Adorable Tea Cups, Dishes, & Saucers and Enough Tea Sandwiches & Sweets to Last a Week! Afternoon Tea at Le Dolci!

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I always knew I enjoyed tea (I thank all those weekend dim sum brunch meals growing up for that!), but I never thought I’d love it and engage with it as much as I do now.  I drink tea every morning when I come into work (it’s such a delight rotating between my current 5 loose leaf packets from Steeped & Infused), I keep up with seasonal flavours, I read tea books, I love marrying cupcakes with a cup of hot tea, and I am absolutely amoured by tea time and afternoon teas!  The atmosphere, the food, the beautiful accessories, porcelain and china; the dining experience it affords is in a league of it own.  My dream would be to attend every imaginable afternoon tea in the land – I would be so happy!  I think my obsession with tea is definitely nearing its peak and I really don’t see it waning any time soon.

So I indulged my warm and fuzzy feelings for afternoon tea with a special Sunday afternoon tea at Le Dolci’s sweet studio!  Soft music floating in the background, adorable tea cups, saucers, and dishes, and over 5 different types of decadent desserts among other delectable eats – afternoon tea at Le Dolci is as sweet as it gets!  I was so, so excited when I found out Lisa and the team would be doing afternoon tea sessions at their new studio on Dundas West back in August.  I knew the experience would be really fun, different, and yummy, but I also knew that this was something really personal and special to Lisa.  After living and working in the UK for a decade, the tea bug is bound to bite you one way or another if you haven’t been bitten already!  Lisa, Miya, and I used to drink tea together all the time when I was interning at the studio and we’d always Ooo and ahh over sweet accessories we would find.  Aside from cupcakes and sweets, tea was a common love and it just made everything that much more mellow and relaxed when we took that time to savour it and enjoy it.

I was so excited to see what Lisa would have in store for this tea session.  Afternoon teas, held on Sundays (keep in mind that afternoon teas aren’t held every Sunday at this point though, they just happen to fall on Sundays when they are made available on the class schedule as opposed to Fridays or Saturdays for instance) from 12pm – 2pm, are non-instructional sessions that are open to anyone and everyone with a love for sweets and tea!  Non-instructional simply means that the afternoon tea is purely a “come in and stuff your face while having a lot of fun!” type of session.  There’s no workshop or seminar, no demo or crafting of anything ; it’s just pure enjoyment of food and drink.

Teas are priced at $35/person and spaces must be booked in advance, either by phone or through their website via the class schedule.  Now, I had a brain fart when I first booked my spot because I mixed myself up and thought the entire tea took 2 hours, but the 12pm-2pm tea time is completely flexible!  So long as you’ve booked your spot you’re welcome to start your tea at 12:30pm, 1pm, whatever floats your boat (within reason – obviously if you show up at a quarter to two, that’s not going to fly!) and subsequently, you can finish up any time within those 2 hours.  You simply need to book your spot in advance so Lisa and her team can plan out their tea menu and know exactly how much food to make so nothing goes to waste and so they can make sure everything is ready to go the morning of for the freshest baked goods and eats.

Beautiful sunlight streamed through the studio’s front display window and the big, long, stainless steel worktable was decked out in a white tablecloth with tea cups and saucers, milk and sugar, and small dishes to enjoy our nibbles!  The dishes and accessories were so darn gorgeous.  Enjoying the food on such pretty tableware was half the fun!  Some of these dishes were special antiques and works of art from the UK (that dish featured in the first photo?  Hand-painted!), while others were just nifty pick-ups around town.  The crazy tea accessory lover in me was lapping all this up like an eager puppy!

Okay, so what does afternoon tea at Le Dolci entail?  Hot loose leaf tea from Tealish (4 flavours on hand including Sweetie Pie, Earl Grey Classic, Sencha Organic green tea, and Peppermint!), 4 different kinds of tea sandwiches on multi-grain bread with the crusts cut off (but of course!), and literally enough sweets and baked goods to last you an entire week – no joke!  The awesome thing about the tea specifically is that you can try different kinds!  Lisa will brew a pot of whatever flavour you want at first, but if you decide that you want to try a different one middway through, she can brew another one.  Granted, I wouldn’t start asking for all 4 flavours, but it’s fine if you want to sip on another one later on in the tea.

