Restaurant: The Urban Tea Merchant – “Year of the Dragon” Signature Afternoon Tea
Cuisine: Tea/Pacific Northwest/Sandwiches/Desserts
Last visited: January 18, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 1070 West Georgia Street
Subway stop: Burrard
Price Range: $30-50+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 3.5-4 for Afternoon Tea (6 for tea)
- 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. Freshly Baked Scone, Petit Tea-Infused Chicken Salad Cone, and “Year of the Dragon” Signature Afternoon Tea
On the third day of Chinese New Year my true love gave to me, the “Year of the Dragon” Afternoon Tea! Well that’s something different! It’s the second day of Chinese New Year and I mentioned The Urban Tea Merchant’s Chinese New Year menu in Follow Me Foodie to the Chinese New Year Kick Off & Chinese New Year Menus! It may not be traditional, but it’s something new, modern, fun and still festive to the New Year.
The last time I came to The Urban Tea Merchant was for their Holiday Afternoon Tea, and this time I was invited to their “Year of the Dragon” Afternoon Tea in honour of Chinese New Year. These special feature menus are festive twists on their standard Signature Afternoon Tea Service, and the “Year of the Dragon” Afternoon Tea is available from January 16th to January 31st. Even if you don’t come for afternoon tea, they do have a tea boutique as well as some Chinese New Year teas at their gift shop.
And this is my favouite part of The Urban Tea Merchant. They carry about 200 kinds of TWG Tea which is a 100% natural, high end luxury tea from Singapore and they’re the exclusive distributors for it in Canada. I could probably spend a day here just smelling all the various teas and it’s definitely a place for tea lovers and tea connoisseurs. If you’re neither, no worries, they have tea sommeliers to assist you.
Obviously this is not going to be a traditional Chinese New Year menu. Traditional dim sum is often compared to Afternoon Tea, and in this case it was still very much a Western version of Afternoon Tea, but with slight influences of Chinese and Asian ingredients. This is the first year The Urban Tea Merchant has introduced a Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea Service and I was ecstatic at the idea. We live in a multi-cultural city and it’s just another option to celebrate food and ring in the Chinese New Year.
Although I enjoyed my Holiday Afternoon Tea Service here last time, I wasn’t necessarily keen on the food. I found it pretty good with some unique tea-infused twists, but I didn’t really see the full value and I did expect a bit more. However on this occasion I felt like I did get more and my experience and food was even better, although still pricey. Perhaps it was because I already knew what to expect, but even so, there were improvements to the menu that I could see and taste. I just felt like there was more creativity and effort and maybe that was due to the theme. The “Year of the Dragon” Signature Afternoon Tea was generally well played and presented.
Now heads up! Xi Shi Lounge at the Shangri-La Hotel nearby is also hosting a Special Chinese New Year Afternoon Tea Monday, January 23rd through Sunday, January 29th from 11:30 am to 5:00 pm. $34 per person. Compared to The Urban Tea Merchant the items are more traditional Chinese with dim sum inspired bites like BBQ puff pastries, shrimp dumplings, egg tarts, mochi balls and more. My post here.
On the table:
- I didn’t get this last time, but they start you off with a little amuse bouche or palate cleanser.
- The chilled tea was the White House which was very mild, light and refreshing with rose notes and fruity flavours of berries.
- The mango sorbet is delicious! It tasted like pure mango pulp and it was smooth, creamy, rich and thick and full of natural mango flavour without being too sweet.
- TWG Tea is a 100% natural, high end luxury tea from Singapore.
- It’s a premium quality tea at a premium price, but if you appreciate tea, it’s easy to see the value.
- Jade Dragon Tea – 50g/$58
- This is a very rare green tea and although it appears mild, it has a strong finish that’s slightly dry and bitter. It’s reminiscent of a traditional Chinese tea and it goes with everything.
- It’s very expensive due to its unique qualities, and it’s an included option in the Year of the Dragon Signature Afternoon Tea at no extra charge.
- Dragon Gate Tea – 50g/$11
- This was a mix of white, green and black tea and there were hints of ginger and mint.
- There was a natural sweetness and the mint was mild, but almost a flavour that went away quickly.
- The ginger was more aromatic and not spicy, and I could taste it without it being dominant.
- This went well with sweet and savoury food.
- Timeless Tea – 50g/$11
- This was perhaps my favourite and it was incredibly fruity in aroma and flavour.
- There were strong notes of Hibiscus and sharp flavours of red berries in a black tea base.
- It was naturally sweet in flavour and would even taste great chilled.
- Earl Gray Chocolate Tea – 50g/$9
- It tasted more chocolatey than it smelled and it worked well with a bit of cream.
- It wasn’t particularly sweet or bitter and I found the chocolate quite mild.
- It was a good tea, but I probably wouldn’t choose it to pair with an Afternoon Tea.
- $48 per person
- Chef’s selection of savouries and sweets and tea of your choice.
- It was still very much a Western style Afternoon Tea Service, but there were some playful Asian influences and ingredients used here and there.
- It’s not meant to be traditional Chinese and I appreciated the effort and variety of savoury and sweet selections.
- From top: Open faced smoked salmon, wasabi mayo & soy jelly, Tiger Hill Tea-infused egg salad sandwich, Cucumber, watercress & cracked black pepper sandwich, Traditional wrapped Peking duck & plum sauce, Wagyu beef carpaccio with horseradish foam, Petit tea-infused chicken salad cone & petit savory tart, Boursin cheese mousse with crisp endive & candied walnut, Baby shrimp & chopped apple served in Chinese spoon.
