Indulgences - A High Tea Guide
High tea is definitely an indulgence and definitely one of my favourite ways to relax in a classier fashion. There is definitely a decent list of places that service English style high tea but I'll only be blogging about two of the downtown Vancouver ones and one from VanDusen Park in this post. So let me introduce you to (if you haven't already heard of them) the Urban Tea Merchant, Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont Pacific Rim and Truffles Fine Foods Cafe, all which are not too far from public transit. Let's get started!
The Urban Tea Merchant
I would say this is the most popular of the ones I'm blogging about today. UTM is famous for serving the famous TWG teas from Singapore (qualitea! Oh puns..) and has locations in Canada, US, and Hong Kong (from what I know since I've seen them around). The high tea here is definitely classy. Not only is this store located in downtown, it has a seating area with massive windows which give an amazing view especially during Cherry Blossom/Sakura season. When you make your reservation here (I cannot stress how much you need to make reservations here, it's almost always packed when I'm around for a visit), make sure you remember to wear something dressy :) Unlike most of the high tea offerers in town, UTM offers a wide variety of afternoon tea services. In the spring, there's a lot more featured tea sets like the Easter, Sakura, and April tea services so you can take advantage of those around this time of year. The most common one though, is the Petite Afternoon Tea Service which goes for an average $28/person. It includes a small 3-tiered platter of sandwiches, scones, and delicate desserts along with a pot of selected teas from their massive tea menu. Usually I opt to add a few more dollars (~$5-10) and splurge for some of the fancier teas. I can't recall if it costed more to refill the tea so sorry, can't offer any advice on that. The items in their platter differ from time to time but the last time I went, these were what I got:
- Savouries: cucumber&watercress tea sandwich, "Indian Night" curried egg sandwich, turkey tea sandwich with "Number 8 Tea" cranberry sauce, "Lapsang Souchong Tea" chicken cone
- Sweets: TWG tea macaron, "Sakura! Sakura! Tea” Nanaimo Bar, chevron strawberry, seasonal fruit, scone with crème & tea-infused jelly
- my tea choice: Rose Boudoir (black) *recommended for those who like floral teas like me :) *
I would say that the selection of food here is quite decent, the sandwiches and desserts are just what you would normally expect from high tea but let me just give a shout out to the scones here. They are absolutely my favourite - crisp on the outside and soft on the inside with just the right amount of "English scone" taste in them. The jam is a plus too. The teas here are very decent as to be expected of TWG Teas and the variety is just about large enough to satisfy any tea lover. If you're new to teas, don't hesitate to ask your server, they're always very tea-knowledgeable. I had one server who would just go on and on about the tea I was asking about and it was pretty nice to see how passionate he was about the whole tea culture. At a $28 price point, I would say that the affordability scores roughly an 7.5/10 on my scale - not a steal but not anything too surprising. I would've preferred if it were on the cheaper end of the $20s, considering how most people pay a bit more for better tea.
I've also tried the West Coast Tea Service here and I guess I should review that as well. It's a bit more heavy on the flavour side as well as the price side at $38/person. The menu this time was:
- Savouries: edible flower salad with 1837 Black Tea vinaigrette, "Moroccan Mint" chicken roulade, "Alfonso Tea" infused mahi mahi mille feuille, coconut & lime glazed scallop, gem lettuce tossed in "Coconut Tea" vinaigrette, summer vegetable sesame waffle cup infused with "Sencha"
- Sweets: TWG Tea macaron, seasonal fruit, chevron strawberry, chocolate dipped "Matcha" Madeleine
- I've regretfully forgotten the pot of tea I chose but I can assure you it was just as good as the last
As you can see, this is definitely a more savoury tea service compared to the one before. It's not served on a platter but rather one a massive plate which somehow fits everything on it. Although it does look nice, I would rather the savouries and sweets be on separate plates since some of the juices from the savouries infiltrated (yes, infiltrated) my macarons. I don't like soggy macarons. The food in this service is definitely what I would call "interesting". I almost mistook the chicken roulade for weirdly coloured slices of egg :$ Although this set wasn't typical high tea, I'm glad I still tried it since it's not what you would usually find. The food wasn't amazing but it was decent and the sweets really didn't stand out and I understand since this set is more focused on the savouries. I feel like at the $38 price point, this set was a bit more on the expensive side and I'm not too sure I would get it again. It scores a 6.5/10.
Service here is good and decently attentive. In my previous experiences, I like the servers more than the managers- they've just been friendlier to me for some reason. Atmosphere is nice and relaxing. Decor is cute and pretty and the windows provide great lighting and an amazing view on nice days. It's seldom loud here so I find that eating is a bit more enjoyable. Check this place out if you're looking for a decent high tea experience.