Another thing I really loved was the sheer volume of food!  All afternoon teas are based on a per person count, but holy bejeebus, after my boyfriend and I polished off our sandwich plate with 8 portions, Lisa came by and plopped another plate of 4 in front of us!  That’s 6 sandwiches in total, 3 per person (each portion is half a sandwich).  I don’t know about you, but I have never eaten 3 sandwiches plus sweets plus a bajillion cups of tea.  I knew there would be leftovers (gut intuition) so I came prepared and brought tupperware.  It came in handy!  That day, we were given an assortment of roast beef with mustard, smoked salmon, ham, and a fantastic egg salad with crunchy green onions!  You all know I love smoked salmon to pieces, but I have to say, I loved the ham and egg salad ones a lot too!  So simple yet so good.

And the sweets.  Oh, the sweets.  Full-size frosted cupcakes (vanilla with coffee frosting and chocolate with vanilla frosting), mini cupcakes (vanilla and coffee), biscotti, little scones (cheddar and dried fruit ones), brownie squares, lemon coconut squares, macarons (coconut and strawberry), and lamingtons, an Australian and New Zealand dessert made of sponge cake and coated in chocolate and rolled in shredded coconut!  Did you get all that?!  It was such a great varied assortment and there were so many different things to try!  I loved the variety and if I had to choose, my favourites would have to be the lemon coconut squares, the cupcakes with coffee frosting, and the macarons!

It was a really fun, sweet afternoon tea and I’m so happy Lisa decided to have it as part of her fun foodie line-up.  I genuinely enjoyed all the food we were given and it’s just nice being in the studio surrounded by yummy smells and great people.  I am no doubt coming back for more – the leftovers are just the icing on the cake!

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Le Dolci brand new studio is located at 1006 Dundas Street West, right at the corner of Dundas West and Montrose Ave. The studio is across the street from Trinity Bellwoods Park and are open for business 6 days a week.  Operating hours are from 10am-6pm from Tuesday to Saturday and 12pm-5pm on Sundays.

Not Time to Say Goodbye to Leslieville Just Yet – Tea, Chocolate, & the BIG Moving Sale at Steeped & Infused!

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Everyone loves sales.  Who doesn’t love a money-saving opportunity?  But sometimes, even the all-mighty sale is met with a little bit of sadness.  This past weekend I found out to my dismay that my favourite tea shop in the city, Steeped & Infused, was holding a gigantic, blow-out sale because they were packing up shop in Leslieville and moving.  Where to?  We’re not sure yet.  But for those of you who love tea and want to take advantage of a million more “pinkies up!” at half price, Steeped & Infused will still be around at Queen East and Hastings Ave. until September 23rd so mark your calendar, jot it down on a sticky note, do whatever you have to do to remember it so you don’t miss out! 

I know for a fact that I’ll be coming back one more time before they move because while it would be the fantastical thing ever if they stayed in downtown Toronto, who knows, the shop might  end up in Missausauga.  And if it does, I will cry.  So I’m crossing my fingers that wherever the new location will be, it’ll still be accessible.  Because I love this tea shop and refuse to entertain the thought of not having some of my favourite tea flavours in my life. 

This past weekend, I almost had myself a heart attack when I saw their bright red “Moving Sale!  50% Off!” sign in their front window.  Partly because I was ecstatic to buy copious amounts of tea at a discounted rate, but also because I almost mistook the sign as an honest-to-goodnss closing as opposed to a move, but thankfully I calmed down long enough to realize it wasn’t actually dooms day.  Because if I hadn’t, I think I would have have made quite the spectacle out of myself. 

I took some photos of the tea shop and cafe for old times sake to both memorialize a wonderful space that has given me some of the yummiest teas and to show off the shop as a renovated cafe (remember when it was sans the tables, chairs, and treats and instead filled with giftware and tea sets?) with beautiful colours and artwork adorning its walls.  All the loose leaf teas are 50% off and because they’re selling out so quickly from the sale, if they no longer have the flavour you want in stock, it’ll most likely come in a future shipment before the shop packs up and moves.  If I remember correctly, I was told that their next shipment would be this Wednesday, so definitely plan a trip to the cfae this coming long weekend to snatch some stuff up. 

