Love for afternoon tea usually begins in childhood. When I was a kid, we had an annual high tea tradition: my mother, my best friends and their mums all got together for tea once a year. After dressing up together, we raced through the tiny, crust-less sandwiches on the bottom tier to earn the scones and, finally, the fancy-pants cakes at the very top. It was all about the ritual; the conversation facilitated by bottomless pots of tea was a bonus.
As an adult, I have Vancouver friends who still love an afternoon tea get together. These days, the catching up comes first, the scones come second. But we still take the food and atmosphere seriously.
Shangri-La Hotel is very much the upscale urban sanctuary it claims to be. We sat in the elegant digs on Saturday, enjoying live piano and pampering. With effort, you can people watch the crowd outside, but you’re separated by floor to ceiling glass walls and filmy curtains.
The tea selection is vast and it comes in Blue Willow china, which would please a die-hard, pinkie-crooking afternoon tea traditionalist. I opted for Ceylon (although Lady Grey is the house tea) and enjoyed the constant refills of hot water as we awaited our tiered tea trays. The tea treats – ham sandwiches, cucumber tarragon sandwiches, lox on mini bagels, buttermilk raisin scones with cream and jam, pistachio macarons, tiramisu cupcakes, chocolate mousse cups and more – were pleasant. Nothing was knock-your-socks off; everything was well above average.
We had trouble finishing and got to take the extras home, which was nice, given that it’s $34-$45 per person. As for the service, the staff couldn’t have been friendlier and there’s no rush to finish. You can lounge and talk to your heart’s content. You can add a glass of bubbly. Your bladder will disrupt you before the check arrives.
I’ve also tried afternoon tea at the nearby establishment The Urban Tea Merchant (1070 West Georgia Street). If you’re looking for variety, they have a wide range of luxurious tea service offerings including seasonal Easter and Sakura (Vancouver Cherry Blossom) tea services, Signature Sweet Plates and even Childrens’ Tea. The tea selection is among the largest and most sophisticated I’ve come across – everything is exclusively by TWG tea. The chef really knows his stuff and is constantly inventing new treats, ranging from savory crab & artichoke tea sandwiches to sweet “French Earl Grey” chocolate pot de crème.
For budget-friendly afternoon tea with lovely scenery, Truffles Cafe at VanDusen Botanical Garden (5151 Oak St.) offers more casual fare, and great value for money at just $35 for two and $60 for four.
What’s your favourite spot for afternoon tea in Vancouver? Help out by commenting below.
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