The Secret Garden Tea Company (High Tea VS Afternoon Tea)

Restaurant: The Secret Garden Tea Company
Cuisine: Tea/Bakery/Desserts/Sandwiches/Teatime
Last visited: August 22, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Kerrisdale)
Address: 5559 West Blvd
Price Range: $10-20, $20-30 for high tea

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3 (based on high tea items)
Service: 3
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • Family owned
  • Since 1995
  • Busy/Popular for high tea
  • Menu changes often
  • Savoury & sweets
  • Cozy, not pretentious
  • Unique experience
  • Local favourite
  • Gift shop
  • Baked goods to go
  • Reservations recommended for high tea
  • “High Tea To Go” available
  • Dine in/Take out
  • Monday – Saturday 8am – 7pm
  • Sundays 9am – 6pm

**Recommendations: Coconut Wedges and Raspberry Almond Loaf. If you’re only here for the food, you may want to order a la carte, but if you want the whole experience then go for the high tea, but the food was generally mediocre.

High Tea VS Afternoon Tea

To start, I have to define the terms “High Tea” and “Afternoon Tea”. They are often confused and I was once guilty of mixing them up too. What some restaurants are calling “High Tea” is actually more often than not Afternoon Tea, and The Secret Garden Tea Company falls into this category.

Traditionally High Tea is eaten after work hours at around 5pm-6pm, and it often consists of heavier items like chicken pot pies, quiche and beef wellingtons. It was often had at high tables, but it wasn’t something for the high class, but instead for the average working individuals.

Afternoon Tea is usually eaten at around 2pm-4pm and the offerings generally include finger sandwiches, dainty scones, tea cakes and petit fours. This was an occasion for the social elite, and quite often people confuse this for “high tea”.

Just for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to call the “High Tea” at The Secret Garden “High Tea” because that’s what they call it, but Afternoon Tea is what they are actually offering. It’s just a name anyways and I guess “high tea” is more marketable for the clientele who might be interested in this sort of event. It’s not a big deal but I just had to make the distinction between the terms… and now on to my “high tea” experience!

I already started my day with a lunch full of pies, pastries and baked goods at Savary Island Pie Company and I decided to continue it with high tea at The Secret Garden Tea Company. Although they are different styles, the level of satisfaction for the food couldn’t compare to the amazing things I had at Savary Island Pie Company.

Speaking of companies, I was also in the company of my “fancy Aunties” which I’ll code name “C-Lais”… that name is more humourous if you know what it means, but I’ll let you figure that one out. (Hint: Ask a person who speaks Chinese)

The Secret Garden Tea Company is probably one of Vancouver’s most popular places known especially for their high tea service. Just looking purely at the food it was all quite basic and not as sophisticated as I thought it would be. I know I sound like a snob, but at $26.95/person I think it’s fair to have high expectations, although the price is considered rather standard for high tea in Vancouver, BC.

Okay this is where I get super picky…

The silverware was nice, but the “Made in Thailand” Porcelain and Ironstone kind of bothered me for a place specializing in high tea or afternoon tea. Nikko is a Japanese company and they do have a line of high quality fine bone chinaware, but this wasn’t it. The China Cup Tea Company only used “Made in England” Colclough, Royal Albert, and Ainsley fine bone china, and although those are incredibly pricey, I did appreciate their attention to detail.

Ahhh, so I guess this is where they kept the real deal fine bone chinaware…

I found more value in the ambiance and experience over the food, but all of it is important when having high tea, so it was a bit give and take here. The country atmosphere was cute and cozy rather than pretentious and stuffy, but if you want an even more dollhouse-like theme, check out Applewood Country Gifts, Tearoom & Bakery. It was completely booked for high tea so it was actually more noisy than it was quiet, but I still enjoyed the atmosphere and found it fun, unique and memorable.

There was a to-go bakery which rotates often and an in house gift shop too, but that’s quite common for places focusing on high tea or afternoon tea.

If you are interested in their high tea I strongly recommend reservations. Reservations for high tea can be made for: 12pm, 2:15pm and 4:30pm, every day of the week, and it costs $26.95 for adults and $17.95 for children (8 and under).

On the table:

High Tea3/6

  • $26.95 for adults and $17.95 for children (8 and under)
  • Reservations for high tea can be made for: 12pm, 2:15pm and 4:30pm.
  • I’ve tried their “high tea to go”, and the items change often, but both times I found it quite mediocre to good overall.
  • It’s quite ordinary “catering food” and there wasn’t much selection although all of it was made in house or freshly baked.
  • It just felt a bit mass produced in quality, but I did love that everything came in individual bite sized dainty portions, as it traditionally should be.
  • I have a feeling the food could be better a la carte, but the high tea was just okay, nothing to rave about or really complain about.
  • I did find it overpriced for what was being served.

