Looking for some girl time, we made high tea our activity of choice.
They have an entrance on both Georgia and Alberni street. And both lead into their merchandise store, which splinters off into the restaurant.
I feel this is one of the nicer places for high tea, given the extent of their store front selling gourmet tea and tea accessories. All their teas are from TWG tea. All 100% natural teas that do not go through any chemical processing, that only use all natural fruits and flowers.
They also boast quality products in their selection of tea cups and matching saucers, delicate spoons, cotton tea filters, tea gift sets, tea pots, and carafes. Some were works of art priced at $700. Teapots in glass and clay, speckled spots and some in stripes, patterned pots with matching cups, and insulated metal pot holders to keep brews toasty.
If you can’t commit to a whole tin of tea or aren’t in need of a box set, you have the ability to purchase their tea loose leaf, per pound, choosing one from their wall of tins. After all, tea is best fresh and comes with an expiry date. You don’t want to purchase more than you can drink at a time.
They also offer TWG tea infused macarons. Racked up behind the counter in flavours like “1837 black tea and blackcurrant”; “grand wedding tea with passion fruit and coconut”; “vanilla bourbon tea and kaya”, and “Napoleon tea and caramel”.
Amongst the shop’s shelves, display cases, and side tables of merchandise were white clothed tables for patron seating. However, we were led to their salon for our service. It required a walk up a ramp lined with black and white photos. The photography captured scenery and scenes tied to the procurement of tea and the beauty of the tea culture. They were very consistent with their theme.
The salon was a room with pink walls and more black and white tea themed photos. In a corner was a sculpture of black charcoal tea pots. They were in the act of pouring one into another. This was a shut of fountain that would have otherwise drained into a basin of stone below.
Wicker chairs, floral patterned booths, and white table cloths. Atop each table stood a tin of TWG tea as its centre piece, along with a matching TWG branded teacup and saucer at each place setting. Given the delicate nature of high tea and the classic image of cups trimmed in roses and gilded in gold; this branded cup really didn’t add anything to the setting or experience. This wasn’t the type of teacup you used with pinkies up. Overall we felt that they were a little too forceful with the tea messaging at this point, almost to the moment just before tacky.
The most difficult part of high tea is deciding on which tea service you want with what type of tea. Especially here, where they had five different service options to choose from and over 50 different types of teas to read through. (50 if I had to guess.)
We were accidentally delivered one of the appetizers from the “Pacific Route Tea Set” and I was not shy to ask to take a photo of it before it was taken away. This was the “lobster avocado tower” with basil aioli and a chilli tobiko emulsion. Coupled with “miso and maple marinated sablefish” served in butter lettuce with micro greens. At $45 per person the “Pacific Route Tea Set” is inspired by “West Coast” flavours. Served on beautiful glass platter, it includes other OceanWise seafood like their butter poached prawn with “Orange Blossom Oolong” chutney and sweets in an apple dome infused with “Caramel Tea”. It sounded beautiful, but we wanted something more classic and less seafood forward.
Given that this was one of my guest’s first tea service we decided it should be with the “Traditional Tea Set” at $42 per person. It included tea sandwiches, scones with jelly and devon creme, and petite sweets served on a three-tiered platter.
Though I took a pause at their seasonal and limited time only featured tea service: The “Lunar New Year Tea Service” at $48 per person. It celebrated the occasion with Asian-inspired savouries and sweets, accompanied by their “Jasmine Monkey King Tea”. I would miss out today, and it is only available until February 29th.
I longed for their “Platinum Tea Service”, a pricier set that was unlisted to keep in mind market prices. This was their most luxurious afternoon tea experience. Tea-Infused Duck Breast, Fois Gras, Northern Divine Caviar, and with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. With it you can also order one of their cocktails made with tea.
For those looking for something lighter or earlier: the “Breakfast Tea Set” was available at $18 per person. Freshly baked scones or croissants with creme and jelly. Served with fresh orange or cranberry juice and a pot of her tea. Only available from 10am – 11:30am.
Similarly, they offered an “Express Lunch Feature” at $25 per person, Monday through Friday from 11am – 1pm. It’s a light afternoon high tea service that includes sandwiches, a scone with devon creme and jelly, and tea-infused sweets. As its meant to be be quick, there is a 40-minute only seating during this time.
If you can’t commit to a full set or service, they also have tea and treats available a la carte. But half the fun of high tea is the presentation of it before you. A tower of miniature treats, delicately crafted. Like our “Traditional Tea Set” featuring a tray of savoury bites like handcrafted tea sandwiches, a layer of baked goods like fresh scones with tea-infused jelly and creme, and two trays of petite sweets. With food for three, our three tiers ran out of space and was spread across four plates. The tower was delivered with two hands and came with a point and describe run down of everything on it. As a whole, the assortment was heavy on the sweeter side, with three layers of sweeter treats.
You begin by choosing your tea. Anything priced $8 and under is included with this set. If you decide to get a pricier tea you need to pay the difference for it. I wanted one of their blossoming teas, but would have had to add an additional $8 for this specialty pot. So instead had asked for our server’s recommendation on something unique. He rattled off a few fruit and sweet dessert combinations until I heard what I liked: the “coffee bean and coconut” tea. My guests got the “Paris breakfast” in cocoa and vanilla and the “Maharaja Darjeeling” black tea. Each arrived in its own full tea pot without any leaves. Just a fully brewed four servings per person, steeped for the perfect pot.