My favourite sample baggies are also on sale for a ridiculous $1 each!  I could gush on and on and on about these sample baggies.  While their coconut almond rooibos is my true blue favourite, I love trying multiple flavours and the sample baggies allow me (and everyone else) to have SO much fun trying different teas and switching things up based on what my tastebuds feel like.  Let me tell you, I was on cloud nine as I splurged on my tea shopping spree.  I picked up 5 different loose leaf tea baggies and I can’t wait to drink to my heart’s content!  My bladder won’t be too amused about the non-stop tea parties, but my tastebuds sure will! 

I picked up a baggie of my favourite coconut almond rooibos, green and white pear cream green tea (this one is also amazing!), green and white mango green tea, Canadian blueberry rooibos, and a strawberry kiwi fruit tisane which smells so heavenly good you want to eat the tea mixture straight out of the tin.  5 teas, $5!  In addition, they have some great tea infused chocolate in 3 or 4 tasty flavours and because I just couldn’t pass it up, I picked up a square of milk Belgian chocolate infused with passionfruit green tea and a square of white Belgian chocolate infused with matcha!

If you haven’t paid a visit to Steeped & Infused before, I urge you to do it before they move and if you’re a current fan like me, take advantage and go one last time.  I’ll keep everyone updated when I know any more information about where their new location will be, but don’t hesitate to dig for a little info yourself.  They’ll be posting updates on their Twitter @steepedinfused and let’s hope that they stay within sipping distance!  

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Steeped & Infused is located at 1258 Queen Street East in Leslieville, at the corner of Queen Street East and Hastings Ave.  The shop and cafe will continue to operate at this location until September 23, 2012 at which time they will be move (new location TBD).  They also have a mini location inside a store called Adornments on Queen at 338 Queen Street East.  They are open 6 days a week from 11am-7pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 11am-6pm on Fridays, 10:30am-6pm on Saturdays, and 11:30am-5pm on Sundays.  The shop is closed on Mondays.  You can visit their website here and follow them on Twitter @steepedinfused.

Tea & Cupcakes for One – Fruity Peach Green Tea, Mango Cupcakes, & Pink Tea Pots at The Wedding Cake Shoppe

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My love of tea has finally reached its peak – and I think it’s going to enjoy its reign up at the top of my “Things I Love Dearly” list for a long time!  I am happy to report that I am now drinking tea 5 days a week (sometimes 6; it varies) and that I’ve developed a nice little routine for myself the same way java fanatics gulp down their coffee in the morning.  I’ve been alternating between coconut green tea, sticky toffee pudding, and my cute little box of Celestial Seasoning fruit flavours in blueberry, raspberry, black cherry, and country peach. 

Never did I think I would love tea this much though.  Growing up, my only brush with tea was at dim sum restaurants.  Then bubble tea and loose leaf tea entered my world and everything changed.  I daydream about the type of tea I’m going to get during my next tea run.  I keep up with all the new seasonal flavours that come out, ready to be sniffed from their canisters and sipped from mugs and tea cups.  And like clothes and accessories, I coordinate and match my tea to my cupcakes.  It’s not an obsession, it’s enthusiasm!

So, for the first time ever, I am posting about cupcakes without actually talking about cupcakes.  All I will say is that Wedding Cake Shoppe’s fruity mango cream cupcake on vanilla is delightful and like mango mousse on vanilla clouds.  My dear sweet cupcakes will just have to share the spotlight on this one because the tea is clearly the star of the show!  Make way for the sweet and lovely peach green tea and mango cupcake from The Wedding Cake Shoppe!

My previous Wedding Cake Shoppe posts solely focused on cupcakes, scrapbooking, and beautiful decor and while all of those things still play a huge part in my personal Wedding Cake Shoppe experience, I am absolutely smitten with their loose leaf tea.  I KNOW.  Tea.  And cupcakes.  With cupcakes.  At a wedding cake shop.  I love Toronto.  Given how the shop has ample space and seating, it’s totally feasible to sit down with a cuppa and cupcake (or macaron!  Or all three if you’re feeling adventurous) for a quiet, peaceful afternoon.  Their drink menu is actually pretty awesome as it consists of coffee drinks (americanos for $2, lattes and cappuccinos for $3.25), homemade hot chocolate ($3.50), cold glasses of milk at $2.50 (perfect for the milk and chocolate enthusiasts at heart!), and LOTS of loose leaf tea!  Priced at $2.25, flavours include earl grey, chamomile, green sencha, English breakfast, chai raspberry, fruit explosion, peppermint, jasmine, vanilla rooibos, and my beloved pick, peach green tea.

