There are plenty of Vancouverites who can’t imagine an afternoon without a nice cup of tea and a scone or two. The following list features the best tea places in the city — from the most exclusive to smaller tea rooms that have more of a take-away character. But all of them have one thing in common: they offer high quality, and none are part of a chain. Café franchises just seem too impersonal; you can always tell when people take care of their own independent business. While big chains might be very well organized and seem super friendly on the outside, they miss out on those little details that make every good tea room so enjoyable. I hope you’ll visit some of these places (even if you’re more of a coffee person — remember, there are some pretty strong teas out there too!) and let me know how you liked them.
The Urban Tea Merchant (Map)
I’m not going to talk much about the staff here. It’s probably obvious from my previous blog posts that I enjoy places with attentive and knowledgeable servers, and The Urban Tea Merchant excels in both categories.
The Urban Tea Merchant is the place to go when you really want to treat yourself to something special, and I mean this literally. They serve fantastic TWG high tea. We asked Casey James, the marketing, events, and hospitality manager from UTM, what’s so special about this tea brand.
I think that TWG tea is the point of difference for us. We serve over 250 blends of this luxury brand tea of superb quality. TWG is blended in Singapore but grown all over the world. We are the exclusive seller on the Canadian market.
All this is pretty impressive. It makes you feel like you’re drinking something very special when you’re here, and you definitely are!
The UTM is not only about its marvellous tea. It also offers a myriad of delicious food to go with it. Very tasty signature tea services created by Chef Michael Batoux, ranging from 60- to 90-minute seatings, cost from $24 to $78 per person. You might consider something like this for special occasions. And speaking of special occasions, Valentine’s Day is quickly closing in on us! For those who haven’t decided where to take their special someone yet, we asked Casey what UTM has prepared for February 14.
We prepared three different featured tea services. The first one, special Valentine’s Tea Service, features Amour de Thé, darjeeling tea painted with 18-carat gold. It has subtle berry notes to it, all arranged in a Valentine’s look on a large tea tier platter with sweet scones and other delights. Our Sweet Tea Service served on a three-tiered platter full of decadent, handcrafted sweets. We’re also introducing new TWG Tea & Chocolate Flight Service, with the chocolate infused with tea itself. We’ve worked with a local chocolate educator to create the best experience for our customers.
I’m sure the 18-carat-gold-painted tea leaves are a bit over the top — even for Valentine’s Day. This strikes me as really too snobby even for a high tea establishment like UTM, but to each their own. Still, I’ll be sure to visit them for some of that tea-infused chocolate!
The UTM is one of the most highly sought-after tea rooms in our city. If you want to pay them a visit, it’s wise to book your table a day or even two ahead, just to make sure. Sometimes you might get lucky and secure a reservation even hours before their planned visit, but I wouldn’t count on it. Casey from UTM also told us that they’re usually booked solid for Valentine’s Day and similar occasions three to four weeks in advance.
To wrap up, here’s a little tip from Casey, who revealed her favourite tea for us:
Of course, it depends on the mood, time of day, but if I had to pick one, it would be the White Spring Tea — light and delicate with a floral base to it. It is presented in an amazing handblown glass teapot.
O5 Rare Tea Bar (Map)
As owner Pedro Villalón told us the philosophy of this rare tea bar focuses on the Earth.
We try to focus on expressing the Earth. All our teas are a reflection of the land and harvest. That’s why we don’t hold any flavoured ones.
O5’s passion for tea in very infectious. They pursue absolute perfection in every step — from the tea tree to the customer. All teas are made with organic, sustainable growth, delivered straight to the five-member team that spans five nationalities and includes a tea hunter, a master barista, a Japanese flower arrangement expert, and a chef who cut her teeth in two of Vancouver’s best restaurants.
The location of O5 is very strategic, since a lot of Vancouver’s Yoga studios can be found in the surrounding area. O5 goes very well with this kind of lifestyle. They not only bring high-quality teas but also their stories and their philosophy. Although the experience you get at O5 is very impressive, with every little detail worked out, the place is quite expensive — even by high tea room standards. You can spend $150 easily, without even realizing it. However, once in a while, a visit to O5 is a very cleansing and relaxing experience.
Pedro’s first reaction to my question about future plans for the tea room was strict:
O5 will not become a franchise!