- I loved the variety this time and I was so happy it wasn’t all tea sandwiches.
- It seemed like there was more effort and higher quality ingredients
- Sure there were some standard things, but there were also a few surprises and I never got bored which is key.
- This was the most traditional the menu got and I didn’t even expect it to get this traditional. It was nice!
- It was a home made parsley and garlic crepe wrapped with a little piece of duck, carrots and green onion with Plum sauce.
- Of course this is a modern take of the authentic Peking Duck wraps, so it was in its own category and I wouldn’t compare them.
- It was served cold and I could have used a bit more duck and I was hoping for crispy skin, but the crepe was thin and there was good texture and balance of sweet and savoury.
- So it’s definitely more Japanese than it is Chinese, but regardless of the origin, it was good and it wasn’t just the typical “smoked salmon sandwich”.
- I liked the open faced concept much more than the sandwich because the salmon was a bit hidden as a smoked salmon rillette sandwich.
- I would have loved if the bread was toasted for texture and extra nuttiness, but I could taste the salmon, hint of lemon zest and kick of wasabi.
- They really didn’t hold back on the wasabi and I loved that! It wasn’t burning at all, but it was obvious and it worked with the freshly cracked black pepper.
- I would have loved more from the soy gel because it added a desired saltiness. The squiggle on top was unusual, but I appreciated the effort.
- Using a high quality ingredient like Wagyo beef are the things that show value to the afternoon tea menu. These are things I wanted in the previous menu, but I’m glad they’re doing it now.
- Again, more Japanese than Chinese, but as long as it’s good, I’m okay.
- It was on a crunchy piece of toast with a layer of roasted garlic tapenade and black pepper Wagyu beef on top.
- I was surprised the horseradish foam was so mild considering the wasabi in the salmon was so strong, so if anything stronger horseradish would be great because I would have never guessed there was horseradish.
- Tiger Hill Tea-Infused Egg Salad Sandwich – 2.5/6 (Okay-Good)
- $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, but this time it wasn’t dried out.
- 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.
- Cucumber, Watercress & Cracked Black Pepper Sandwich – 2/6 (Okay)
- This was quite standard and expected with a little cream cheese, but I wouldn’t mind more crunch of cucumber.
- $15 a la carte as a sandwich
- It was a thin, crisp, and lightly sweetened mini waffle cone stuffed with chicken salad. I had this last time and my feelings haven’t changed.
- 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.
Petit Savory Tart – n/a
- I think they forgot this…
Boursin Cheese Mousse with Crisp Endive & Candied Walnut – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- I was really happy they replaced the Celery Confit with Gorgonzola Mousse with this! I liked this much better!
- It’s not hard to do and expected, but it was still good and I could taste the Boursin cheese.
- It would have been great with the Gorgonzola, but endive leaves are more costly than celery.
Baby Shrimp & Chopped Apple served in Chinese Spoon – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- I really enjoyed the baby shrimp salad in a spoon more so than a tea sandwich. I just couldn’t taste the shrimp in the sandwich as much.
- It was creamy and sweet and savoury with crisp fresh apples and I wouldn’t mind having the dill in the salad rather than just as a garnish.
- It was pretty literal, but it had texture and it was still good.
- This wasn’t made in house before so I loved that they started making it in house. It adds more value to the menu and shows that extra bit of effort.
- It was a standard quiche in a thin soft tart with a little cheddar cheese melted into it.
- It’s quite basic, but as a one biter, it was fine, however as a full quiche I would expect more.
**Candied Ginger Scone with Devonshire Crème & Tea-Infused Jelly – 5/6 (Excellent)
- $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 wasn’t that buttery or really flaky, but it was delicious!
- There were some candied moist ginger 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.
- Tea-infused macaron, chocolate dipped dragon fruit, chocolate truffle, petit fours, fresh exotic fruit, Matcha tea-infused fortune cookie
Petit Fours – 4/6 (Very good)
- 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 wasn’t dried out like last time, and I enjoyed it much better. This probably varies with shipment and the you happen to get it.
- Personally my favourite marzipan cake is from Market by Jean-George – see Marzipan Layer Cake here.
Fresh Exotic Fruit
- Chocolate dipped dragon fruit, dragon eye, star fruit, pineapples and oranges.
- I wasn’t expecting the star fruit, dragon fruit or dragon eye so I was quite impressed with the details.
- I don’t even know where to buy Dragon Fruit right now, but they were actually pretty sweet.
- It would have been even better if the dragon fruit was dipped in Matcha white chocolate to continue the theme, but this was still good.
- 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.
TWG Tea Infused Parisian Macaron (Raspberry Tea Infused Macaron) – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- $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.
- 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.
- The macaron was good, but it was missing the crisp shell and I do find them overpriced and I couldn’t taste the tea.
- I really didn’t expect this either! So cute!
- A homemade Matcha Fortune Cookie was another detail that just added to the effort of the menu.
- I suggested selling these separately, but unfortunately it’s only available with the “Year of the Dragon” Signature Afternoon Tea.
- They were made with real Japanese TWG Tea Matcha powder and it was really strong and high quality which I loved.
- It wasn’t bitter or that sweet and it was very crunchy and almost brittle. I really enjoyed them.