We didn't know where to begin.
A three-tier serving dish filled with a host of sweet and savoury delicacies, each infused with a variety of aromatic Indian teas, had arrived in front of each of us and we were overwhelmed.
Having just finished bowls of mango sorbet, it didn't take long for us to dig in, continuing to sip on cups of Maharajah Darjeeling. Myself and two friends had gathered at The Urban Tea Merchant at the Village at Park Royal Monday, and while we each had a different favourite item - whether it was a freshbaked scone, sandwich or other delectables - we were in agreement: this was the perfect way to while away the afternoon.
Inspired by their involvement in the inaugural Indian Summer, a 10-day festival of Indian arts and ideas held July 7-17 at Vancouver's SFU Woodward's, as well as 2011 being named the Year of India in Canada, representatives of The Urban Tea Merchant have opted to continue celebrating the country's culture and cuisine by presenting a Taste of India Petite Afternoon Tea.
The experience, a typical afternoon tea with a twist, is being offered at both their Village at Park Royal and downtown Vancouver locations.
"Some of the best cultural tea experiences one can have is in India. It's so rich and deeply rooted with the concept of tea," says co-owner Tom James, a West Vancouver resident. Tom and his wife Karinna launched the family-owned and operated business following a trip around the world with their daughter Casey, who serves as director of store operations.
"It came about from a vision that Karinna had," says Tom.
They visited a number of places, including Africa, India, Europe and Asia.
"In each area we found such a fascinating connection with tea and the culture that surrounded it," says Tom. "We didn't want to just open a store, we wanted to open a store that provided an experience around tea."
They opened their first location in the Village at Park Royal in 2004 and their second, at 1070 West Georgia St., in Vancouver in 2009.
They were pleased to be approached by representatives of Indian Summer and presented a literary tea service and tasting
Sunday as part of the festival.
Staff are excited about their in-store offering, on for the next few weeks. Their two locations have been decorated with India in mind and patrons are invited to experience the Taste of India Petite Afternoon Tea for themselves.
Guests choose from feature Indian teas, including various darjeelings and chais, and then indulge in the tea-infused offerings; for example, a delicate cone filled with chicken infused with a chai called Indian Night, a black tea with piquant spices.
The Taste of India Petite Afternoon Tea costs $25/$19 per person depending on what day and time you go.
While the special Indian Summer tea service will only be offered until Aug. 15, The Urban Tea Merchant offers a variety of afternoon teas year-round.
They've also begun offering live music events at their two locations. Next up, on Thursday, July 28, at 6 p.m., they're featuring the music of the Maria Ho Duo at their downtown location as part of their Summer Jazz series. Guests are encouraged to try a glass of tea-infused champagne while taking in the show.
To stay abreast of upcoming events, visit www.urbantea.com.