I love the fact that Cindy and Sarah serve tea and drinks at their shop to go along with their cupcakes and macarons, yes, BUT, what I love even more?  THE TEA PRESENTATION AND ACCESSORIES!  The shop is all colour, freshness, sweetness, and beauty so I shouldn’t have expected any less when it came to their tea and drinks (just look at the gorgeous, dainty pink plate that accompanied my chocolate banana cream pie cupcake the last time!), but I was still taken aback by how fabulous their tea “service” was!  I didn’t get my tea in a paper cup.  I didn’t even get my tea in a mug.  I got my piping hot peach green tea in a freakin’ adorable pink and gold tea pot/teacup set!  You know, the type of tea pot that looks like a whole teapot but is really the kind that has a tea cup for a bottom?  Yes, one of those.  And when I gushed to Sarah about how cute the tea pot was, she told me her and Cindy find great accessories along Queen West so there you go!

It was like getting the 5-star treatment.  And for $2.25?!  Jackpot!  Peach green tea is my favourite cold bubble tea to get when I’m out and this hot loose-leaf version didn’t disappoint.  It was an amazing fruity tea that tasted just like bubble tea but hot.  It didn’t have a gritty aftertaste, it certainly didn’t taste like diluted flavoured hot water, and it was bright, crisp, and delicious with my sweet and creamy mango cupcake.  Even though Cindy and Sarah are up to their eyeballs in wedding orders and cake decorating, they really do a fantastic job with making every visit to their shop a memorable, happy experience and that is what’s so special to me.  I mean, seriously, every single time I’m there new fresh flowers in vases are sitting on every table, the shop is immaculate, and every visit feels like a fresh start.  Cupcakes and tea aren’t just food and drink to me; they mean so much more when you enjoy them in a welcoming atmoshphere that is beautiful on the inside and out.      

*****

The Wedding Cake Shoppe is located at 859 College Street, just west of Ossington Ave.  They are open 6 days a week (closed on Tuesdays) and their weekday hours are from 11am-7pm, weekend hours from 11am-5pm.  You can check out their official website here, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

A Cuppa Tea, A Cuppa Love – An Afternoon Tea For Valentine’s at the Windsor Arms Hotel, Part I

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The love and romance surrounding Valentine’s isn’t over just yet here on Ate by Ate!  Besides cupcakes and cake pops and heart-shaped tins of M&Ms, there was also tea – and lots of it!  Surrounded by darling tea cups and teapots, plush seats, and the softest scones imaginable, I sat back and soaked in a sweet and romantic afternoon tea in the bright and lush royal purple tea room at the Windsor Arms Hotel in celebration of Valentine’s. 

As the years go by, I often reflect on all the special memories I’ve made during holidays and special occasions and undoubtedly, memories of Valentine’s past fit into this ever-growing mental scrapbook of mine.  Valentine’s past have been chock full of movies (which have become some of my favourite movies of all time), dessert dates, delicious dinners, cupcakes, sushi, visits to my favourite garden, Allan Gardens, and most recently, even a heart-shaped pizza!  I love doing different things for special occasions and having new things to look forward to on those particular days, so I thought, “why not do an afternoon tea for Valentine’s?  It would be perfect!”  Sweet petit fours, my boyfriend’s favourite scones, my love of tea, and delicious food in a fairytale-like atmosphere.  It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

Given how much we had enjoyed our very first afternoon tea at Windsor Arms over a year ago, my heart was set on afternoon tea with my boyfriend as a little Valentine’s treat and I had a day plan in mind all ready to go.  I love making plans and planning “fun days”.  The joy I get from concocting these elaborate schemes stems from three things.  One, I’ve been conditioned to get the most out of my public transit spending.  If I’m going to be purchasing and using tickets and tokens to be out and about anyway, I’m going to make the most out of my day and that means cramming in as many activities and errands as possible.  Two, after being at the mercy of a topsy-turvy university schedule that didn’t leave me with a lot of time to myself for six and a half years, I relish the time I have to enjoy an entire day full of my favourite things and activities and in this case.  And last, because my boyfriend surprised me with a romantic day all planned out on our very first date, I’ve loved doing multiple things in a day, especially with him.  To have a specific day to look forward to like this, centred around tea and nibbles and making Valentine’s memories, is simply wonderful to me.   

