The Urban Tea Merchant - Moon Festival Tea

My previous visits:
- Signature and Petite Afternoon Tea (September 2011)
- Sakura Westcoast Tea (April 2012)

The Urban Tea Merchant is one of my favourite places for afternoon tea in Vancouver. When I heard about the moon festival tea service ($38/person) featuring TWG tea infused mooncakes, I just couldn't wait to get a taste. Those of you interested in trying it out would have to wait for next year though, since it's only available during the Mid-Autumn Festival. The meal started with petit chou — little choux pastries that were fluffy and light and amazingly aromatic. They were served with a pat of creamy "Weekend in St Tropez Tea" butter. This is what sets The Urban Tea Merchant apart from other afternoon tea venues; most of the foods here are infused with different types of tea.

The spread was quite impressive and there were even Chinese dumplings to go with the Asian theme. Although apart from the dumplings and mooncake, the rest of the food was basically the same as the Sakura Westcoast Tea. Below is a list of the food:
- miso-maple glazed sable fish in butter lettuce
- chicken salad cone infused with "Lapsang Souchong Tea"
- open-faced smoked salmon with ponzu jelly
- pork dumplings infused with "Weekend in Hong Kong Tea" (served with ginger sauce)
- TWG tea mooncake
- tea-infused chocolate truffle, chevron strawberry
- watermelon strip infused with "Silver Moon Tea" and assorted seasonal fruit

The pork dumplings came steaming hot in a traditional bamboo steamer. I didn't have high hopes as I didn't expect an afternoon tea place to make decent dim sum, and I thought the brightly coloured skins were surely a bad sign. Surprisingly the dumplings didn't taste too bad, though they were a bit mushy in texture.

The star of the show was of course the TWG tea mooncake. A boxed set of 4 mooncakes costs $75, so one of them is already almost $20. Since there were 3 of us enjoying the tea service, I thought it was unfair of them to give us only one mooncake to share when each of us were paying full price. I asked about it and after some explanation of why they couldn't serve half a mooncake, they relented and said they would give us an extra half if we could manage to finish it. Although I understand the problem of the other half of the mooncake potentially going to waste, I also think this issue is something the restaurant should have addressed. Given the impeccable service I have always received here, I found it slightly disappointing that nothing was said until I spoke up. Apart from the mooncake, we were also short on a couple of items because the chef was not used to setting the plate for 3 people. I'm sure that was not intentional though, and the situation was quickly remedied when I asked.

The TWG tea mooncake was the reason I came, but honestly I didn't expect it to be able to measure up to the traditional Chinese mooncake with sweet lotus seed paste and salty egg yolks. However, I was pleasantly surprised as I found the TWG mooncake less oily and heavy without compromising in flavour. I really liked the "Pagoda" mooncake with fruity bits of mango and sweet chunks of chestnut in a lotus seed paste infused with "Moonlit Night Tea". The flavours all just blended really well together and the concept of combining tea, fruit and mooncake wasn't that strange after all.

The bright red "Moonlight" was also delicious with tart wild berries and a red fruit marmalade centre in a white lotus seed paste filling infused with "Silver Moon Tea". I thought the fruit marmalade was red bean at first because of its sandy texture and mild flavour. The berries were a great complement to the lotus seed paste, but I still preferred the mango mooncake. Although I really liked the TWG tea mooncakes, they might not be for everyone. The baked crust and the fillings were slightly grainier in texture and not as smooth and rich compared to that of traditional mooncakes due to the lack of oil. Personally I thought that was a good thing.

Who would have thought that fruity mooncakes infused with tea would be so tasty? Despite the extremely high price tag, I was very tempted to bring a box home. Unfortunately I was going on a trip for a few days and I was told that the mooncakes only keep for about 2 weeks, so I'll have to wait until next year...

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