Vancouver’s Urban Tea Merchant has designed a beautiful and colourful array of treats to celebrate the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival this month. Zhōng Qiū Jié falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month each year (translating to mid-September in our modern calendar). The festival is celebrated at the lunar month’s midpoint and is observed during a bright, full moon, as families come together to enjoy the bounty of the harvest and marvel at the beauty of the moon.
There’s a story behind the festival and its symbolism. A popular version among Chinese children follows that a long time ago in China, there were ten suns in the sky. Because of this it was very hot. The blazing suns dried up the rivers and a serious drought followed. The water supply was depleted and the crops in the rice fields withered. A famous archer, Hòu yì, was summoned to shoot down nine of the suns. He was successful and was rewarded a “pill of the immortality.”
Hòu yì went home and gave the precious pill to his wife Cháng’é for safekeeping. A visitor of the archer’s, however, heard about the pill and wanted to steal it. As the visitor was about to steal the pill, Cháng é swallowed it. She soon felt lighter and started to float, all the way to the moon. When Cháng é got to the moon she coughed up the pill and the pill became a rabbit. The rabbit was Cháng é’s (aka the Moon Fairy) only companion on the moon and was named “Jade Rabbit.” When Asians talk about the “lady in the moon”, they are referring to Cháng é, the Moon Fairy.
When the tea service arrived at my table, the white meringue bunny’s placement next to the bright red TWG moon cake brought the story front and centre. There are four moon cakes available for the tea service (one per service, minimum two persons).
I chose the Dragon cake, with a shiny red crust filled with Brothers Club tea-infused lotus paste, and a roasted peanut-enhanced heart. Each of the four cakes (Constellation, Pagoda, Dragon, Moonlight) are infused with a different TWG tea. The gourmet fillings range from roasted melon seeds and raspberry marmalade to roasted peanuts. These are not your typical moon cakes!
While Urban Tea Merchant honours the traditions of this harvest festival, their chef expertly combines ingredients to make for a unique experience. Rather than presenting a series of tiered plates, the Moon Tea Service is offered on a large shared plate, to reflect the family gathering during the full moon.
The Mooncakes are hand-crafted in Singapore, each one embossed with the TWG logo and are perfect for gift-giving, which is what the majority of those celebrating the occasion do. Throughout Asia, I’m told that each bakery strives to create their own masterpiece for this special occasion.
The dishes are complimented with a pot of TWG’s Longevity Tea, a fine white tea containing downy silver tips.
The entire menu combines nicely with the refreshing tea, however guests can choose from any TWG tea (the tea service includes an $8 credit towards a pot of hot or iced tea from the massive collection). Every TWG tea sold is made from 100% natural ingredients without chemical processing. Tea leaves come from single pesticide-free estates, while natural fruits and flowers are used, rather than their essences.
On the menu are miso-maple glazed sablefish with butter lettuce, Lapsang Souchong Tea chicken cones, smoked salmon with a hint of wasabi and topped with house made ponzu jelly, petite duck crepes infused with Royal Orchid Tea, chilled red bean soup infused with Silver Moon Tea, one of those delightful Mooncakes, a chocolate-enrobed strawberry and fresh fruit.
The sablefish and chicken cones are very popular items on the menu (I’ve enjoyed both in the past with various tea infusions); this was my first time trying the duck crepes, a complexity of tastes with a piece of smoked salmon, wild mushroom, and edible mini orchid on top of the delicate crepe.
The Dragon Mooncake is rich and colourful with the red crust digging into a smooth tea-lotus paste, then making way to a centre with peanut paste. I would call this the crowning touch on an elegant array of dishes, making for a superb outing right in the heart of our city.
Pop-up shop alert: Urban Tea Merchant will also be onsite at Holt Renfrew’s Sky Bridge through the 19th, where Mooncakes and Longevity Tea gift boxes will be available for purchase (Mooncakes, $24 each; four for $68; two Mooncakes and Longevity Tea tin, $118).
Moon Festival Tea Service is $46 per person (minimum two people per service). The Urban Tea Merchant is located at 1070 West Georgia Street.
My tea service was compliments of The Urban Tea Merchant, for the purpose of writing this article.