- Words by Joanne Peters Photography by Lia Crowe
The custom of drinking tea dates back to ancient China, and yet the tradition of “afternoon tea” is a relatively more recent tradition.
Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, is said to have invented the mid-day pause in 1840. With dinner being served around 8 o’clock in the evening, she found herself peckish at 4 pm and requested that a tray of tea, bread and butter, and cake be delivered to her room. She began inviting friends to join her, and by the 1880s afternoon tea had become quite the thing: women changed into gowns and gloves to gather in the drawing room for a bit of socializing, sipping, and snacking.
American-born British author Henry James may have summed up the event’s enjoyment best: “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
It’s hard to disagree. While the extreme pomp and circumstance have long disappeared, afternoon tea can still be found in several places in Vancouver’s dynamic dining scene.
Bacchus Restaurant and Lounge at the Wedgewood Hotel & Spa recently reintroduced its popular Afternoon Tea following a pandemic pause. Served exclusively in the Relais & Chateaux property’s dining room, the menu changes with the seasons.
“We want to respect tradition, with afternoon tea being based on heritage,” says executive chef Montgomery Lau. “We pay tribute to that heritage, while sharing new ideas and inspirations. We take a lot of classics and reinterpret them in a modern way.”
A strong inspiration for the Bacchus Afternoon Tea menu is colour, Lau says. For example, while the month of February evokes pinks and reds (the February menu featured strawberries, raspberries and ruby chocolate), spring brings to mind bright yellows and greens—think yuzu lemongrass macaron; lemon tartlet with confit orange zest, lime marshmallow and crisp meringue; passionfruit joconde milk chocolate ganache with a glistening mango glaze; and matcha buttercream roulade with bergamot curd and toasted almond glaze.
Served on a three-tier cake stand, the sweet and savoury hand-crafted delicacies at Bacchus this season also include a triple-decker English cucumber and cream cheese finger sandwich on multigrain bread; a classic egg-and-arugula salad on brioche; smoked salmon with local salmon caviar, dill butter and pickled red onion on Russian rye; and coronation chicken tartine on sourdough toast.
Naturally, there are the requisite freshly baked scones with clotted cream and preserves, as well as warm toasted crumpets with creamery butter. The breads are mostly made in house (complete with a sourdough starter named Jeremiah) with Wedgwood English fine-china plates and elegant tea cups. Loose-leaf tea varieties include uplifting lavender Earl Grey, seductive organic wild strawberry green tea and pungent Thunderbolt Darjeeling. Make it a Windsor Afternoon Tea by adding a Kir Royale or a glass of Champagne or Prosecco.
In Kerrisdale, The Secret Garden Tea Company has been serving tea, brunch, lunch and high tea out of its cosy space since 1995. Co-founders Kathy Wyder and Erin Wyder are sisters-in-law, each inspired by their grandmothers, who introduced them to the joy and simple pleasure of drinking tea from a pretty cup and nibbling on freshly made goods with friends and loved ones. This spring, Secret Garden is serving up savouries like petite quiche Lorraine and egg salad on mini fairy-pink buns; sweets such as tiny raspberry shortcake and mini coconut passionfruit doughnuts; and banana-bread and apricot scones with jam and Devonshire cream.
There are vegetarian and gluten-free menus, plus one exclusively for children complete with a “unicorn pop”—a cake pop made with the shop’s signature scone recipe, dipped in pink icing and decorated with silver balls.
Childhood friends Terri Tatchell and Renee Iaci brought a dream to life in 2013 with Neverland Tea Salon. Executive chef Gordon Kuang (said to make the best risotto balls in town) works closely with French-trained pastry chef Candice Moraldo to create all sorts of inventive menus, such as the annual Mad Hatter High Tea (this year running to April 14), with Easter High Tea launching April 15. (Menus change seasonally and for special holidays.) Those 12 and under can indulge on Tinkerbell’s Mad Hatter High Tea until Easter, with treats like a Queen of Hearts red-velvet cupcake, Cheshire Cat strawberry cake roll, “Eat me” shortbread sandwich and more.
This Kitsilano hot spot sources more than 60 types of all-natural teas from Africa, India, Japan, China and Nepal, while also offering “tipsy teas”—tea-infused cocktails.
Five Sails serves high tea on weekends, the topnotch cuisine matching the spectacular, floor-to-ceiling window views of Stanley Park, Coal Harbour and the North Shore mountains. Adjacent to the Pan Pacific Hotel, the Glowbal Restaurant Group dining establishment offers exquisite sweet and savoury bites, with house-made Chantilly and honey preserve plus optional Kaviari caviar add-ons.
If an Art Deco vibe is more your scene, check out Afternoon Tea at H Tasting Lounge inside the Westin Bayshore Vancouver Hotel with its Hollywood-inspired decor. Cross-cultural flavours from Asia, Europe, and the Pacific Northwest imbue the seasonally changing menu. Among the sweet and savoury pastries you might find are salmon gravlax blinis, tandoori-chicken pinwheels with mint yogurt, strawberry pistachio cake, creamy panna cottas, sultana-and-vanilla scones with fresh cream and jams, and more.
You can’t help but love the meticulous arrangement of so many indulgent goods on H Tasting Lounge’s signature golden Ferris wheel; a gentle turn and the treats go round and round. From masala black chai to sencha fukujyu cha green tea to vanilla rooibos, aromatic loose-leaf teas are served in beautiful china cups. And a fluffy cotton-candy bonsai tree delivered to your table adds to the delight. It’s an agreeable ceremony that would most certainly satisfy Henry James.