Monday, January 21, 2013

An Urban Tea Merchant Moment

January has been quite a month! Not only has every family member been sick with some cold or other since before Christmas, but Gene has been travelling weekly for work, and my work has been the busiest on record! So when I had the small window of opportunity to fly up to Vancouver, B.C. to spend one evening with Gene, I did not pass Go, I went directly to Canada!

Knowing that Gene would be tied up until late afternoon, I acted on a Twitter invitation from @Urban_Tea to visit The Urban Tea Merchant just blocks from my hotel. Walking up to their store front was an immediate visual treat. Artistic window displays with bright orange Chinese lanterns beckon the unsuspecting passing public.

Upon entering, I was greeted warmly by Shivantha, Tea Ambassador and Founding Member of the Tea Salon. He ushered me into the tea room and presented me with the tea menu and the Tea List.

Page after page of specialty teas, categorized by tea type (black, green, white, etc.) and country of origin. Be still my beating heart!  After much debate and recommendations by the excellent staff, I chose Castleton SFTGFOP1 (1st Flush), a special Darjeeling. Usually, with afternoon tea, I choose a strong English Breakfast blend so I can indulge in dressing it up with milk and sugar, but when presented with SUCH a Tea List, one must seize the moment and experience something extra special. I was not disappointed. No milk and sugar needed.

Delicate, yet full bodied, this Darjeeling smelled slightly more like a green tea rather than a black tea. Its initial flavor was very, very faintly floral, though as it cooled, the floral notes became more pronounced - they literally bloomed! I was intrigued with how the flavor profile changed in subtle yet noticeable ways as the temperature cooled.

And while I was tasting my tea, they were preparing their Signature Tea Service:

Any minor apprehension of the Asian influenced food disappeared the moment the three-tired serving tray was delivered to my table.

I am trying to decide which savory treat was my favorite, but I really can't decide! I was so surprised at how much I enjoyed this Asian-inspired tea service. I guess I'm so in love with the traditional  cucumber sandwiches and such, that it never occurred to me that it could be done so differently, so creatively, so DELICIOUSLY!

I've been craving these creations every day since I've had them.

While the tea and food offerings were the stuff of dreams, the service elevated the experience to the stuff of fantasy!  As I enjoyed my tea, the owner and founder, Tom, stopped by to introduce himself and see how everything was going. It was obvious he took great pleasure in chatting with his patrons, whether regulars or new guests. His daughter, Casey, the Director of Marketing and Events, also stopped by and offered to answer any questions I had. The wait staff took equal pleasure in their craft. More than once, I observed them bringing in teas from their "Tea Library" for guests to see and smell before choosing.

The sights, smells, and surroundings were so rich, I could barely finish the sweets before me.

The one item I was sure to taste was the gooseberry (that little orange fruit the size of a cherry tomato). I'd never had one before, but I learned they grow in that part of the country and they are absolutely delicious. Kind of like a cross between a grape and a peach? So good!

After having my fill, I had to take in their complete Tea Library. Or as I like to call it, their Wall of Tea.

Isn't it glorious?

As I perused the wall with Shivantha, I was joined by Reza, the Tea Sommelier, who remembered that I had expressed a die-hard love of Kaiser from Mariages Freres. He suggested one of their TWG teas that was similar. His remembrance of a preference I had posted on Twitter blew my mind!  It is this attention to detail and care for the customer that makes this tea salon a unique and amazing experience. Both Reza and Shivantha have been there from The Urban Tea Merchant's beginnings and very obviously live their professions with pride. It was something I saw in every employee I encountered. The perfect balance of hospitality, knowledge, service, tradition and innovation. I loved every second of my visit. If only it was not 1,329 miles away from me!

The next time you find yourself in the Vancouver, B.C. area, be sure to include The Urban Tea Merchant as a stop on your itinerary. And even if you're not travelling there any time soon, you can still enjoy their virtual Wall of Tea and find absolutely any tea your heart could desire. 

To Visit The Urban Tea Merchant:
SIGNATURE STORE in Downtown Vancouver
1070 West Georgia Street, Vancouver, B.C.
(Entrance also from Alberni Street & Valet Parking available in front of Italian Kitchen)
Phone: (604) 692-0071
10am - 7pm