Macaron Madness, Round 3 – Kitchening & Co. and Urban Tea Merchant

Onto round 3 of macaron madness!

So far, we’ve only been looking at macarons from top chocolatiers in Vancouver, but these pastries are not just sold in small artisanal establishments. Indeed, we’ll be looking at larger bakery chains that have also set up shop, as well as other places you wouldn’t expect to find the colorful mouthfuls.

So then, let’s go on to a grocery store, and a tea merchant!

Mmm... macarons...

Mmm… macarons…

The bakery aisle at Whole Foods is always replete with delicious, beautiful desserts, but I was fairly surprised to see macarons on display. Then again, Whole Foods is the supermarket where fancy items abound, and one can spend their paycheque on, among other things, cold-pressed olive oil (the author remains silent on what he may have bought there before).

Whole Foods sources out their macarons from Kitchening & Co., a bakery out of Langley. Run by Carly and Daniel Wintschel, Kitchening & Co. takes an all-natural approach to making macarons, believing that only natural ingredients can be used to produce the best food. As such, no artificial flavors or colors (the tints are all provided by plant extracts) are used. The organization is also devoted to the community, having donated $10,000 worth of macarons to charities around the Lower Mainland to celebrate last year’s International Macaron Day.

Kitchening and Co

Given that it is winter, many of Kitchening & Co.’s seasonal macarons aren’t available, but there was a small selection of five flavors available. At $1.99 per macaron, Kitchening & Co’s product is about par with the average in Vancouver (there being no discounts for purchase en masse), though the size is noticeably smaller than those of Thierry or Thomas Haas, the other establishments that have been reviewed. The coloring of the macarons also was paler than many others we had previously seen, but it gave them more of a classic feeling, in contrast with the Technicolor hue of some others.

Kitchening & Co. Macarons - (clockwise from top) salted caramel, raspberry, cassis, hazelnut, cherry rose

Kitchening & Co. Macarons – (clockwise from top) salted caramel, raspberry, cassis, hazelnut, cherry rose

We began with the cherry rose macaron. While it had a distinctive aroma of roses, the macaron was too strongly flavored with a rose accent, making it quite difficult to appreciate the cherry notes. We also found this macaron, and its raspberry counterpart, a touch sweet. Because of the sugar, it was difficult to appreciate the fruit in all its dimensions.

The pucker was more present with the blackberry macaron, though we also found that the blackberry flavor was too mild for our tastes. Indeed, it felt like blackberry was more of an afterthought instead of a prominent player in the macaron. The salted caramel macaron had a bit of a nutty taste, which was appreciated, though there wasn’t enough of an accent from either the salt or the caramel to cut through the standard sugar cookie flavor of the meringue – it was a touch bland, as a result.

It may be more of a difference in approach between taster and bakery, but in all of the macarons it seemed that there was a distinct attempt to keep the flavoring as mild as possible, to not offend the senses and to keep the pastry front and centre. While the macaron was baked well (the meringues were very fluffy and light, the cream the right consistency to add a complement without overwhelming the pastry), I feel that the flavors could have stood out more boldly.

Urban Tea Merchant

Urban Tea Merchant

From Kitchening & Co., we now step into the bold world of teas. The Urban Tea Merchant is an institution on Georgia street, offering not just tea retail but also a beautiful salon where lunch and formal tea services are offered. A parlor of this type is rare in Vancouver, a city that favors shops that take the Starbucks-ish approach like David’s Tea, or dry tea merchants such as Murchie’s. Stepping through the front door, one is hit with the sophisticated décor of the shop, the classic mahogany and teak finish lending a classical elegance. From there, snacking on tea-related treats can occur, or one can buy some leaves from the 10-foot tall wall stacked with urns holding various teas. All teas are sourced from The Wellness Group (TWG) Tea Company, a Singapore-based luxury tea merchant.

Urban Tea Merchant

I was surprised at first entering this shop, because I was looking to buy tea for a Chinese New Year’s dinner but instead noticed the array of macarons. Apparently, TWG also produces macarons, the flavors of which come from various teas offered. Intrigued, I made a note to visit and purchase some another time.

I’m glad I waited some time, because I probably needed to save up some money to buy these Parisian treats! At $4 a macaron, these are by far the most expensive macarons I have seen to date in Vancouver and even in places like Sydney and Hong Kong. Also made in Singapore, these macarons are frozen and then transported to the various TWG merchants for sale. It’s not much of a surprise that Urban Tea Merchant would carry the most expensive macarons, though; they also take pride in selling a tea they call Gold Yin Zhen, a white tea which has an appealing aroma of milk and honey. Unfortunately, I balked at the price; how could I justify paying $450 for 50 grams of tea? At that price, I’d rather fly to China and snip my own leaves at the plantation.

Anyway, back to the macarons: how were they? Were Vancouver’s best macarons produced not in Vancouver, but in Singapore?

TWG Macarons - (clockwise from top left) passionfruit, rose, Earl Grey, cassis, pineapple coconut, matcha

TWG Macarons – (clockwise from top left) passionfruit, rose, Earl Grey, cassis, pineapple coconut, matcha

In a word, no. Even on first appearance, the macarons were very disappointing in more than one way. Firstly, the size, them being among the smallest, makes them highly uneconomical. Also, the coloring, while bright, was actually quite eerie – none of the tints had any kind of natural feeling to them, the neon light blue pineapple and coconut macaroon taking the cake for not even matching the color of the ingredients.

The taste of all of the macarons was also not up to snuff. Frozen meringues can remain crisp and crunchy if one does it correctly, but I don’t really know how one could freeze them such that puffiness and lightness still shone through. It goes without saying that TWG Tea macarons failed to manage that.

Anyway, onto the flavors. Among the better flavors were passionfruit, which was bright and vivid, and matcha, which had a grassy, nutty aroma and aftertaste. The rose aroma was faint, but added something pleasant to the taste.

This brings us to the pineapple and coconut macaron. It was a very peculiar macaron, as it had no zest, nor rich flavor that would underlie the addition of either ingredient.  Instead, it left a weird leafy, almost moldy taste in the mouth. Additionally, the texture was very poor, being mealy instead of crisp or fluffy. It was almost as if the macaron had freezer burn or had been improperly defrosted. Overall, it was so bad that a friend I was tasting with could not swallow the half passed on her to try.

To recap, macarons that didn’t come from single producers but rather distributors (Kitchening & Co.’s products, aside from appearing at farmer’s markets, appear not just in Whole Foods but Urban Fare and Edible Canada) don’t seem to hit the palate quite so well. Perhaps macarons are more like croissants, and taste best when absolutely fresh. However, in the case of Kitcheinng & Co, it may be more of a difference in tastes, as I feel that they have a lot of good qualities.

As it is, we’ll keep looking for great macarons and report back to you with what we find!

Kitchening and Co. can be found at http://kitchening.ca/.

The Urban Tea Merchant can be found at 1070 West Georgia Street, and online at http://www.urbantea.com/.

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