The Urban Tea Merchant – Afternoon Tea

Restaurant: The Urban Tea Merchant
Cuisine: Tea/Pacific Northwest/Sandwiches/Desserts
Last visited: December 2, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 1070 West Georgia Street
Subway stop: Burrard
Price Range: $30-50+

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

Food: 3.5 for Afternoon Tea (6 for tea)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Family owned/operated
  • Flagship location in downtown
  • Original location in West Vancouver
  • Cafe/tearoom/gift shop
  • Popular for afternoon tea
  • Tea sampling welcomed
  • Tea education classes
  • Sophisticated, but kid-friendly
  • Limited wine/champagne list
  • Brunch 10am-1pm
  • All day Afternoon Tea services
  • Mon-Wed.: 10am – 7pm
  • Thurs-Fri. & Sat.: 10am – 8pm
  • Sundays & Holidays: 10am – 8pm

**Recommendations: Any of their teas, but I liked their Christmas Lights Tea. Freshly Baked Scone, Petit Tea-Infused Chicken Salad Cone, and Apple & Baby Prawns Infused with Tokyo-Singapore Tea.

It’s the flagship location for The Urban Tea Merchant in downtown Vancouver, and although the spot is huge, it’s easily missed. It’s a family owned and operated teahouse which started in West Vancouver, but the downtown location is the full experience complete with a gift shop, tearoom and cafe. On this occasion I was invited for their Holiday Afternoon Tea Service, but they have afternoon tea services and brunch throughout the year at both locations.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas. If you have a tea lover on your shopping list, you might want to check this place out. It almost reminded me of Chapters, where everything is under one roof, but you even get a restaurant here. Also, instead of Starbucks it was The Urban Tea Merchant Cafe, and of course instead of books you get tea, which is so much better. Nothing against books, but in my honest foodie opinion gifts are so much better when they’re edible.

This is the highlight and what they specialize in. Tea. 200 of them. It was the library of teas, which smelled heaps better than books. I actually got to climb that ladder and I felt like Belle from Beauty and the Beast when she’s picking a book at the library and ends up picking one that she’s read twice. Anyways, you could probably spend a day here learning about their teas and they actually offer weekly tea education series and tea tasting events – see here.

Although The Urban Tea Merchant is family owned and operated, they don’t have their own supply of teas. All the teas are from TWG Tea, which is a 100% natural, high end luxury tea from Singapore and they’re the exclusive distributors for it in Canada.

Private tea tastings with their tea sommelier are available upon request.

And here it is again. I think at this point we have a love and hate relationship. I knew The Urban Tea Merchant offered macarons, but I didn’t know they were all tea infused flavours. That definitely sparked by interest, but that quickly faded when I learned that they were $4 for one. It’s definitely the most expensive I’ve encountered ever, so I had to ask why. It turns out the macarons are brought in from Singapore, and they are made with TWG Tea and distributed by The Urban Tea Merchant. The pastry chef who makes them trained with Ladurée, and as soon as I heard that, I had mixed feelings – read my experience at Ladurée in New York.

The chocolate truffles are Charbonnel & Walker truffles and tea-infused, made exclusively for The Urban Tea Merchant by Chocolate Arts, an excellent chocolate company. Browsing through their menu I also noticed that they sell Thomas Haas desserts and tarts, which I love. Well then, knowing that saves me a trip to Kitsilano or North Vancouver.

I know! Cute right!? The Petit Fours are from Divine Delights…

Alright, so you’re starting to notice the trend right? Is this The Urban Tea Merchant or the TWG Tea store? And do they make anything in house or is it strictly a retail outlet? Although The Urban Tea Merchant is not a franchise it had a franchise-like aspect to it. On the other hand they associate themselves with the best of the best, so it’s consistent in everything they sell. They do make things in house and that’s where the afternoon tea comes in, but it’s not up to par for the price point yet. I don’t have anything against “franchises”, but I did want to see more of The Urban Tea Merchant.

