Destination Tea: Soirette

Where:  Vancouver, BC
Style:  Modern Whimsy
Tea Selection:  30+ loose leaf teas
Teatimes:  Saturday-Sunday 11:00, 12:45, 2:30 or 4:15
Reservations:  24-hour notice
Contact: 604-558-3308 or hello@soirette.com
Cost:  $36 High Tea
Destination Tea Tip:  Though plans are in the works to renovate the space, currently Soirette’s afternoon tea seating is limited to about five tables, so be sure to reserve your teatime well in advance.

Destination Tea Notes:  Knowing we would only be in Vancouver for a few days, the pressure was on to choose our destination teas wisely. After much research, we reserved our tea with Soirette, a pastry boutique specializing in housemade macarons that also serves high tea on the weekends. Soirette offers a tempting array of teas (thankfully the six of us were each given our own pot, allowing us to sample several), homemade savories, scones and sweets that fuse Asian and French cuisines, and a menu that utilizes seasonal, local ingredients:  yes, yes and yes! This we enjoyed in a sleek setting punctuated by pops of bright color. If I were a Vancouverite, I would be a repeat Soirette customer, especially to sample their seasonal tea menus.

A sky blue wall accents the glossy white interior
A chic upholstered banquette running alongside bistro tables set with teacup trays and carnation posies welcomes us.

Tea Service

Soirette’s tea list features organic teas and creative flavor profiles.
Each place setting includes a decorative tea strainer. Pots of steeping loose leaves come to the table ready to pour.
The kids enjoyed their selections, as did I mine, the Empress

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

Step One: Each person chooses a macaron from the colorful display of seasonal flavors
Tada! This delicious kaleidoscope curate appears.
Savories include lemongrass chicken croissant & pickled carrot and daikon, seaweed sea salt edamame with jade pearl rice (a huge hit), cucumber sandwich with soppressata and swiss cheese, parmesan mousse tartlet with sundried tomato relish (very mild flavor) and…
…spring herb and arugula couscous salad (we all loved it). I am always impressed when tea is infused into the edibles, as in Soirette’s Earl Grey milk chocolate scones served with vanilla bean double cream and cherry whipped butter. Oh yeah.
Earl Grey did double duty on my curate because I chose the Earl Grey cassis macaron which was perfect. Dessert also included peach belle tea and strawberry panna cotta (I had to help everyone else eat this favorite of mine), cherry blossom madeleine, passionfruit chocolate cornette, and tea cake with mini macaron. All are delicately sweetened, moist and scrumptious.
Customers sample Soirette teas as they wait to order macaron assortments.
Happy Canada Day! In honor of Canada’s 150th birthday, Soirette gifted us each a limited edition maple bacon macaron as a take-home favor. What a delicious way to commemorate our experience!

Destination Tea: Star Princess Cruise

Where:  Alaska
Style:  Elegant Traditional
Tea Selection:  Black tea
Teatimes:  Days noted in the daily newsletter, 3:30-4:30
Reservations:  Walk-ins welcome
Contact:  800-774-6237
Cost:  Included with your stay
Destination Tea Tip:  It will likely be many years before we at Destination Tea are able to review every cruise lines’ afternoon tea service (#dreamjob). In the meanwhile, if you are researching your next cruise, check out these pictorial reviews of afternoon tea at sea:  “Best Afternoon Tea on Cruises” from CruiseCritic.com and “Best High Tea at Sea” from CruiseDeals.co.uk.

Destination Tea Notes:  First a little history from Andrea M. Rotondo of CruiseCritic.com: “The aristocratic pleasure of afternoon tea naturally found its way into the first-class sections of the great ocean liners. As cruising replaced crossings in the 20th century, the ritual was retained as an example of the sort of tradition one might not have the time to keep up on land, but that could still be enjoyed aboard ship.”

While taking afternoon tea overlooking glacial waters is a certain luxury, we found the pace and style of the meal on Star Princess to be very different from a traditional tearoom on land. Crisp linens and servers in formal attire greet guests, who have begun gathering outside the dining room 15 minutes before it opens for tea service. Small parties are sat together communally, which actually was the highlight of this experience because we were paired with a lovely Australian family. As there are no coincidences (right?), it made perfect sense that the wife had once run her own tea business and was very well acquainted with traditional afternoon tea customs.