Once delivered, each of our first cup of tea was poured by our very polite server. He did this in a swirling circle motion, to aerate it? Each tea was lovely, you could smell and taste the notes mentioned in its name or title. Especially the espresso-like coffee flavour of my tea, ironically. These were full bodied teas, so I enjoyed mine as is, but both my guests had theirs with milk and sugar. Coarse brown sugar and heated and frothed milk in a creamer. The latter was a nice touch to help keep your tea warm. Though the insulated metal tea pot carrier helped with keeping things warm too.
We started with the bottom layer of savoury snacks: finger sandwiches and small bites.
The “cucumber and aged cheddar sandwich” was a classic. Light and salty with a nice crisp.
The “Earl grey gentlemen tea sandwich” came with sencha tea infused cream and fig jam. Both were great, but a little odd when paired with freshness of the lettuce.
The “Tomato and piave vecchio cheese tea sandwich, with watercress aioli” reminded me of margarita pizza. Pesto, light tomato, and a sharp pang of cheese. Though the tomato made the top half of the sandwich soggy to the point of wilting.
The “smoked salmon rosette sandwich” with “sencha wasabi aioli” was more of a canapé. A round of whole wheat toast under some salty salmon. I found it prettier than tasty.
Similarly was the “Imperial lapsang souchong” tea flavoured “chicken basket”. Gritty mashed and peppered chicken meat stuffed in a stale and soggy waffle cup. The chicken was well seasoned and would have been better between two slices of bread, with the addition of some mayonnaise and cucumber. Though the sprig of pea shoots helped to give this two biter some freshness that it needed.
The second layer was baked goods, a good transition from savoury to mildly sweet.
The madeleine was a little dry. Though the “Victorian Creme and 1837 Black Tea Jelly” spreads were helpful in combating this. The cream made things a little more moist and the jam paired well with the pastry’s coconut flavour.
The freshly baked scone was a chocolate, as seen by the melted brown pooled at its bottom. This extra coating made things a little cakey. And the texture was more like a biscuit with crispy edges. Nothing like a scone, but still great with the cream and jam.
The top layer of our tower was a rainbow of fruit and sweets. They were equally considerate in providing us three of each fruit so that we could each have some. This was described as a “melange of fresh fruit” that included gooseberry, raspberry, blueberry; a slice of dragon fruit, a curl of melon, and cubes of watermelon and honey dew on orange slices. And to give it all a more tropical flare and the illusion of refinement, it included a freshly pruned purple orchid with sparkly velvety petals.
This one was unlisted on the menu, but based on taste, it was a strawberry cheesecake-like butter tart. With strawberry jelly gilded in gold and dusted in crushed pistachio. And a velvety smooth custard at its centre. This was as delicious as it was pretty.
We each got a “TWG tea macaron”, choosing one between the “Moroccan mint tea”, “Bain de roses tea”, and “earl grey fortune and chocolate”. I had the former and it wasn’t what I expected. The texture of the shell and the cream seemed to be more dense than a regular macaron. In suspect this was a result of the infusion of tea. The shell was crumbly like a cookie, sandwiching a filling full of mint flavour. The rose one was described as being sweet like fruit loops.
“Matcha nara mousse with vanilla bourbon tea panna cotta” was amazing, this was my favourite element of the tower. It was airy and light, one of those desserts where you scrape the glass repeatedly and you lick the spoon clean. The round beads of chocolate added a nice crunch, and visual interest to the shot glass; that and the chocolate square dusted in green edible glitter. More of these chocolate pearl confetti-ed the plate with a red jelly square that border the layer.
And as I mentioned early, as it was tea for three, we ran out of room and they needed to split the rest of our desserts on to a secondary plate.
“White and dark chocolate dipped strawberry”. It was delicious. Creamy chocolate fully enrobing a large juicy strawberry. But despite the stereotype, this was not a sexy dessert to eat in public. With each bite, majority of the chocolate fell off in shards, you catch them in the palm of your hand, only to slurp them up into your gaping mouth after.
The “New York breakfast tea chocolate tart” wasn’t as sweet as it looked. It took on some of the bitterness from tea to balance out the chocolate mousse, wrapped in a chocolate cookie, with various chocolate pearls on top. It was just the right amount of crunchy shell meets creamy centre, then finished with crispy topping. I just needed a tiny glass of milk to finish it off with.
The staff were very attentive. When a window table open up, we were offered the ability to move to it for a courtyard view. – We took the opportunity. Our original server introduced the young man that would be taking over for him, when his shift ended. Both checked in often to see how things were. Our original server even made an effort to ask if I liked his tea recommendation and if it was as unique as I had hoped. – I did. It was. Both stopped by often to see if we liked the food and needed anything else. Even the manger did this, making his own rounds. I found the lavished attention nice. The feeling of being waited on during such an elegant activity, with classical music playing overhead. I was just missing a salon dress, pearls and white gloves. However my guest found it a little much and a lot intrusive, especially as the manager interrupted her mid speech twice, in doing so.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This is the place to go to, to impress. They even have a Pacific Northwest themed tea service, if who you want to impress is from out of town. You don’t get the full tea salon experience, with the setting; but you do get some of the most delicious, full bodied teas and one of he most well displayed tea tower presentations. I would be interested in following up with them to see the various tea services that fluctuate with the season. Don’t deny your cravings
URBAN TEA MERCHANT
1070 West Georgia Street, Vancouver BC