I’m a bit particular on my china when it comes to afternoon tea, and this was TWG Tea china, so I don’t know much about it except that it’s fine bone china. At this point it really did feel like a TWG Tea store. TWG Tea has 5 locations in Singapore, 1 in the Japan, UK and US, and although this isn’t officially one, it was inspired by it.

TWG Tea is known for their unique tea infused menus and tea pairings, which is somewhat recreated at The Urban Tea Merchant via their own in house chef. The concept of the “tea infused menu” totally falls in my flavour profile, so I was all over this. However not everything translated in the food and I found it all a bit safe, which is likely to appeal to a mass market.

I’ve been to Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Vancouver, The Secret Garden Tea Company, The China Cup Tea Company, Applewood Country Gifts, Tearoom & Bakery, and Tracycakes Bakery Cafe, and The Urban Tea Merchant does offer something more unique in terms of the tea infused menu. In terms of value, it is pricey, but also align with most high end afternoon teas or “high teas” in the city (see the difference between the terms in my post here).

Afternoon Tea tends to be more about the experience and I give them credit for trying to be experimental and original with their menu, but I still wanted it to come up to the level of the tea and out sourced desserts. The tea is premium quality and they’re very knowledgeable about it, and that is key to great afternoon tea though, so it definitely satisfies in that department.

On the table:

Holiday Afternoon Tea Service – 4/6

  • $48/person (With Veuve de Cliquot Champagne $74)
  • Savouries: 3 cheese petit quiche, celery confit with Gorgonzola mousse, “vanilla” tea-infused white turnip tatin, selection of (4) tea sandwiches
  • Sweets: chocolate dipped gooseberry, TWG Tea infused macaron, Holiday Petit Fours, Chocolate Truffle, Fresh Fruit, currant scone with devonshire creme & tea-infused jelly
  • Your choice of holiday tea: Red Christmas Tea, Christmas Lights, Holiday Spirit
  • Includes 50g of tea.
  • The Holiday Afternoon Tea Service/Signature Afternoon Tea Service is pricey, and if you factor in the value it’s probably 3/6, but if not, it’s 4/6.
  • It’s good, but for the price I’d have higher standards.
  • They have Afternoon Tea Services between $24-$29 too.

**TWG Teas – 6/6

  • The teas here are stellar and they’re all imported from TWG Tea in Singapore, which is a high end, all natural, premium tea brand.
  • It was the highlight of this afternoon tea for me.
  • It is pricey, but the quality is undeniable and you can just smell and taste it.
  • They have a selection of amazing holiday teas right now and my favourite was the Christmas Lights.
  • The following descriptions are taken from their menus.
  • **Christmas Lights Tea – Rich nutty/almond tonalities blended with TWG Tea spices give this grand green tea a party allure. A celebration of rich and aromatic flavours.
  • Holiday Spirit Tea – A nostalgic blend of black tea with magical and evocative spices, a true invitation to make merry. A festive TWG tea that pays tribute to the warmth and joy of the celebratory season.
  • Red Christmas Tea – For those cosy holiday evenings, this TWG theine-free red tea is a festival of flavours and spices, to reminisce and celebrate all year long.

Selection of Tea Infused Sandwiches

  • It was a twist on your classic finger sandwiches.
  • They were literally tea sandwiches and I appreciated the variety and concept, but I couldn’t really tell they were tea infused, even knowing the fact.
  • At times I was able to smell the tea leaves before trying the sandwich and that totally helped, but otherwise it’s a bit of a guessing game.
  • I kind of wish they had a sample of the teas for you to smell as you ate each sandwich so you could really immerse yourself in the experience.
  • I was hoping for more sandwich filling in all of them too. I’m not expecting Subway sandwich fillings, but even dainty tea sandwiches can handle a bit more.
  • I’m pretty adventurous with food, and tea infused food isn’t particularly new for me, so I just wanted bolder tea flavours in the food.