Jasmine Dragon Tears3.5/6

  • $5.95/person
  • A very rare tea. Dragon tears are picked in the first three week of spring. The delicate leaves are then hand-rolled into small pearls. Only the most fragrant jasmine blossoms plucked within one hour of sunrise are layered between the tea.
  • I went for a non-traditional afternoon tea.
  • I’ve had versions of this tea before and it’s a delicate and light floral green tea.
  • This one seemed like a blend and it had green tea leaves as well as the pearls, so it wasn’t pure Jasmine and the quality wasn’t as premium.
  • The best Jasmine tea I’ve had thus far was the Sphere Jasmine Tea from Ten Fu Tea & Ginseng.

Yorkshire Harrogate4/6

  • $3.95/person
  • A brisk, British black tea.
  • The other option was one of the most traditional for afternoon tea.
  • This was a lot stronger than the English Breakfast which was too light in flavour.
  • This was perhaps the “real” tea drinkers’ choice of tea and it did accompany the food better too.

Butter Crackers with Goat’s Cheese 2.5/6

  • The crackers were topped with a goat’s cheese ball.
  • It was a thick, dense and creamy cheese mixture which wasn’t too strong because it was cut with a Kalamata olive tapenade and apparently some Genoa salami which I couldn’t taste at all.
  • The ingredients were all pureed with some parsley and it was a nice balance of cheese and olives, without being overly salty.
  • I could have used a crunch from something like cucumber because there was also some added mayo underneath the cheese and I needed something for texture.
  • I think the goat’s cheese was mixed with cream cheese and it wasn’t that gamey and even non-goat cheese fans could warm up to this, but it’s still thick with cheese flavour.
  • The butter crackers tasted quite stale and bland to me and they weren’t crispy or flaky, but almost like a drier and harder pie crust.
  • They were on the drier side but not like Premium Plus crackers or dry Saltine crackers.
  • They were home made but didn’t seem that fresh and they weren’t as buttery as I expected.

Tarragon Chicken Croissant 3/6

  • Being that I just had an amazing Grilled Chicken and Fresh Basil Sandwich at Savary Island Pie Company for lunch, this was really at a disadvantage. If I forget about that sandwich, then this was decent and still good.
  • It was a thin slice of lemon marinated chicken breast, tarragon mayo, a thin wedge of avocado, asparagus, and a couple greens in a mini croissant.
  • The croissant was buttery and very soft all the way through. It’s not an authentic French croissant which is chestnut brown with a crunchy exterior.
  • Despite not being an authentic croissant, it was still good, moist and suitable.
  • It was very heavy with the tangy herby mayo and there was a nice lemony flavour from the chicken, but it was quite standard and something you could make at home too.
  • I could have used more stuffing, but it was a fresh chicken salad sandwich and pretty good.

Egg Salad Sandwiches1.5/6

  • These were very mushy and almost tasted like mashed potatoes with a hint of hard boiled egg.
  • It was a thin layer of minced egg salad spread, or paste, wrapped and rolled with crustless white bread.
  • They weren’t wet, but there was hardly any egg salad, although it was evident that’s what it was supposed to be.
  • There was a slight crunch of minced celery, but they just weren’t happening.

Scones 2.5/6

  • The apple scone was the scone of the day.
  • My Apricot & Almond Scone I had earlier at Savary Island Pie Company wasn’t that great and I wasn’t feeling this one either.
  • The scones here weren’t typical scones and almost like biscuits.
  • They were airy, light, fluffy and moist instead of flaky or cakey in texture.
  • Without the sugar crust they were rather neutral or even bland, and I could taste a slight floury aspect, but it wasn’t too bothersome.
  • Although they could have been made with buttermilk, they weren’t tangy or buttery in flavour.
  • They tasted rather plain but had the sweet crunch and crispiness from an intense sugar crystal topping.
  • The apples were almost like dried peaches or raisins. I wouldn’t have guessed it was an apple scone, but after I knew I could taste the pieces of apples.
  • The raspberry jam was more sweet than tangy and I prefer whole fruit preserves, but this one was more like a standard jam. It was bursting with tons of raspberry seeds though, and it’s probably home made.
  • The clotted cream or Devonshire Cream wasn’t really authentic. It tasted like whipped cream cut with some cream cheese which is the “short cut” version to clotted cream. It was fluffy, but it had a filmy texture and aftertaste. It’s tangy and not sweet, but very whipped, fluffy, airy and light.

**Raspberry Almond Loaf 4/6

  • It would be nice to have these served as tea cakes rather than mini slices, but that’s just me being picky.
  • I really enjoyed these, but I also really love almonds. It wasn’t particularly anything special, but they were very good!
  • It was a very moist and tender loaf if you ate it right away, but they dried out quite fast. It’s not an oily or buttery loaf.
  • It was made with some fresh raspberry and swirls of raspberry jam (?) and I could bite into the seeds.
  • The cake part wasn’t tart or even that sweet at all so it’s enjoyable as a snack or dessert.
  • I’m pretty sure there was almond extract in the cake part, but it was subtle and gave the loaf another layer of flavour to accompany the raspberry.
  • The top of the loaf was the sweet part and that was covered with crispy and crunchy sugar coated caramelized almond slices that came across as marzipan.
  • It was a rather light cake and I could taste the raspberry and almond equally.
  • They had these as muffins to go as well.

