Restaurant: The Urban Tea Merchant – Summer Westcoast Tea Service
Cuisine: Tea/Pacific Northwest/Sandwiches/Desserts
Last visited: July 5, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 1070 West Georgia Street
Transit: Burrard Skytrain
Price Range: $20-30+
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 3.5 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
- Gluten free options
- 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, Matcha Sour Tea Cocktail
It’s that time of the year when people are looking for patios and cocktails alongside! We get our fair share of rain in Vancouver, so when the sun is out, it’s time to take advantage of it. So what patio are we looking at? Nestled in the heart of downtown Vancouver, you’ll get a mix of sun and shade at The Urban Tea Merchant. While hot tea is always available, this season offers sophisticated iced teas and original tea inspired cocktails.
I was invited to try their new Summer Westcoast Tea Service and tea-infused cocktails. It’s definitely taking a non-traditional approach to Afternoon Tea, but if you can’t stand those stuffy tea rooms with white table clothes, then this might be your thing. Unfortunately they don’t have the license to serve alcoholic beverages outside yet, so if you want to try their cocktails, you’ll still need to go inside.
Personally I like those stuffy tearooms though and when it comes to Afternoon Tea I can be a traditionalist. From the brand of teacup to the name on the silverware, I can get really picky. Afternoon Tea is a graceful event with set rules and etiquette, and while I don’t expect or live by this mentality for it in Vancouver, I still notice and value the fine details.
I’ve come to The Urban Tea Merchant for their Holiday Afternoon Tea and “Year of the Dragon” Signature Afternoon Tea and this time was for their Summer offerings. They have a few different all day tea services and they change the menus according to season. I recently discovered that they closed their location in West Vancouver too, so this is the only location for The Urban Tea Merchant.
Based on my experiences, I’m a bit indifferent. I honestly think they have one of the best tea labels in Metro Vancouver, but they do come with a price tag. Totally understandable that you pay for what you get, but pricey is pricey so just be prepared. All the teas are from TWG Tea, which is a 100% natural, high end luxury tea from Singapore and The Urban Tea Merchant is the exclusive distributors for it in Canada. If you think “tea is just tea”, this will change your mind and their very accommodating with answering questions and giving samples.
So why am I indifferent? Although I am a fan of their teas, an essential part to Afternoon Tea, I think the food and dining area has room to improve. The quality of tea already sets a high standard, so it’s a bit natural to expect everything else to rise to its level. After all, when I go for Afternoon Tea I’m looking for the full experience. The food isn’t bad, but it’s not as exquisite or as upscale as what I think it should and could be. On the other hand, every time I come back they’re making more and more things in house and bringing new things to the menu, so I admire their constant effort to bring their customers more.
On the table:
- Vodka, cranberry, lime, Pink Flamingo Tea $11
- I’m more of a gin girl than I am a vodka girl, so I wouldn’t have ordered this unless it was suggested, and it was.
- It was comparable to a vodka and cranberry, but with more depth and the tartness was more delicate.
- It was on the sweeter side and it was more fragrant and fruity with a hint of Pink Flamingo tea.
- The tea had some hibiscus which gave a gentle tartness, but it wasn’t a drink I would particularly remember although good.
- Bourbon, lime, Matcha $11
- This was a drink I would remember. It’s pretty dangerous and goes down really easily.
- This was my favourite cocktail of the three I tried and it tasted like an $11 cocktail.
- There was a bit of frothy egg white which made it almost like a latte and it gave the drink a creamy smooth mouthfeel.
- I like the egg white “trend” when it serves a purpose, and it did here.
- The bourbon was well rounded so Bourbon haters might still like it because it’s not boozy.
- There was a nice sweet and sour balance and I could taste the matcha powder, but it wasn’t overpowering.
- The drink portion was made from good quality matcha tea leaves and the drink was just fresh, aromatic and well composed.
- Gin, coconut, lychee, lime, Bain de Roses Tea $11
- This is a drink I would order based on description, but I wasn’t liking the end result so much.
- All the ingredients sounded great, but the rose was really strong so it was quite bitter especially with the gin. I like gin too!
- The lychee was very faint and it almost tasted like a watered down lychee martini so I think the tea aspect just overpowered it.
- I couldn’t taste the coconut and it was rose forward and showcased the tea the most, but it just wasn’t as well balanced as I had hoped.
- Eternal Summer Tea, red wine pomegranate syrup, fresh fruit $11 Non-Alcoholic $9 ($7 to go)
- All the cocktails come in non-alcoholic versions too.
- The virgin Red Tea Sangria was a light and refreshing real iced tea.
- It wasn’t too sweet and had a nice bright tartness to it.
- I could taste the difference in quality compared to most coffee and tea chains serving “iced teas”, and this was better than many.
- The fruity flavours were coming from the tea more so than actual fruit, and I would call it a Hibiscus and Pomegranate Iced Tea before I would a non-alcoholic Sangria.
