First it was cupcakes; then it was doughnuts. Now it’s high tea. Vancouver is often slow to start on cultural food fads. But now that the city has discovered the joys of high tea, the service is pouring into restaurants with new vigour.
High tea consists of an afternoon tea service, often accompanied by a three-tiered plate of bite-size snacks and carefully prepared desserts. It typically takes about an hour and costs anywhere from $20 to $80 per person, with dress code varying to the same degree.
While numerous upper-end hotels such as the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver have been offering the service for years, new high tea services are brewing across the city.
“I think it’s quite popular… they’re coming up more and more now,” said Casey James, co-owner of Urban Tea in downtown Vancouver. “We’ve been around and generated a little bit of that buzz.”
It hasn’t offered the service for as long as the Fairmont, but Urban Tea has served their afternoon tea with success for eight years. Their traditional afternoon tea service is complete with a three-tiered plate, but variations include a West Coast fusion high tea service, which serves B.C.-inspired hors d’oeuvres on a cedar plank.
James sees the increasing popularity as a move away from the bustle of a coffee lifestyle to a more relaxed, tea-infused one.
“Everything is go, go, go with coffee. With tea it’s more of a sip, sip experience,” said James. “People are wanting to connect more with friends and family and take more time for themselves.”
With the city’s first vegan tea service popping up this September at Indigo Food Cafe on West 16th Avenue, the demand for high tea is evident.
Lovena Galyide opened the Kitsilano restaurant earlier this year. She’s offered her vegan high tea service since September and says so far it’s been popular.
She serves the typical three-tiered platter with fine teas, but uses vegan ingredients for the foods and desserts. For her, it was an obvious choice to offer it on the menu.
“If I celebrate something I always find places to go for high tea,” said Galyide. “We decided because it’s my favourite, probably a lot of other people would like to have it, but healthy.”
James and Galyide are not alone in the high tea craze. More than two dozen places offer high tea in Metro Vancouver, many of which opened within the past two to three years.
Recognizing the high demand, Vancouver Community College started a program that trains people in the way of tea – and of course that includes high tea.
“We don’t have a high tea course, but it is discussed in the recipes and how to host a tea event or an afternoon tea party,” said Donna Hawrelko, VCC tea sommelier program coordinator.
The tea sommelier program, launched at VCC last year, is the first of its kind in Western Canada. The eight-course program teaches students everything there is to know about buying, preparing and selling tea.
Hawrelko said there is so much demand for the courses they had to turn people away.
“It’s certainly become popular,” said Hawrelko. “The tea following has grown and people want to know more about it.”