**Coconut Wedges5/6

  • It was reminiscent of a coconut cream pie, but even lighter. This was my favourite, but I love coconut.
  • It was super moist and spongy and quite wet and it was loaded with shredded dried coconut which I could bite into and get the texture of.
  • It was creamy but still incredibly light and not too sweet at all and the whole thing just melted in your mouth like a super whipped custard.
  • It was almost like a moussey coconut custard with a soaked crust (which I’m not sure was intentional, but it was very moist).
  • My favourite part was the subtle accent of fresh basil leaf which was very unique and much appreciated for colour and flavour.
  • It was a very aromatic coconut dessert with a lightly sweetened whipped cream made with real vanilla bean seeds which was the perfect complement.
  • I’m pretty sure it was coconut extract, coconut cream and dried coconut flakes used.
  • I loved that it wasn’t greasy or heavy and there was more coconut cream custard than whipped cream which I prefer.
  • The confectioner’s sugar butterfly decals were a cute touch, but I’ve never been a fan of them. For some reason they remind me of powdery sugar flavoured pencil crayons… I know it’s a random analogy, but that’s what I think of when I eat them.

Lemon Tart4/6

  • This is supposed to be one of their specialties.
  • The tart was so tender and delicate I could barely pick them up.
  • They were quite good, but too sweet for me, although it was equally as tangy.
  • The lemon curd was creamy and it started off sweet and then got noticeably more tart. It had quite the zing and burst of lemon flavour.
  • It was an incredibly tender and soft crumbly shell but a bit dry and I could taste the flour and baking powder in them.
  • It was almost like a buttery sweet sugar cookie crust and I do prefer the crisp tart shells that usually go with lemon tarts.

Dark Chocolate Pudding Cake2/6

  • The almond tuille was nutty and sweet, but completely soft instead of crispy and it was a bit burnt rather than caramelized.
  • It was a bit messy for high tea. It’s not finger food and it was almost like picking up melted chocolate with your fingers.
  • It was way too rich, creamy and sweet for me and it tasted like pure melted chocolate.
  • It seemed more sweet with sugar than chocolate though.
  • I don’t know how it held its shape because it was so moist and likely flourless.
  • It wasn’t as fluid as a pudding, or dense as a ganache, or even light as a mousse, but somewhere in between all of that, and a bit fluffy as well. Wait! I know! It was the texture of chocolate cake batter!
  • It was intense with chocolate flavour and it wasn’t as bitter sweet as I like. It was maybe about 70%.
  • It was sweeter than a Two Bite Brownie or any chocolate pudding or mousse.
  • It’s not cakey but very creamy and almost like the lava part of a molten lava chocolate cake.
  • I could also taste some espresso to enhance that dark chocolate flavour, but it’s not coffee flavoured.
  • The milk chocolate whipped cream on top was actually less sweet than the dark chocolate part.
  • This would be for intense chocoholics, who enjoy pure chocolate, but I prefer more texture and balance in my chocolate desserts.


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  • Gahz says:

    haha which Aunties were you with?

  • patti wan says:

    I love that you wrote about the difference between High tea and Afternoon tea ! High tea is derived from the working classes- as well as farmers , who wanted to have Afternoon tea like the elite , so they incorporated the idea and combined it with their supper time , as they had to work in the afternoons . The elite tea time was in the afternoon and eaten in the parlor at low tables- while sitting on sofas . The farmers supper was eaten in the kitchen at the kitchen- high table . That’s where the high part comes in . Somehow Americans and Canadians got the idea that high tea meant high class . Even in England one sees tourist tea places advertising High Tea ! I wish more people knew this – ha ha ! Love your blog

  • Linda says:

    i’ve always thought that afternoon tea and high tea were the same! thanks for the clarification ms. mijune 🙂

    i personally don’t really like the secret garden tea company for high tea.. i think its a bit overpriced for what you get and i think they have the advantage in the tea market because they were one of the first ones to have this service offered other than in fancy hotels… i personally like urban tea merchant better and i find that the ambiance for high tea is much better there.. much more calm and relaxing 🙂 deal wise, the cream tea at apres midi is quite good too! plus you get a free bag of tea when you go home!

    for a dessert place, i find that this place is ok.. where it is really lacking is the variety and the flavours of their savory items – everything seems to be skimpy in terms of ingredients and for a location in kerrisdale, i sort of expected more.. i have to say though, that the presentation of their items is quite nice.. i love the sandwich flower lol

  • Mijune says:

    @Gahz – Auntie Carmen, Auntie Yvonne, Auntie Terry… I hope they don’t read this lol.

    @patti wan – Fabulous!!! I love that you this too!!! I can’t wait for more people to find out just cause it’s a fact that should be known. I mean it’s not a HUGE deal… but still… facts are facts. Love YOU patti!

    @Linda – lol ms. Linda you are too cute! I agree!!!! Overpriced and the food is meh…but the experience is really what you pay for I think.

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