian glory. The room that housed us for tea was no less impressive:

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The Tea Lobby was elegant, airy, luxurious, and filled with the tinkling from a baby grand piano. I clapped my hands with glee when it became clear that he was playing the theme song from the Harry Potter films. Fittingly majestic and magical for a space such as this.

Full service afternoon tea

Have you ever gone to a tea house in Vancouver and had the equivalent of a butler see to your every need? If you have, you must tell me where, because this has only ever happened to me at the Empress.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Paul, our stately server, welcomed us with full pomp, pulling out the chairs for the ladies and placing our napkins on our seats as one would expect at a fine dining restaurant. His delivery of our strawberries and chantilly, presented elegantly in cut crystal goblets, was crisp and expedient. It was bettered only by his performance with our tea. Apparently, we were to have him wait on us completely, with our teapots set on its own table as he poured cup after cup for each of us. He even executed the cream and sugar himself on the first round.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

He was so prepared to continue pouring our tea for us, having remembered what each of us had ordered, that we had to stop him in the middle of service after we decided to sample each other’s teas. After one incident where he poured Angela’s tea into the teacup she had already half-filled with Anny’s tea, Paul realized that we were quite happy to help ourselves. He consequently pulled back a bit, returning only occasionally to top up our cups and plop more cream and sugar into those that warranted it, confirming the tea we wanted from then on.

Giggle! All the attention made me feel like a princess.

A closer look at the food and drink

It may be partially due to the service and our surroundings, but by God, did I ever love the tea here!

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

I naturally had to try the The Empress Blend, made exclusively for the hotel with the express intention of pairing with the dainties of afternoon tea. Here’s what the menu told me about it:

Exclusive to The Fairmont Empress, this delightful blend boasts a bright coppery colour and takes milk exceedingly well. The Assam component lends a rich malty character, while the Kenyan black tea provides subtle floral hints. Kenyan green tea infuses a bright and lively aroma, complemented by the fruity, sprightly, and airy piquant flavours of Dimbula from Sri Lanka. Small amounts of Kemum draw the elements together with a burgundy depth and light oaky notes.

Half the table had the Empress Blend along with me, while others selected from the menu of eight delicious sounding options. We all seemed to prefer the ones we ordered for ourselves, and my tastings of the rest, while personally paling in comparison to the Empress Blend, were fragrant, colourful, and beautiful with the food that we had in front of us.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Anny evidently enjoyed her strawberries and chantilly, as did I.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The presentation of our dainties was utterly refined. My eyes were immediately drawn to the marbled chocolate tulips on the top tier and the smoked salmon pinwheels and mushroom crostini on the bottom one.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

For me, the savouries were clearly a cut above your average afternoon tea fare. The plate popped with colour and contrast, and the flavours were bright and full without being overbearing. A lot of care seemed to be put in to ensure that these items would complement the teas (which still should be the star of the meal, no?). Best cucumber sandwich I’ve had; the horseradish in the spread was the magic ingredient, I think.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The scones were good but not anything to write home about. They weren’t a match for the scones that I still fondly recall from Secret Garden, but they are better than those from T Room & Bakery and Bacchus. Although I downed every bite, I do wish they had served us the crumpets instead (their cookbook has a recipe dating back over 100 years).

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

By the time we reached dessert, our group was pleasantly stuffed. I was barely capable of trying even a mouthful of each of the sweets on the top tier. Besides, I find that the desserts are often made much too sweet to be served with tea, so this part of the service was not one that I was particularly looking forward to.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Again, as you can see, Anny enjoyed whatever had been put in front of her. Others reported the deliciousness of the sweets, ultimately favouring the the most delicate ones due to their pairings with the tea. From my nibbles, I leaned towards the lemon tarts and the shortbread with crumbles of Earl Grey tea leaves baked in.

Our verdict

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Is high tea at the Empress expensive? Hell, yes! All told, the six of us spent nearly $400 for an afternoon that didn’t even qualify as a full meal.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. Best afternoon tea experience I’ve had to date, in an atmosphere of opulence and a city of much Victorian charm.

Make your own Empress afternoon tea at home

Anyone that helps us give to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society for Blogathon 2009 has the opportunity to win a tin of The Empress’ Centennial Blend plus a copy of If Teapots Could Talk, which is filled with recipes for the food you see above and more. See full rules and eligibility below.

  1. By day’s end on July 24, 2009, every $10 that you donate towards Tiny Bites’ Blogathon drive for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society grants you 1 entry to the draw. If you donate $50, that equals 5 entries for you and $50 x 3 = $150 worth of food for the people that the Food Bank helps.
  2. Please contact us about your donation and/or bookings before July 25th so that we can make sure you get all the entries that you deserve.
  3. The winner will be announced at 4:30am on July 26, 2009, while I am on shift for Blogathon 2009.

