Whether it’s hot or iced, green, black or herbal, tea has been a favourite beverage for many. With its
worldly origins, it has become a beloved beverage, allowing people to select a tea based on their mood or
The increasing popularity of tea has sparked the trend of afternoon tea, a service that uses the drink as the focal point in one’s dining experience. Paying tribute to tea’s historical tradition, afternoon tea provides guests with a regal experience that is reminiscent of the Victorian era.
Originating in the 1800s, afternoon tea was created by Anna Maria Stanhope, the Duchess of Bedford. The duchess would often complain of hunger pains in the late afternoon, and would sneak some bread with a pot of tea to satisfy her hunger until dinnertime. Inspired by the European tea service, she began to invite her friends for an afternoon meal of tea, small sandwiches and sweet desserts. As the event became more popular, she turned it into a more social event — a tradition that has carried on and inspired different afternoon tea services around the world.
Served with a combination platter of sweet and savoury foods, the tea is often enjoyed with small sandwiches and pastries, such as scones, muffins or croissants. The sweet foods are served with jam or Devonshire cream, a thick cream condiment that adds decadence to the foods and enhances their flavour. The cream is named after the Devonshire region in southwestern England, further paying tribute to the English origin of afternoon tea.
In Canada, the tea service is offered by various luxury hotels and restaurants, and often adheres to the royal tradition, adding elegance, class and a sense of formality to provide guests with a decadent dining experience. In Toronto, where royalty is honoured with hotels such as the Windsor Arms, Le Méridien King Edward and The Fairmont Royal York, to name a few, the regional charm of afternoon tea is irrefutable.
“It suits hotels because generally, especially upper-end hotels by pure connotation imply luxury and special occasion,” says George Friedmann, president and owner of the Windsor Arms in Toronto. “Afternoon tea is still not a daily event for the average citizen, like lunch is, or dinner is. Afternoon tea, with all of its setting and components with the sandwiches, scones and petit fours, it’s certainly not something that people do seven days a week. It is still a specialty.”
The Windsor Arms exudes royal tradition and aside from its namesake, the hotel has welcomed members of the Royal Family, who over the years have enjoyed afternoon tea in one of the hotel’s three tea rooms.
Its main tea room is set in a classic and traditional style with ivory chairs, surrounded by beige walls with gold decor. The adjacent room includes the modern plush purple and white that is a girl’s dream, with purple velvet couches and chairs, sheer lavender drapes that allow a peek of the sun’s light through the windows, and romantic decor such as a fireplace and glass chandelier, creating a cozy and intimate environment. The hotel’s newest room is the Russian Tea Room, with chocolate-brown velvet couches and chairs, surrounded by antique gold and red walls. Each table is set with white linen tablecloths and fine white china.
Although the hotel offers three different environments for its guests to enjoy the tea, one thing remains the same — the afternoon tea menu. With the exception of seasonal tweaks, the Windsor Arms’ renowned afternoon tea menu always features an extensive selection of custom blended teas. Their signature breakfast blend is with Ceylon, Nilgiris and Assam. They also have a selection of classic, herbal and dessert teas, which includes Tibetan Tiger, a black tea with vanilla, chocolate, caramel and butterscotch accents, which also happens to be Friedmann’s personal favourite. The food consists of delicious cranberry and lemon scones with Devon cream, savoury finger sandwiches — including smoked salmon and wasabi sour cream with salmon caviar, and cucumber with sundried tomato paste and dill cream cheese — as well as petit fours. To conclude the service, berries and whipped cream are served.
In addition to paying tribute to the tradition of afternoon tea, the hotel also offers royalty-themed hats. For a small charitable donation, guests can borrow hats that are reminiscent of those that the Queen has worn to such fancy occasions.
In a different play on tradition, Le Méridien King Edward hotel offers their signature afternoon tea in the hotel lobby. In a dining set that faces out to the lobby, guests are able to have a gander at the hustle and bustle of the hotel lifestyle.
With a variety of styles of afternoon tea available to its guests, each table is presented with the hotel’s tea humidor, a box with the selection of teas. Guests can open up the miniature bottles that contain the loose-leaf teas, and smell the fragrant aromas of teas, such as the King Edward Blend, the hotel’s signature tea with “floral jasmine and Ceylon blended with the malty character of Yunnan [and] finished with a sprinkling of rose petals.” In addition to classic teas, including green, peppermint and Earl Grey, guests can enjoy exotic teas such as Darjeeling Oolong, “an epicurean blend of Indian champagne Darjeeling, and a floral China Oolong, that yields a complex body and lingering orchid aroma.”
Outside of the city, Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa in Cambridge, Ont., has put its own spin on the tradition of afternoon tea by offering a refreshing alternative to the traditional setting. Their eclectic menu features afternoon tea staple items including their delectable vanilla, orange and cranberry scones with heavy cream, served alongside distinctive finger sandwiches such as their Niagara Gold cheddar sandwich with Branston pickle on curried milk bread or smoked trout tartare with spring onion quiche. For their sweet treats, peppermint macaroon and a red velvet cupcake with clementine icing are a couple of the petit fours served in their “Savouries and Sweets” three-tier course. Their tea selection offers a range of teas to cater to everyone’s tastebuds.
“Tea has evolved for us,” says Virgilio Vea, food and beverage director at Langdon Hall. It’s not necessarily that we have left the traditional end of it; we have sort of made it a worldly event. We have taken on your very traditional stuff [such as] scones and you go to your savoury and sweets. We have kept it in a way that it’s partially traditional, but we have added the twist to it so that every flavour we serve encompasses different areas of the world that are known for its tea.”
The tea is served at the end of the house in the Main Conservatory. Vea says the atmosphere in the Main Conservatory “adds to the event itself” and provides guests with a quaint and intimate space to enjoy the service. The space accommodates approximately five tables, depending on the size of each party, that are at coffee-table height and covered in white linen. The settings feature traditional floral-patterned china, while guests lounge in the country-style wicker chairs. In the spring and summertime, guests can walk the grounds to explore Langdon Hall’s garden and its picturesque scenery.
Regardless of the season, afternoon tea can bring the warmth and comfort needed to spice up any social occasion. •
Making tea a made-for-me experience
Planning afternoon tea in the comfort of your own home can be easier than you think. Depending on how formal the event is, it can be a great way to invite guests over for a cup of tea in a fun and social environment.
To help prepare afternoon tea with all of the trimmings, the Windsor Arms Hotel in Toronto offers their renowned tea service in a Tea-to-Go format. The service encompasses the hotel’s menu of foods that include finger sandwiches, scones with Devon cream, and petit fours.
“As special as a hotel is, your own home is more special,” says George Friedmann, president and owner of the Windsor Arms. “Inviting someone to your own home and offering them the finest of teas, or afternoon teas is win-win. You’re combining the best of both; you’re exposing yourself to a different level by allowing people to come into your own home.”
Photos courtesy The Windsor Arms