The afternoon tea ended up being more wonderful than I had expected!  I loved my first experience, but this time was even better.  Not only did I fall crazy in love with my tea and food, but I also took a mini tour of the majestic hotel (paying a visit to the ladies’ room on the 2nd floor will make you awestruck on the way there and on the way back like that) and I also found out some new information about the dining at Windsor Arms previously unbeknowst to me (hint: vegan menus abound!) that make me so much more excited about visiting the hotel again!  With a new menu, different teas and nibbles, and a tea room full of happy tea sippers, the place was abuzz with love and friendship.  Here’s a sneak peek at my Valentine’s afternoon tea.     

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The Windsor Arms Hotel is located at 18 Saint Thomas Street, just south of Bloor St. W, between Bay St. and Avenue Rd.  From Monday to Wednesday tea is served in 4 sittings: 12:30, 1:00, 3:00, 3:30, and from Thursday to Sunday 5:30 and 6:00 as well.  Teas are available at a range of prices, from $18/person to $45/person, with different menus for each price point.  Visit the Windsor Arms Hotel website for prices and menus.

Deb’s New Morning Haunt – Coffee, Tea, and Beautiful Country Kitchen Gifts and Goodies at La Merceria

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Thanks to Lisa from Le Dolci, I am now aware of this beautiful gem of a coffee, tea, and giftwares shop!  I felt so silly the first time Lisa took me here because it’s located on a street I’ve been on a number of times and in a downtown neighbourhood I’m not entirely unfamiliar with.  Located near the intersection of Adelaide Street West and Portland Street (just east of Bathurst), La Merceria sits snuggly beside Sadie’s Diner and is wedged neatly between the Fashion Districts of King and Queen.  With a few mannequins standing in the storefront window draped with pretty scarves, I completely mistook the shop for being a hip clothing boutique and always strolled past, conveniently averting my eyes so as to not tempt myself with more pretty things.  I love accessories and clothes, yes, but we’re in the downtown core here; I want to come home with something in my wallet.  I often avoid independent boutiques like the plague not because I don’t want to own all the gorgeous garments they have to offer, but because window shopping in such shops just makes me heart whimper a little.

So when Lisa took me here, I was shocked out of my pants to find out that La Merceria was in fact not a clothing boutique but was instead a fusion of 1) a gift shop, 2) a kitchen housewares store, and 3) a coffee and tea cafe with drinks and food.  I could have died right there on the spot.  It walked in and it was like a halo of light floated around me.  This cafe and shop is beautiful.  So country chic, so bright and clean, and so wonderfully cozy.  Think wood floors, wood chairs, wood tea tables, cushiony seats and pillows, brilliant sunlight streaming through the front windows and door, and shelves and tables lined and stocked with some of the most adorable kitchen housewares, accesssories, stationery, and gifts imaginable. 

It’s perfect for the cafe lover, droolworthy for those in love with interior decorating, and just dangerous for the kitchen accessory fanatic.  Oh, this was bad.  This might have been even worse than a clothing boutique.  And all because I couldn’t stop ogling the lavender and powder blue tea cups, dishes, and tea towels.  Oh, and the tote bags in the back of the shop.  And the cute stationery.  And the rest of the shop.

As Lisa informed me, the owners of La Merceria hail from Argentina and many of the drinks, artwork, and interior design and decorating in the shop show off this cultural heritage.  I can’t wait to show you guys more of the food and coffee drinks they have here in future posts; I may not be a coffee drinker but I’m sure I can make an exception every once in awhile 😉  They have both hot and chilled coffee drinks (lattes, americanos, espressos, mochas, and more) and they also have lemonades and In terms of food, think more along the lines of light breakfast and lunch, snacks, and tea time with crunchy cream cheese toasted bagels, quiche pies, salads, sandwiches, small baguettes and biscuits, cookies and sweets, and vegan, dairy and nut-free desserts from Sweets From the Earth.  I am so excited to actually have some food here.  The quiches, biscuit cookies, and cute biscuit sandwiches were calling my name!

