I was surprised when my friend Gen said that she loved going out for high tea. My surprise reveals a bias that I’ve internalized from past High Tea experiences: that it is reserved for stuffy old people, or people who wear fascinators on a regular basis. Gen is neither of these. I don’t think I’ve seen her wear anything other than jeans or athletic gear. Maybe you’re now the one who is surprised?
For our first High Tea outing, I proposed we hit up Red Tea Box. I had last been years ago, thought it was awesome but out of the way… and now it’s in my neighhourhood. Much like how I could barely believe the sporty Gen would be into the ritual of afternoon tea, my 2006 self would barely be able to imagine living on Queen West. Both welcome surprises.
It was a pleasure to experience afternoon tea with someone who was so knowledgeable about the city’s offerings. Gen was impressed by the vast tea selection at Red Tea Box. I went for the classical lavendar earl gray – which was deemed popular but unadventurous by our server (she was correct). Gen’s more complex darjeeling tea order was greeted with a knowing nod.
The food selection was limited to three offerings, all 27$ (including the tea) but far away from the tired classics of scones and petits fours. Instead, Red Tea Box’s menu is styled as a Bento box : sandwiches, desserts and fruit, all so beautifully arranged that I felt almost guilty for eating it.
The design at Red Tea Box is just as carefully curated as the food. Asian inspired design dominates: chinoiserie furniture, food served in a Japanese bento box, the textiles… and yet it also reminds of the comforting clutter of a beloved grandma’s house. And just like at grandma’s house, you leave feeling full and happy.
My only critique is with how the tea is served. The pot is fun and it fit in with the decor, but at a place that claims to be as serious about tea as Red Tea Box does, it should know that those pots over steep the teas and leave the tea at the bottom cold and over – the ability to take out the tea leaves allows the tea drinker greater control over their tea flavour potency. But that snobby attitude has no business being at Red Tea Box, so I will better enjoy the tea next time by sharing a pot.