A colleague and I went to Murchies’ for afternoon tea. Murchies’ is a Canadian institution, and like many Canadian institutions finds itself struggling to survive in the modern world. The store has an old-fashioned feel, from its vast selection of aesthetically neutral tea cozies to its displays of expensive tea pots over-decorated with the floral heros of the English garden: Roses and Pansies. The cheery young woman who served us explained that they are still serving some of the same blends created by Grandfather Murchie when he came from England to brew tea for the Prime Minister. Teas here are named for the event they were brewed for: Golden Jubilee, Queen Victoria.
I had been concerned that it would lack ambience, being a deli-case cafe in the back of a retail setting. I was partially correct: the teashop has no visual divider or privacy screen from the store, and the furniture was substandard. Our table surface was made from vinyl tile that fused to the bottom of my teapot when I attempted to lift my pot. I suppose I shouldn’t have placed it directly on the table, but our silver tray was overcrowded. No, they did not provide a tea cozy. I was also disappointed that the milk and cream are on a separate table, in unlabelled large insulated containers that give you no control over how much pours out. The sugar is also dispensed from this station and there was something jolting about using a wood stir stick in my china cup as no spoons were provided. The tea shop had no labels on the foods, nor were prices listed anywhere. They are however blessed with friendly, pleasant staff who seem to truly love their jobs.
We had “tea for two” which is three or four little pastries and two pots of tea for $10. In comparison with the Wedgewood and the Secret Garden I’d rate the quality of the pastries at about a 6.5 to 7 out of ten. The cakes were cold and lacked flavour. The Marie Antoinette cake’s slight berry layer was completely overpowered by the sugar in the cream and icing. The Chocolate-Hazelnut cake again had little balance. Too much sugar, too strong hazelnut. The lemon curd tart sacrificed subtlety and balance for an overwhelmingly strong lemon flavour in a disturbingly bright yellow curd. Our tea was classic and inoffensive (I had the Assam Tippy Golden and my friend had the Golden Jubilee) served in somewhat minimalist decorative teapots and cups.
I really think, though, there is some kind of synergistic thing that happens between the tea, the aesthetic details, and the sweets, that leads to a deep sense of comfort, relaxation and -dare i say – happiness. It was rather like a massage for the mind and well suited a business lunch-turned-teatime. Murchie’s isn’t the kind of place you’d want to spend two hours in, but a single hour of talk and tea is just fine.