For the time being though, my favourite thing to do here (aside from staring at all the pretty things I want to buy) is to sit down at one of the lovely wooden tables by the front with the squishy cushions behind me with a hot cup of tea.  They serve a selection of yummy Tealish teas and thus far I’ve had their Sweetie Pie Rooibos and Tahitian Moon Vanilla Rooibos and between the two I’m definitely in love with the Sweetie Pie!  What I absolutely adore about La Merceria and their “tea”ness is how they serve it!  The tea is served in giant glass or ceramic mugs on a dish with a little spoon (to stir with or to add honey or sugar) and the cutest little shortbread cookie biscuit!  This biscuit with my tea just makes my morning.  I may not have been to every cafe in town, but I can assure you that no other place I’ve been to serves their tea like this.  It makes me so giddy and I love starting my morning this way.  It’s the kind of place you envision yourself having a sunny bite in or a great coffee or tea date.  It’s so peaceful, relaxing, and beautiful being here and I love it.  This, my lovelies, is my new morning haunt.

 

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La Merceria is located at 506 Adelaide Street West by the northwest corner of Adelaide and Portland Street, east of Bathurst.  La Merceria is located beside Sadie’s Diner and Juice Bar.  Visit their website and blog here for updates, info, promos, events, pictures, and contact information and visit their Facebook page here.   

A Scrumptious Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Bagel – An Introduction to Brunch at Niche on Queen Street West!

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Given how this weekend marks the 9th annual Queen West Art Crawl in the city, I thought it’d be a great time to introduce another fab café on the West Queen West strip: Niche Coffee & Tea Company!  Art has been such a huge part of my life since my kindergarten days of holding crayons and smearing paint on kraft paper (like you couldn’t tell from all the scrapbooking, right?), so I was really excited to finally go to the Queen West Art Crawl last year to enjoy the outdoor art show at Trinity Bellwoods Park, sidewalk art, and all the art installations along Queen West.  It was during this trek last year that I found Niche with its signature baby blue and brown storefront signage stamp, just east of Palmerston Ave. and west of Bathurst St.  It took my tastebuds forever and a half to make their way back, but they finally did!  And I am SO happy that they did because holy hell do they ever have a brunch menu to die for!

Their brunch is served all-day and I can say with eager certainty that their brunch menu is one that I would be happy to eat my way through.  For starters, their menu is really well-rounded because it incorporates a least one item from almost all of the popular brunch favourites that we love so much: egg breakfasts, omelettes, French toast, eggs benedict, and breakfast sandwiches.  You might be looking at the list and thinking, “well, it sounds kind of run of the mill, stuff I can get anywhere”.  Not to ruffle your feathers, but if you’re thinking that, you are wrong.  No, no, lovelies, it is SO much more than that.

What makes their brunch really unique is all the sides you get with all the brunch mains.  Just reading through the descriptions will make you salivate and make your heart beat a little faster because there’s just so much yummy food that’s included with everything!  You have sides such as pan-roasted lemon herb potatoes, greens with maple dijon dressing, homemade foccacia, pumpernickel toast, challa bread, chicken chirizo sausage, and sweet potato rounds.  Now I don’t know about you, but this was the first time I had ever come across a menu with such a varied assortment of brunch sides!  Not only do all the mains come with an assortment of these sides, but they’re also available (at individual extra charges) on their own, which makes for wonderful mix-and-match fun!

And the mains!  Sweet mother of pearl.  You have your savoury: poached eggs BLT, build-your-own cheese and veggie omelette (choose between 3 types of cheese and 5 different veggies), and the Niche’s signature eggs benedict served on homemade cornbread, just to name a few.  On top of that, you have your sweet: deep dish French toast using thick challa with bananas and burnt sugar sauce, and homemade grilled banana bread with cinnamon sugar and nutella.  Yes, that’s right, I said nutella.  Jot that down on a sticky note now – because I have!  Finally, what makes the menu even more awesome?  Vegetarian and vegan options!  I mean, sure, the French toast and cheese and veggie omelettes are vegetarian in the sense that they don’t serve meat, but vegans, are you ready for this?  Niche has a grilled tofu on vegan chili brunch!  OH.MY.GOD.  When I saw it on the menu, all I could think of was, “my friends will flip over this…and I am so ordering this next time!”  Individual sides average around $2-$4, and mains with all the fixins will run you around $7.50-$11.

What I did enjoy on this particular morning was a delicious open-faced, toasted sesame seed bagel with cream cheese, red onions, capers, smoked salmon, and fresh sprigs of dill with a side salad of crisp romaine with vinaigrette dressing.  Here’s a secret: before this, I hadn’t had a bagel in years.  That’s right, years.  Why?  Well, I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I cut bagels out of my diet because I was put-off from the jumbo-sized ones I kept seeing that looked as though they had been pumped with steroids.  I thought, “geez Louise, I could throw one of these into the wall and make a dent because they’re so darn dense!”.  It didn’t sit well with me so I stopped eating them altogether, even my beloved Tim Hortons bagels that are actually a good size.

