This summer I had the pleasure of being one of the three judges to help taste and rate the six contestants of this year’s Vancouver Foodster’s ice tea challenge. Vancouver Foodster hosts competitions all around the Lower Mainland, inviting restaurants to compete in specific themes, (I also had the honour of judging the caesar competition last year). This extra bit of fun helps to bring extra visitors to each of the participating establishments. Individuals who might never have heard of the restaurants anyway else travel to try their creations. Truly I have never heard of a handful of these places, and might not have gone out of my way to visit them, if not for this social media forward competition.
Not only did the judges have a say in who is the best at quenching Vancouver’s thirst with an iced tea, but anyone was able to participate in the judging process. Like it is with all of these competitions, you need only visit all the participants to try their offerings, then you cast your vote at http://vancouverfoodster.com/ice-tea-challenge/. This blog is written as a recap, therefore the iced tea contest has now ended and the winner has been decided. But to try your hand at judging, or to lend a hand a second time, the next competition is already running, and is in need of your palette and ballot. This is the “Best Sundae Challenge”, for more details visit: http://vancouverfoodster.com/category/stories/challenges/
The following ice teas and how I critiqued them are in the order of me trying them. For a few of these cafes I had more than the competing drink and was therefore able to blog about them as well. Read the ice tea reviews, then visit the link to learn a little more about each restaurant.
At “Sencha Tea Lounge” their competing beverage was the “Honey Camellia Milk Tea”. I walked in expecting a traditional ice tea, a clear brown fluid over ice with a slice of lemon. Although none of those things, this rendition technically was an iced tea. It would set the tone for the competition, given that majority of the competitors were bubble tea shoppes and their contributions had pearls. This made sense, if you consider Vancouver’s landscape.
The “Honey Camellia Milk Tea” was featured on their regular menu. It was a pleasant milk drink with hints of floral and chewy balls of tapioca. However, I expected a little more panache, not only from “Sencha”, but from all the other cafes simply highlighting a drink you can get anytime of the year, and ones that are already fairly popular with their customer base. This would have been a great opportunity and platform to highlight their creativity, and a unique opportunity to cultivate new customers from Vancouver’s Foodster’s large following. If he endorses you and you have his name associated with your product, you are basically getting a green light recommendation that you are visiting the right place for something great.
Although many of the competing cafes did go into detail as to why their drink deserved to compete, whether it was in house made syrups and toppings that they were using, or the rarity of their ingredients and the difficulty in procuring them, or even an extra embellishment from them that you can’t find from their competitors.
Overall I didn’t find the “Honey Camellia Milk Tea” all that special, it was a great bubble tea, a flavour that wasn’t too sweet that I can see myself ordering again. But if they came to win, this wasn’t their best try. Especially when I saw their potential for the different and creative with their black sesame bao-burgers. To learn more about them and the restaurant, and why they are worth checking out, visit the link below.
At “The Vietnamese Tea House” their ice tea entry was a pandan flavoured milk tea made with steeped pandan leaves. A milder version of this was served to all dinners as complimentary cups of hot tea. I was impressed by the work that went into sourcing their own pandan syrup for this drink. The leaves are imported, and the ones not steeped are ground and heated up to create their concentrated green, sweet syrup. I am a fan of pandan, so am a little biased here. Its flavour is one of my favourites, and the fact that it is rare in Vancouver, makes me like it all the more. I have had other pandan flavoured bubble teas before, but this tasted the most pure and rich in its unique flavour. I just wish I had more of in the drink. Although, the way they prepared it for the competition was perfect, a milder beverage for those new to the leaves or unfamiliar with the flavour.
To learn about the bounty of authentic Southern Vietnamese food they offer on top of their fresh fruit slushes and bubble teas, check out the link below.
At “Boba Monster” their ice tea entry was their best seller, the “Boba Monster Milk Tea”. A traditional milk tea with extra drink toppings. More to chew than just the traditional pearls, There was also a generous helping of grass jelly, egg pudding, and even a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the cup. This one was definitely fan service to their large teenage customer base, students from the neighbouring high school visiting during lunch and after school for a sweet treat treat to beat the heat. I visited with two grown adults, not familiar with bubble tea and the nuances of chewing their drink. Therefore the sensation and extra textures was not as enjoyable to them as it was for me. I liked the fully loaded drink and the excess it gave a fan of bubble tea.
For some of their other extra concoctions, that are also best sellers, check out the link below.
In a similar approach “T-Go Tea” also served up their most popular bubble tea as their ice tea challenge entry. The “Matcha Smoothie” was not holding back in its matcha flavour. It was deep and punchy, a great offering for matcha lovers. I liked the fact they scooped in the pearls last, to best showcase how thick their blended drink was. Although the extra cold drink had the pearls firming up from the blended ice, and losing their ideal chewy consistency.
To learn more about “T-Go”, their other beverages and their bubble waffles, visit the link below.
“Taan Char” was the only competitor to create a special flavoured ice tea, just for this competition, they truly took advantage of this platform. Although visiting their location, and taking in their decor and signage, I can see they are already well known for their creative and limited edition drinks, giving you good reason to visit them again and often. For example, this month was a black currant tea, which was a first for me. This “Peach and Strawberry Green Tea” was also more close to what I expected when I embarked on this challenge as one of its judges. A refreshing beverage that focused on the tea aspect of the drink, and to it added ingredients and notes to elevate and create something new. Fruity and sweet, but balanced by the bitter tang of the strong green tea. Their cup is also super cute. Incorporating the Vancouver straw band, this cafe has made due with a sippy cup lid covered by a miniature heart cap. A little stopper keeping your full cup spill proof, until you are ready to drink it.
The “Champagne Jasmine Ice Tea” from “Treasure Green Tea Company” was another more literal ice tea contestant. It featured jasmine tea, grapefruit, and honey. Everything is mixed in a martini shaker, giving the beverage a foam top and an airy essence, similar to the fizz of champagne. The quality of tea used made all the difference here. The jasmine tea was floral and delicate, it was given some sweetness from the honey, and some depth and citrus tang from the candied grapefruit rinds. The latter also offered something to chew on as you drank, as well as giving you a digestive aid to end on. For more on their martini shaken, cocktail inspired ice teas, and the history of this over 35 year old traditional Chinese tea shop, visit the link below.
With the tallying of points I gave out for taste, originality, and presentation; I personally ranked “Champagne Jasmine Ice Tea” from “Treasure Green Tea Company” as first place, the “Pandan Milk Tea” from “Vietnamese Tea House” as second, and “Taan Char’s” “Peach and Strawberry Green Tea” as third. To see the winner as a total tally of votes from all three judges and diners, visit Vancouver’s Foodster’s results page.