Tiger Hill (Nilgiri) Tea-Infused Egg Salad Sandwich – 2.5/6

  • $15 a la carte
  • It was good, but I thought it was just a regular egg salad sandwich with alfalfa sprouts on multi-grain bread, which had dried out a bit.
  • It was easy with the mayo, but the tea was unnoticeable even though it was infused for 24 hours.
  • Had there been more egg salad I might have been able to tell, but the nuttiness I was getting was coming from the bread more than the tea infusion.
  • I almost wanted the Chinese Soy Sauce Tea Leaf Eggs, but that’s something entirely different.

**Apple & Baby Prawns infused with Tokyo-Singapore Tea3.5/6

  • $15 a la carte
  • The tea infusion was best played here.
  • The shrimp had a fragrant sweetness and a citrus note from the tea, but you almost had to hold on to it on your palate because it went away quickly.
  • It would have helped if there was more filling because I could hardly taste the prawns which were all chopped up and it was mostly bread.
  • The brioche bread had dried out a bit again, but the sandwich had potential.
  • The crunch of the shrimp would be nice in a mini buttery croissant too.
  • I’ve made a prawn sandwich with green tea jam before, so I think a tea jam with this might have helped.

Smoked Salmon Rillette, Poached with “Russian Earl Grey” Tea – 3/6

  • $15 a la carte
  • The bread had dried out a bit again and I was hoping for more filling, but the smoked salmon was good.
  • It had a caper and lemon tang and it was well cured and savoury, but I couldn’t tell it was tea infused, unless that was the lemon part.
  • When I think “Russian Earl Grey” I think orange/citrus notes, and this one was supposed to carry a delicate smokey flavour.
  • I think it would be nice if the salmon was enhanced with orange zest or lemongrass that might have enhanced the tea flavours, because I again it was a bit hard to pick up.
  • The nuttiness of the bread also played a stronger role in flavour than the tea.
  • Had the Earl Grey been infused into the making of the bread, that might have worked too, or if it was a pinwheel sandwich so there would be less bread.

“Yunnan” Tea-Infused Chestnuts with Roasted Venison – 3.5/6

  • This was my favourite sounding sandwich and I could taste the tea in it the most, but it wasn’t as well played as the shrimp.
  • The tea was very smoky and earthy and almost a bit bitter.
  • There were bits of chestnuts which I loved, but it enhanced that earthiness and it needed something to contrast since all the ingredients were in that “earthy” category.
  • The sandwich could have used a sweetness (maybe candied chestnuts and tea infused venison?), and again I was getting more bread than I was filling.
  • The venison was very tender and a tad dry, and that was actually the sweet part of the sandwich.
  • Although it’s a game meat, it wasn’t gamey in flavour. It’s leaner than beef, but richer in flavour if you’ve never had it.
  • This had so much potential, but it just needed something to balance out that musky flavour because it was all one tone.

“Vanilla” Tea-Infused White Turnip Tatin – 3.5/6

  • This was interesting and different and it was almost a play on a caramelized onion tart.
  • It was a very creamy caramelized sweet turnip on a puff pastry tart.
  • I couldn’t taste the vanilla and I really wanted to since it was in the name.
  • I think vanilla bean seeds in the puff pastry shell would have given it that accent it needed.

Celery Confit with Gorgonzola Mousse1.5/6

  • This looked really cute and I could see where they were going with the celery and blue cheese dip, but it didn’t translate well.
  • There was no texture and the whole thing was quite soggy and wet.
  • The Gorgonzola mousse was quite strong and I liked that, but the mousse texture seemed a bit off and spongy.
  • The soft celery confit really didn’t work and it just enhanced the watery nature of the celery.