I reeeeally love a good bagel with cream cheese though (forget butter, pft) and smoked salmon just seals the deal for me.  So I threw caution to the wind that morning and got myself a delicious smoked salmon bagel brunch.  My sesame bagel wasn’t ridiculously thick, puffy, or overly starchy at all and I absolutely loved the inclusion of dill on it.  Call me a glutton, but I also loved how the cream cheese was wedged into the grill mark dents because it made for some scrumptious mouthfuls of cream cheese with the capers, onions, and dill.  The smoked salmon was so good and in such a generous portion.  There weren’t just a few measly, thin slices.  Oh no, there were slices upon slices on EACH bagel half.  I only wish though that there was a selection of bagels to choose from.  I love sesame, but it would have been really nice to have had the option for, say, poppyseed or something.  My smoked salmon, cheese bagel was delicious though and it totally renewed my faith in bagels 😀 

Niche is a beautiful, breezy brunch and café spot with an outdoor patio in the back and an open storefront during nice weather.  There are gorgeous paintings and artwork on the walls, and there’s plenty of grab-and-go snacks at the counter including marshmallows squares with chocolate and dried fruit, scones, muffins, and other pastries.  Since Niche is a coffee and tea café, they also have a whole blackboard menu up top dedicated to coffee (brewed coffees, espressos, white mochas, lattes, cappuccinos, etc.), chilled coffee drinks, tea and chai, Italian soda, homemade lemonade, and a host of others.  You can bet I’ll report back with some drink goodies for all the next time I’m there!  It’s a lovely spot that I’m so looking forward to going back to and given the menu tidbits that I gave you guys, I wouldn’t be surprised if you made your way there before my next visit.

*****

Niche Coffee & Tea Company is located at 626 Queen Street West just east of Palmerston Ave. and west of Bathurst St.  They serve brunch during all hours of operations and are open 7 days a week at 8am on weekdays and 9am on weekends, with closing hours at 5pm on all days.

Beauty and the Bubble Tea – Red Bean Mocha and Green Tea Noodles at Ten Ren’s Tea Time, Part II

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When you come to Ten Ren’s, you realize right off the bat that they take their tea seriously.  Their selection is mind-boggling with everything from fruity bubble teas with tapioca pearls, green, black, and oolong teas with fresh fruit, milk and ice, fruit ices, fruit slushes, coconut milk teas, horoscope drinks, and a plethora of hot teas including ginseng, chysanthemum, blooming flower blossoms and herbal combinations in charming tea pots. 

Think mango, peach, strawberry, mocha, coconut, taro, red bean, banana, grape, lychee, passionfruit, peppermint, kiwi, lemon, green apple, honey, grapefruit, almond, papaya, watermelon…and everything in between.  You wouldn’t expect anything less from a sit down tea house.  What you might not know is that they also do FOOD very well.  Each time I come to Ten Ren’s, I’m reminded all over again why I love it so much.  I am head over heels for their desserts (especially their cute little cakes) and their warm bowls of steamed rice and noodles are a warm, familiar comfort.

Ten Ren’s and I go way back and I love this place to pieces.  For one thing, it’s a gorgeous place to be in.  It’s open and spacious with high ceilings, bamboo and wooden accents, large windows, traditional Chinese scrolls and ink drawings on both the walls and glass, soothing neutral colours, and trinkling water fountains.  It’s so wonderfully relaxing having a meal here.  Ten Ren’s has this peaceful, soothing tranquility to it much like King’s Cafe in Kensington Market; it’s like being in a food spa and the atmosphere adds so much to the dining experience here because you don’t feel rushed, or confined, or caught up in the hustle and bustle.  You relax and you enjoy.  And if you order a teapot of blooming flower blossom tea, you sit back and quietly watch your blossom and tea do its thing as it gingerly opens up.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Ten Ren’s food is a fusion of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Japanese with many items infused with tea.  They have steamed rice and noodles with both meat (fish, chicken, beef, and pork) and vegetarian options.  Meat items are things like curry beef, spare ribs, breaded fish fillets, seafood dumplings, black pepper chicken, crispy chicken, pork and chicken cutlets, and bbq meat (siu lap).  Vegetarian items include lots of steamed Chinese vegetables (gai lan, for example), pickled vegetables, tofu, cabbage, winter melon, Chinese style boiled eggs (cha yeep daan and soy sauce eggs), and others.

