Tea time

Photo by Brittney MacDonald

Exploring an English tradition in Vancouver

By Brittney MacDonald, Life & Style Editor


When I say the words “high tea,” many people’s automatic response is to picture a cottage in some English countryside, probably with two elderly women enjoying a few small cakes over a pot of steaming Earl Grey. Little do these people know that high tea might be Vancouver’s newest culinary craze.

Taking inspiration from traditional English high tea, as well as the far more dessert-orientated high teas popularized by alternative Japanese Lolita fashion, high tea in Vancouver is becoming a ready staple with plenty of options to go around. Numerous cafes and coffee shops have taken to serving a decadent high tea as a means of attracting customers during the mid-afternoon lull, and they’re not just bringing in the old and grey crowd. People of all ages seem willing to try the experience. Why this is, I am not sure. It’s possible that people long for a classier bygone era—or perhaps it’s just because tiny sandwiches are really good. Either way, more and more businesses all around the city seem to be willing to try their hand at this tasty 2 to 4 pm compliment.

Traditionally speaking, high tea is supposed to occur at 4 pm. However, much like Vancouver’s take on brunch, some leeway has been allowed. This leeway has been extended to also blend the lines between traditional high tea and what the 19th-century English would term “afternoon tea,” or “low tea.” Traditionally, high tea is meant to be more like what we today might term supper or early dinner—a hearty soup or stew, with a strong tea to wash it down. Meanwhile, afternoon tea is what we mistakenly associate with “high tea”—lounging in the living room, cake stands of small treats, and a pretty porcelain pot of some sort of light brew. However, over the last couple of centuries as this tea tradition has spread out of the British Isles, the names have become mixed up and the term “high tea” has been adopted to describe the lighter, daintier variant of meal.

Current high tea menus around Vancouver are generally set up the same. The light meal usually consists of several small finger sandwiches, a round of palate cleansers like lemon tarts or scones, and then finishes off with a few sweet cakes. Though it doesn’t sound like a lot of food, I would not recommend going on a partially full stomach. The portions might be tiny, but there are a lot of them to munch your way through.

As an avid tea enthusiast, I have explored several high tea offerings around the city. My favourites are The Secret Garden Tea Company in Kerrisdale and Patisserie Für Elise located in the downtown core. I prefer these because of their delicious vegetarian options, and because they are relatively inexpensive compared to other places. Both of these places are fairly traditional in terms of the atmosphere. If you’re looking for something a little different, I suggest Laurence & Chico Café on Robson and Bute—it’s been on my personal “to try” list for a while, and it’s very highly rated on Yelp. Another possibility if you’d like a more contemporary vibe is TWG Tea Salon, also downtown—it’s a little less pink and pastel (if that’s not your thing), and their tea selection is huge.