**Petit Tea-Infused Chicken Salad Cone – 4/6

  • $15 a la carte as a sandwich
  • This isn’t how it’s normally served, and this was just a sample, but it was actually my favourite savoury item.
  • I could actually taste the chicken salad! I loved that!
  • It was a thin, crisp, and lightly sweetened mini waffle cone stuffed with chicken salad.
  • I almost wanted dried cranberries, pomegranate seeds, or nuts in the chicken salad for texture and flavour, but it was just a basic chicken salad with some celery, although it was good!
  • I can’t say I tasted the tea in the chicken salad and it was perhaps a bit smoky, but I wouldn’t have known unless I was told there was tea in it.
  • After trying this I wished all the sandwiches were served in cones! I know it wouldn’t be traditional, but it would be delicious!

3 Cheese Petit Quiche – 3/6

  • It was a standard quiche in a crunchy tart shell rather than a flaky tart shell, but it was good.
  • I could taste the cheddar cheese in it too.

**Currant Scone with Devonshire Crème & Tea-Infused Jelly5/6

  • $4 a la carte
  • I loved this scone! It’s actually from Savoury Chef a great catering company in Vancouver.
  • It would have been even better warm, but it was excellent regardless.
  • It had a nice crunch on the outside and the inside was almost cakey and not dry.
  • The crunch was the best part though. It was like a cookie!
  • It’s not that buttery or really flaky, but it was delicious!
  • There were some dried currants and it wasn’t too sweet or rich, and it was indeed a scone, not a biscuit.
  • It was served with strawberry jam instead of tea-infused jelly though.
  • The Devonshire creme was the real deal too and not whipped cream with creme cheese or creme fraiche etc.

Sweets Tier

  • Chocolate dipped gooseberry, TWG Tea Infused Macaron, Holiday Petit Fours, Chocolate Truffle, Fresh Fruit
  • The Santa Claus was the chocolate petit four and the present was the original almond flavour.

Chocolate Truffles – 4.5/6

  • I tried the 1837 Black Tea (Signature tea with berries, anise and caramel) and the Singapore Earl Grey truffles.
  • As mentioned, the chocolate truffles are made by Chocolate Arts in Vancouver and distributed by The Urban Tea Merchant.
  • The truffles are all infused with teas which again I’m a fan of.
  • The truffles are great quality and made with 70& dark chocolate.
  • They had nice creamy tea infused ganache centres and thin shells, but the tea was quite subtle for my tastes.

Petit Fours – 3.5/6

  • The Petit Fours are made by TWG Tea and distributed by The Urban Tea Merchant.
  • I love marzipan cakes and petit fours, but the fondant is usually too sweet and sugary, or just not good.
  • In this case the fondant was more like a semi-soft white chocolate shell and it was very sweet, but good compared to the usual fondant.
  • The cake was unfortunately a bit dried out though and I couldn’t taste the jam layers, but the presentation was great.
  • Personally my favourite marzipan cake is from Market by Jean-George – see Marzipan Layer Cake here.

TWG Tea Infused Parisian Macaron (Lemon Bush Macaron) – 4/6

  • $4 each
  • As mentioned in the intro, I do find them very expensive, and it’s because they are flown in from Singapore on a weekly basis.
  • They are made by TWG Tea with TWG Teas and distributed by The Urban Tea Merchant.
  • The pastry chef who made these trained with the Mecca of macarons Ladurée, which I tried in New York – see my post here.
  • I wrote a post called The Perfect Parisian Macaron so that just shows where I’m coming from.

  • The shell was smooth with no cracks and bumps and it had nice feet.
  • It was well made and it actually tasted just like a Ladurée macaron, but even better assembled.
  • However I wasn’t huge on the Ladurée macarons because they didn’t have a crisp shell and this one didn’t either.
  • This one was moist and not too sweet with a nice chew that still melted away.
  • I could taste the lemon and maybe some orange from the Lemon Bush tea infusion.
  • The filling was a good amount and it was creamy, but I don’t think it had any white chocolate.
  • The macaron was good, but it was missing the crisp shell and I do find them overpriced.

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