Lobby Lounge @ Fairmont Pacific Rim
Like the Urban Tea Merchant, Afternoon Tea at the Lobby Lounge is another place where you should probably dress up for. For those who don't know, the Fairmont Pacific Rim is one of the fancier hotels in the downtown area which is only a stroll away from the view at Waterfront. For $35/person, you can get:
- warm scones served with seasonal fruit preserves accompanied with devonshire cream & fresh strawberries
- Tea Sandwiches served sushi style: miso tofu – sweet miso paste, tofu | tuna tataki – pineapple, rice, lightly seared tuna | crab & cucumber – tobiko, crab mayo mix, cucumber
- Tea Sandwiches served classically: farm raised truffled egg salad- pickled cucumber & pea tendrils | chilled tiger prawn & avocado-citrus crème cheese | tandoor roasted chicken- laccha mango salad, mint chutney butter
- Pastries: financier, assorted macaroons, lemon fruit tart, matcha layer cake with lychee, chocolate ganache jewel
- Pot of tea: T Company tea's
- White: jasmine pearl
- Green: genmai cha, gyokuro asahi, sencha fukujyu cha
- Scented green: pear tree green *I chose this one*
- Oolong: imperial oolong (high mountain tung ting)
- Black: english breakfast, flowery earl grey, eros
The scones here are pretty good but smaller and definitely not as good as the ones at UTM- I did like the fresh strawberry jam though. The classic tea sandwiches are nothing too much out of the ordinary but the sushi style "tea sandwiches" are really the focus of this three-tiered set. The tuna tataki is amazing- the fish somehow melts along with the rice and I literally had deja vu of my sushi experience at Miku. The crab and cucumber cup isn't too bad either. Oh how I wish they had more than three pieces to offer us. The sweets weren't bad but I especially liked the matcha lychee layered piece of cake. I'm used to the sweets tier of high tea sets to be sweet but this time around, my friend and I both thought the desserts were a bit of a sugar overdose. There is definitely not as much of a tea selection here but I liked how there was a sample set of the teas for you to smell. My personal favourites from the choices were the pear tree green and eros. I think if I compared this set's price to the Petite's price, it seems reasonable since there is an addition of the sushi in this platter. However, I'd prefer a price of around or slightly lower than $30 instead since the rest of the food is slightly ordinary. Affordability wise, I'd give this a 7/10.
Service here is evidently slower than UTM. Although service is good and polite, I'd prefer UTM over Lobby Lounge - it just seems a bit less warm and welcoming here. I went on a weekend during the holidays and to my surprise, there weren't too many people there. I do, however, still recommend that you make a reservation if you plan on coming since I've heard that it can get a bit busy at times. The atmosphere is definitely classy. There's usually nice live music playing in the front accompanied by the large windows and double sided fireplace in the middle. It's usually not too loud during the afternoon and the last time I visited, there was no time limit so it's quite relaxing to sit here for a nice chat. Come here if you're looking to splurge, going for something on the classier side, and willing to sacrifice your money for some ordinary food (sans the sushi).
Truffles Fine Foods Cafe @ VanDusen Gardens
Unlike the places listed above, Truffles offers a more casual high tea experience and for a considerably lower price at (now) $35/2 people. When I went, it was priced at $28/2 people, but I think the new price was is still definitely not to bad. Truffles in located in the heart of VanDusen gardens so when it's nice and sunny outside, I'd recommend taking an outside spot so you can dine while taking advantage of the scenery this location offers. Served again on a three-tiered platter with a choice of tea, you can get:
- Savouries: Choice of daily sandwich, Freshly made scone, Large croissant, Chef’s house-made strawberry jam, VanDusen’s own unpasteurized organic honey
- Sweets: Coconut macaroons and shortbread cookies, French macarons and petit-fours
- Tea: a choice between VanDusen’s own private label black tea (blended by Secret Garden Tea) and different organic teas by MoTeas from Kelowna
As you can probably tell, this menu is less "high tea style" than the rest, but I was still content with the experience here. Instead of being served right at your table, you actually order at the counter, choose your tea and sandwich, and take a number on a stand before you head to your table and wait for the food to come. This set is actually quite filling since it's obviously very carb heavy. Refills for tea were complimentary last time I checked. The food isn't anything amazing and there aren't too many choices of nice teas but this is definitely a nice way to relax and still have "afternoon tea" for an affordable price with amazing scenery. Affordability here scores a 9/10.
Service is not like those before since it's more of a cafe than a restaurant. However, servers do still come around for a bit of chit chat and hot water to refill your tea. Not bad if you ask me. Atmosphere is casual and at times, tourist-y since this place is in VanDusen Gardens. There's usually a choice of indoor and outdoor seating but again, choose outdoors if you're visiting on a nice day! Come here if you're looking for a casual, not-so-splurgey afternoon tea in a great environment.
Hope this helps if you're looking for something nice this Easter weekend! :)