The main frustration in getting to know our new friends was the continuous parade of servers to our table throughout the meal. The Star Princess’ format for afternoon tea is very much like a Brazilian charrascaria, without the green/red table marker to signal to the servers when you have had your fill. From the moment you are sat, tea is poured and servers begin making the rounds with silver trays of sandwiches, scones, preserves and cream, and desserts, a few of which we would recommend. We love that Princess ships treat their guests to afternoon tea, and would have found it more enjoyable if they altered their service style to allow guests to converse at their leisure, offered a small variety of quality teas, and baked lighter, more airy scones and desserts.

Waiting outside the Portofino dining room for afternoon tea to begin
Tables are set for the arriving tea guests
Nothing fancy, dishware is utilitarian white stoneware

Tea Service

Our resident tea aficionado couldn’t get more than “black tea” as an answer to her question about the type of tea we were served from silver pots, but she wondered if it might have been stewed (ha!). It was a strong, slightly bitter brew.

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

Scones on Princess prompted our new Australian friends to give us a free lesson: traditionally scones across the pond are akin to the U.S. Southern biscuit, light and fluffy.
Cream, preserves and tea condiments make the rounds
Changing daily, sandwich offerings are generously portioned and tasty. Princess does their breads very well, with a nice crust and soft inside.
The egg salad and tomato sandwiches were delicious and despite appearances, not too heavy on the mayonnaise.
Desserts are more visually appealing than tasty, par for the course at the Princess buffet as well. Standout desserts can be found at dinner seatings in the formal dining rooms.
For a more crunchy, less sweet final course, a variety of cookies and thinly sliced breads

Destination Tea: Jewell Gardens

Where:  Skagway, AK
Style:  Garden Sunroom
Tea Selection:  Signature English Rose loose leaf black tea
Teatimes:  May-September; Daily 11-3
Reservations:  Walk-ins welcome
Contact: 907-983-2111
Cost:  $9.95 Tea Plate and Tea
Destination Tea Tip:  In the summer months, cruise lines book very large parties for tea here as part of a pre-purchased Skagway excursion. If you want to go for tea during this time of year and are not doing so as part of an excursion, it is recommended walk-ins arrive after 1 pm, when the crowds have gone.

Destination Tea Notes:  Many of us afternoon tea enthusiasts also love the romance of a beautiful garden, not unlike our 19th century counterparts who enjoyed taking tea in private and public gardens. It may seem surprising that a lush garden can grow in Alaska, but due to the 20-hour days of sunlight in their summer season, farms and gardens here actually flourish and can grow record-breaking, giant-sized produce. Capitalizing on all this daylight, Jewell Gardens offers homemade garden-to-table specialties in its Poppies Garden Restaurant, serving an afternoon tea that delights all the senses at once. While savoring a delicious tea menu, you gaze upon a picturesque garden featuring blown glass accents made on premises. Afterwards you may pay a fee to tour the garden and glassworks.

The entrance to Poppies restaurant is framed with potted flowers peppered with teacups and saucers.
Jewell Gardens’ glassworks contributes colorful hanging lamps and globes and table centerpieces that add personality to the brightly lit garden room overlooking the grounds.
A row of teapots sits above the wall-to-wall windows in this adjacent enclosed porch.

Tea Service

You may either purchase a cup or pot of Jewell Gardens’ signature black tea blend, English Rose. It is a fragrant, strong brew that we loved so much, we bought some in the gift shop afterwards.

Scones, Savories and Sweets

My daughter LOVED the vegetable minestrone with homegrown veggies, which we chose to order in addition to our tea plates.
We also sighed over Jewell Gardens’ kale caesar salad, which was outstanding in freshness and flavor. Even the croutons were herb flavored.
This cheese herb scone has great buttery flavor and reminded me of a recent lesson I received from an Australian friend and tea aficionado: that, traditionally, scones should have the consistency of what we in the Southern United States call a biscuit. If it had been served warm, Jewell Gardens’ scone would have entirely hit the mark for both my Australian friend and me.
The tea plate included cucumber sandwich with red pepper spread (yum), vegetable quiche (fabulous), fresh baked scone, ruby begonia bar and carrot cake (scrumptious).
Closer look at the ruby begonia bar
Touring the gardens; fences adorned with cherry and berry red glass-blown baubles
The White Pass Railroad winds through miniature Skagway.
Love how they pair similarly colored glass sculptures and flowers

Jewell Gardens’ teasets and signature house blend English Rose loose leaf tea available for purchase in the gift shop