It’s one of those perfect places for a bubble tea date, a drinks and dessert date, and a lunch or dinner date.  Basically, for any part of the day except breakfast!  This is one of their strengths though because when you come here, you’re not obligated or relegated to having an actual hearty meal.  You can come in here with a friend or group of friends and just have a drink, or just order a soup or dessert.  You don’t feel that pressure to order whatever you don’t want to order because their menu is flexible.  This also means that you decide on how much you want to spend.  Granted, you obviously decide how much you want to spend any time you dine out, but you get what I mean.  When you go to certain places you KNOW that you’ll be putting down $20, for example. 

At Ten Ren’s your meal could be anywhere from $4-$20.  Drinks can be be anywhere from $3-$8 (don’t forget, this price range includes pots of tea as well), desserts come in at $4-$6, and food will run you an average of $3-$15.  Lesser expensive items include soups, steamed rice, dumpling dishes, and small mains.  Mid-range food items ($6-$10) are dishes like bowls of soup noodles, larger rice dishes, and things like sharing plates.  At the highest end of the price range are the $13.99 and $14.99 meal sets (combos) that include a main, a drink, and a dessert from a list of choices.  In a nutshell, I’d say an actual “food” meal would come to around $10-$12 because you could honestly mix and match menu items till the sun comes up.

The last time I was here, my longtime friend Katrina from The Demure Muse and I had ourselves a summer bubble tea and lunch date.  I love this girl.  I have known her for nearly 7 years now and she’s one of the few people in my life that I can yak about everything with, from clothes to food to crafting to relationships.  Throughout those 7 years, we were all over the place with both work and school and I feel so lucky to have her as my friend because we never once lost touch and we always had each other’s backs and I can say with certainty that we always will.  We both ordered bubble teas and food and it was actually a first for the both of us but for different reasons.  It was Kat’s first time ordering “food” food at Ten Ren’s and it was my first time ordering noodles.  And I am happy to report back and say that I loved my noodles and enjoyed a bubble tea I wasn’t sure I would enjoy!

Remember how I said I’ve never been the biggest fan of red bean?  And remember how I said that I’ve recently changed my tune and have been purposely eating red bean things so that I would increasingly warm up to it more and more?  Well, that’s what I did this time too!  It took me forever and a half to decide on a drink, but I finally settled on a red bean mocha drink with green tea matcha powder sprinkled on top.  I really enjoyed it!  Granted, I wish there was more green tea matcha, but for the most part, it was a delicious drink and I adored my giant red straw and lime green skinny spoon!  You know how I feel about colourful utensils 😀  There was a very generous amount of red bean and the mocha had a yummy coffee-mixed-with-chocolate flavour that wasn’t bitter from the coffee part of it. 

And to eat, I had myself a hot (and I mean hot as I had to take my glasses off while I ate because they were fogging up!) bowl of green tea noodles with shrimp wonton dumplings.  The green tea noodles were pale green in colour and although the herbal flavour was very subtle, they were super smooth and soft and they were scrumptious.  My shrimp dumplings were juicy and savoury and I loved the shredded seaweed and adorably shaped carrot slices.  To finish off the bowl, bean sprouts (which I actually don’t care for but ate anyway) and some lettuce and napa cabbage.  It was my first time trying their noodles and I’m looking forward to trying some others, but probably sans the bean sprouts, ha.

Ten Ren’s has given such sweet memories over the years with all the tea and lunch dates I’ve had with close friends and in many ways, I feel like this is still just the beginning.  Even after all the visits, the menu is dizzying to me all the same, so I guess that just means I’ll have to remedy that by going again.  And again.  And eating cake and drinking awesome drinks.

*****

Ten Ren’s Tea Time is located at 111 Times Ave. in Richmond Hill, Markham.  Ten Ren’s sits at the corner of Hwy 7. East and Times Ave/Valleymede Drive (Times Ave is the southern portion of the street and Valleymede is to the north of Hwy. 7).  They are open for lunch at 11am 7 days a week and they stay open into the wee hours of the morning (1am-3am).  For more info, click here.