Thank you for your donations and best of luck in winning this Early Bird prize!

High Tea Series: Secret Garden Tea Company

My field trip to Secret Garden Tea Company let me cross off a third establishment on my to-do list of afternoon tea.  The equipment used are professional Surrounds Landscaping. Apologies that  this is only the first that I am detailing in words for the High Tea Series.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

The occasion was more special than most. The adventure fell on Easter Sunday, making it doubly wonderful to be able to spend it with 6 ladies of the Vancouver Twitterverse and our rep from the maler sex, Jon.

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On the tea

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

With 8 people in attendance, we were able to sample a good portion of Secret Garden’s sizeable tea menu:

  • Secret Garden Secret: vanilla and “secret sweet ingredient” (Jon, Annika)
  • Grammy’s Darjeeling (Carol)
  • Lavender Earl Grey (Moj, who normally swears by Secret Garden’s Buckingham Palace)
  • Jasmine tea with flowers (Jules)
  • Creamy Earl Grey (Rachel)

I was drawn to the Dragon’s Tears tea: jasmine leaves with blossoms that were plucked within an hour of sunrise. This tea was the only one that carried a premium price tag on the normal menu ($5.95). For afternoon tea, the extra cost is waived. It therefore made sense to my sometime frugal self to try it that day.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

After my first few sips of the Dragon’s Tears, I changed my tune.  It was a beautiful, floral, and delicate blend – one that should be enjoyed on its own – but it was overpowered by food that we ate. Besides, it’s more fun in an atmosphere of scones and tea cosies to be able to stir in cream and sugar as you chat with your companions.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Another nice touch was the mismatched china that Secret Garden employs to serve tea and lumps of sugar in. Someone in our group mentioned that the cups are often donated by regulars, these tea meetings are perfect for outdoor fireplaces get together summer nights.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Thanks to Emme’s Easter salute in the form of bunny ears, bunny slippers, and pom-pom tail, our table was treated to a complimentary take-home pouch of Secret Garden’s Spring Blend. As it turns out, the owner also dresses up for Easter and the day’s staff felt like she would have wanted to reward a person with similar fashion sensibilities. Good call, Emme!

On the food

Secret Garden came out with several 3-tiered trays to the delight of all at the table. It was enough for 9, even though we were only charged for 8 spots. We were happy to take the rest home.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

As with most tea services in the city, treats vary with the seasons and the whims of the kitchen.  Our favourites from the selection we received included the roast beef croissants, the blackberry and almond bread, and the raisin scones (which were the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant setting).

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Compared with the other afternoon teas I’ve had this year, Secret Garden excelled in presentation and sweetstuffs, even though the chocolate pumpkin cheesecake was awkward to eat without forks.

They fell a little flat with their bottom tier options, as evidenced by a lack of consumption of the egg salad pinwheels. Bacchus had better savoury offerings; T Room is still the winner for me in terms of overall taste.

Secret Garden: tea party tweetup

Secret Garden’s signature lemon tarts were also a bit controversial — some guests questioned whether the lemon curd was store-bought. We never did confirm with the kitchen. Do any of you know?

The verdict

Secret Garden impressed everyone with its chintz charm, patient service, and tea selection. Of the three places I’ve been to, it was the most accommodating for large groups, even with frequent fluctuations in RSVPs (note the 17% gratuity that comes with parties of 8 or more).

Another good sign was that the regular tea enthusiasts in our midst only had good things to say about Secret Garden. One such enthusiast is Carol Sill of Cha-Cha-Cha, who sat across from me during our stay. Carol was nice enough to put together a video summary of our tea party on her site, which is embedded below for your convenience:

Secret Garden Tea Company
5559 West Boulevard | Kerrisdale
604-261-3070

The Secret Garden Tea Company

Secret Garden Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Comments and photos from our table

Enjoy the visuals and comments that others from our party have already published:

Tea party guests – I want to hear from you. What did you like? What could have been better? Where are your photos? Post a comment below.

Next up: The Fish House at Stanley Park

I had so much fun having tea with this many companions that I may just make future afternoon tea outings into official Tiny Bites events. Rather than organize it as a tweetup or online invite, the next ones will be done offline, in order to minimize fluctuations in attendance as much as possible.

So should you be interested in joining me at the next tea party at the Fish House at Stanley Park, pencilled for the month of June, contact me now so I can keep you in mind when we set things up.

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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.