When our tiny little seaplane landed on the pier on the shores of Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city, just 30 minutes from the cosmopolitan joy that is Vancouver, I couldn’t hear a thing.
It wasn’t the pilot’s fault, of course–our skilled seaplane pilot flew steadily and gracefully over the water in the early morning sunrise. (The trip over is gorgeous, by the way). The fault was entirely mine: two days before my travels, I came down with a horrific sinus infection, the likes of which nearly kept me in bed instead of traveling to the gorgeous Canadian West Coast. Of course, this particular traveler wasn’t about to let her plans get derailed, so I packed up my nasal spray, prayed for unclogged ears, and got on the plane from Tucson to Vancouver.
Sadly, my ears were not too happy with me for flying such a long way and I arrived, in lovely Vancouver, with two very stuffed-up ears, as if I were still in airplane descent. But I was not to be deterred–after all, how often is a girl from Tucson in one of Canada’s most beloved and immaculate cities?
By the third day, I was out and about having Szechuan cuisine and cruising Robson Street, my sinuses finally starting to acclimate. And then, on the fourth day, I climbed into a 6-person sea plane, its two oblong pontoons bobbing around in the water in the early morning, and did it all over again.
Truth be told, though I wasn’t at my best on my short day trip, there couldn’t have been a more perfect remedy awaiting me on the English-influenced, known for its gardens, fantastic city of Victoria: afternoon tea.
But this wasn’t just any afternoon tea, complete with crumpets, polite conversation, and fine English flatware. It was something a little hipper, a little more whimsical, a little more of a cultural mash-up: afternoon tea, West-Coast style.
I met Katie from Tourism Victoria and Alison from The Grand Pacific Hotel in the lobby at noon for our lunchtime fest. They were both eager to introduce me to Chef Takumi’s delicate new tapas menu and to witness the unveiling of some of the restaurant’s new winter varieties of tea. Which, as it happens, I turned out to be the perfect experiment for, because one of the teas, the Winter Warrior, a blend put together by local tea maker Silk Road, was put together to do just what I needed: help clear out my sinuses! The tea is a combination of green tea, ginger, lemongrass, citrus peel, rooibus, and lemon essences, and it’s packed with lots of good, feel-better antioxidants.
Over the next few hours and many pots of tea, I learned quite a bit about Victoria’s tea culture–and just how much it differs from England’s more traditional tea time. The first thing, Alison told me, is that even though we were having a luxurious service from The Grand Pacific, tea time is actually much more democratic in Victoria. “Everyone can have tea here,” she said, picking up the red beet appetizer (called amuse) with her fork. “It’s not just for royalty.” A more equitable tea service? The social activist in me smiled and wondered how many other people on Vancouver Island were drinking tea at the very moment, sipping it from glassware, mugs, and possibly even paper cups.
Here’s what was on the menu:
Free Run Organic Egg Salad on Smoked Salmon
Rye Bread Pudding
Sake Compressed Cucmber on Okonomi-Yaki
Lime and Sweet Chili Edamame
Chicken Liver Paté on Crostini
Mini Dungeness Crab Cake
Preserved Lemon Aioli Dill and Baby Shrimp on Mini Croissant
Pumpkin Spice Financier
Vanilla Bean Scone
Lemon Raspberry Mousse Slice
Assorted Truffles And Macaroons
Tea service runs from 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. daily and is $44 per person. If you’d like to make reservations to have your own West Coast Afternoon Tea, you can check out the Grand Pacific Hotel’s website or call them at 250-380-4458. Also, you might want to check out their menu online. Of course, a special thanks to Tourism Victoria and the Grand Pacific for treating me to my first afternoon tea experience!
Article and all photographs (except for featured image, courtesy of The Grand Pacific) by Kristin Winet.