Coming from a guy who runs a tea room just a few doors down the street from David’s, such a staunch rejection automatically propelled O5 to the top of my personal favourites list. Pedro is also planning to extend O5’s tapas menu (which is delicious), and they’re also working on a liquor licence.
Pedro told us that the best-selling tea from O5 is without question Balhyocha. You can get either the MLH brand for $20 per 35 grams or a Saebyok brand for $40 per 35 grams. Both are really delicious, but I prefer the Saebyok a little more for its nose of maple wood and its notes of dried persimmon and prune. But as Pedro says:
Taste in tea always depends on the person. Each person has a different energy. I recommend that you sit down and drink the tea for at least half an hour before you decide which tea suits you the best.
Steam Tea House (Map)
Steam Tea House is one of the smaller tea houses in Vancouver, serving more as a take-away tea room. However, this doesn’t diminish the quality of the place in any way. The owner, Nolan Cockburn, opened the tea house almost a year and a half ago. This former pilot has landed, and his new profession is spot on. When you talk to Nolan, you get the feeling you’re talking to someone that would marry his cup of tea if he could.
Steam Tea House is also unique for its location on East Hastings, since not that many tearooms can be found here. Nolan told us that he’s very satisfied with the location of his tea house, mainly because of his diverse clientele, whose company he sincerely enjoys. The prices are very nice when you consider the quality STH offers. It’s a real pity that there’s no place to sit. It would improve the place so much! We can only hope that Nolan will expand in this direction in the future.
Steam Tea House teamed up with TheTeaGuy.com, and according to Nolan:
Brendan Waye from TheTeaGuy.com supplies STH with high-quality micro-brewed teas that enable him to procure really fresh blends.
Brendan is a certified tea sommelier (TAC) and specialist (STI). Nolan also plans to introduce some examples of hard-to-find teas like first flush and second flush darjeeling in the future. Currently, the best-selling tea in STH is the Cream Earl Grey — a decadent, rich cup of tea with an extra milky taste.
Nolan also revealed his current personal favourite tea for us.
It’s a Golden Lily Oolong — a real Milk Oolong I brought back from Seattle with me. It hasn’t been flavoured with milk extract — genuine Milk Oolong is supposed to have nice, natural butteriness to it.
If you want to surprise your better half with a nice tea gift on Valentine’s Day, Nolan is preparing gift sets in cooperation with a local chocolate café. These will feature good, strong teas to stand up to the flavour of chocolate. Tea goes with chocolate very well, and a gift like that guarantees a satisfied tea lover.
The Secret Garden Tea Company (Map)
The Secret Garden reminded me of the tea time a lot of us experienced with our grandmothers. It has this cozy, sweet, relaxing, and warm atmosphere. The place is one of the most popular tea rooms in Vancouver, so I suggest you make a reservation if you don’t want to wait too long. After all, as Kathy Wyder, one of the owners, explained when we spoke to her, they have been in business for over seventeen years! You should get a place within half an hour or so during the less busy parts of the day; however, you might have to wait much longer — sometimes up to an hour and a half. The trouble is that you can only make a reservation for high tea service and not the other services The Secret Garden has to offer.
When you order a high tea service, you’ve got a two-hour window to enjoy the wonderful selection of teas, fingerling sandwiches, scones, and other sweets. I have to tell you they are more than generous with their portions, so don’t eat before you visit under any circumstances! The Secret Garden also offers to-go tea, pastries, and mini cakes. Teas are packaged cutely in coloured tin cans with their own brand label.
It’s a real pity they don’t have an actual garden. The name of the tea house makes me imagine a very nice, old-fashioned, Victorian tea service in a garden shaded by wide parasols — ladies sipping tea with a pinkie raised in the air, smooth music playing in the background. However, you can still enjoy a little sunshine if you’re lucky and you get a table by the window.
Now let’s get to some of the recommendations Kathy gave us:
Our best-selling tea is a Creamy Earl Grey Tea (Bergamot and Vanilla), a lovely blend of vanilla and bergamot. The best tea for this part of the year is surely Queen of Hearts Rooibos. However, my personal favourite is Kambaa Black Tea. (Kambaa is characterized by its malty flavour and golden colour. This is a full-bodied, strong tea.)