Summer Westcoast Tea Service
I came for the Summer Westcoast Tea Service which starts with a made in house mango sorbet. 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.
- $32 per person minimum two persons
- Nuwara Eliya tea-infused cured swordfish loin and hummus crostini
- Miso-maple glazed sable fish wrapped in butter lettuce
- Green asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and basil stamped filo pastry
- Potato basket with baby artichokes and confit tomatoes
- Edible flowers
- Tea-infused macaron, chevron strawberry, chocolate truffle, fresh seasonal fruit
- Includes $6 credit towards TWG store.
- It seemed more like a finger food picnic than a tea service to me, so I preferred their 3 tier Signature Afternoon Tea to this.
- I actually really missed their scones and that’s one of the items I look forward to most here.
- It was a decent afternoon snack with summer nibbles and almost everything was made in house which I liked.
- The food was good, but I think they could do more with it.
- I wasn’t a fan of the race car burger joint wax paper because it just cheapened the look. I find The Urban Tea Merchant more upscale than that. That’s just a personal thought though and it doesn’t affect my opinion on the food.
- Nuwara Eliya tea-infused cured swordfish loin and hummus crostini – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- The slices of paper thin swordfish were cured in house which I appreciated, but with the toasted rye bread I couldn’t really taste the tea-infusion.
- I could taste the tea-infusion when I ate the cured swordfish on its own though.
- The hummus was house made and I could taste the fresh lemon juice and chick peas made from scratch.
- It was a good hummus, but I wish there was more of it on the piece of bread.
- I enjoyed the fresh orange segment on top and the acidity was a nice contrast to the salty swordfish.
- I would have loved one more ingredient in this though, or just more of the toppings, because I could taste the bread the most.
- Green asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and basil stamped filo pastry – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)
- This was very simple and something you might have tried before, but it was still good for what it was.
- It was the only warm appetizer on the plate.
- The phyllo was crispy and the asparagus tender and there was a nice salty bite of crispy prosciutto inside.
- It was hard to eat though because you can’t bite the asparagus without having to pull out the whole strand, so in the end you just have pastry and prosciutto.
- I would have loved a cream cheese, goat cheese or ricotta aspect to these rolls.
- Having them served with a mascarpone and herb dip or lemony basil yogurt dip would have taken it a step further as well.
- I voiced the suggestion to the chef and he actually wanted to add cheese too, but it ended up being a bit too salty with the parma ham.
- Regardless, there was that general agreement that they could get better.
- Miso-maple glazed sable fish wrapped in butter lettuce – 2.5/6 (Okay-Good)
- Sablefish is one of my favourite fish. It’s near impossible to mess up because it’s so oily and fatty that you can’t overcook it.
- I wasn’t keen on how it was executed here though. This was supposed to be a lettuce wrap.
- I thought the butter leaf lettuce was a garnish and I was prepared to just eat the piece of sablefish if I wasn’t told it was a wrap.
- It seemed more like eating a garnish to me because there wasn’t nearly enough sablefish to make it an actual stuffing.
- The crispy wonton wrappers also had no flavour so they just added to volume and texture, but I wouldn’t count it as a flavourful stuffing.
- The concept didn’t really work, but the sablefish was still delicious and well marinated with savoury miso and a hint of sweet maple. I just wanted a full fillet of the fish.
- Potato basket with baby artichokes and confit tomatoes – 3/6 (Good)
- This was quite challenging to eat and only because it was messy.
- The potato baskets ended up being really crunchy and hard like pretzels so they were kind of poking your mouth. I considered it more of a garnish.
- I prefer the potato baskets that are more light, crispy and flaky, although these looked nice and I liked the idea.
- They were filled with house roasted chilled artichokes which were a bit under seasoned, but they were tender.
- There were some red peppers, basil, tomato and olive oil, but I just wanted some pesto because it didn’t have much flavour.
The fresh fruit included pineapples, bananas, strawberries, nectarines, peaches and mangoes. They sliced the mangoes with the skin and I actually ended up eating the skin too. I’ve never eaten the mango skin before, but it was fine and surprisingly delicious and not bitter. I know it’s just fruit, but it was really ripe, sweet, and fresh fruit.
- Chocolate Truffles – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- I tried the 1837 Black Tea (Signature tea with berries, anise and caramel) and the Singapore Earl Grey truffles.
- Tthe chocolate truffles are made by Chocolate Arts in Vancouver and distributed by The Urban Tea Merchant.
- The truffles are all infused with teas which 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
- I’ve said it before, but I do find their macarons very expensive. It’s partially 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 actually tasted just like a Ladurée macaron, but I was not a huge fan of the Ladurée macarons because they didn’t have a crisp shell and this one didn’t either.
- They were also on the sweet side for me, but I could taste the tea in them this time with the flavours I had.