Rarely do rituals linger into the modern ages without turning into novelties. One of the most typical English customs that is still very much part of a common pleasure today is afternoon tea, or to some, high tea.
In the year 1840, Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford began the ritual of taking a meal in the late afternoon, of a tray of tea, and bread and butter, an invention of the Earl of Sandwich. It then became a habit for the Duchess to invite friends to join her. By the 1880s, ladies and gentlemen treated afternoon tea like a fashionable social event, dressing up to partake of this meal before they commenced to the theatre or to play cards.
Today, afternoon tea is consumed in different parts of the world, as simple as a coffee or tea break with a biscuit. But luxury hotels have made the leisurely teatime experience more available to the common person. Here are five fabulous international afternoon tea destinations fit for royalty.
London: Cliveden Hotel, Berkshire
For an elite English experience, there’s none that can rival that of Cliveden Hotel’s. Sitting alongside the residences of famous British on the River Thames, the hotel reflects the legendary English countryside (think flawlessly manicured hedges, lush carpets of grass and picturesque woodland) and the most indulgent afternoon tea menu complete with the steepest price tag of USD857.70 per couple. The menu tantalises first with English cream tea, followed by Cognac preserve and the elusive Hong Pao Tea. There’s also the exorbitant Beluga Caviar, extravagant Cliveden House Chocolate Opera Cake made from prized Amedi Porcelana chocolate, and finally, kopi Luwak.
Hong Kong: Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong
What better way to feast the senses than with fine food and the most expensive diamonds in the world? At the Ritz-Carlton, enjoy this decadent pairing, with a personal butler service to boot, in their tribute to all things colonial. This USD1,403 High Tea boasts a ‘treasure trunk’ of both edible and dazzling kind, such as the pairing of the most talked about Delaire Sunrise and Graff Pink diamond with the Hazelnut Nougat Ice Gold dessert. Wash it down with Dom Perignon or vintage champagne. Nibbles and bubbly are served on Vera Wang china, and pricey silverware and crystal glass. Guests are invited to try on fine pieces of Graff diamonds as they wine and dine.
Dubai: Burj al Arab
An afternoon tea that will put you on top of the world, literally. Feast on a sumptuous spread in the world’s only 7-Star hotel overlooking the Gulf, the Palm and the World Islands on the Burj al Arab's Skyview on the top floor. The tea menu features traditional finger sandwiches, a carvery, dainty cakes, sorbet and scones with clotted cream and jams. You’ll be spoilt for choice with endless options of tea while you take in the stunning vistas, from your perch on the vivid blue and green sofas. Prices begin from USD150.
United States: The Plaza, New York
Fancy taking tea in a location that’s steeped in historical connections, and has made cameos in famous Hollywood films? The Palm Court at the Plaza welcomes you bask in the moment with afternoon tea sets served in a room of mirror doors, tall columns and a charming yellow-green dome. Headed by a new Culinary Director, the menu consists of cucumber on white bread, prosciutto and tomato confit on olive bread, tender lamb on grilled pita, and pureed eggplant, goat cheese and basil tarts. Pick from four types of tea menu sets: the Fitzgerald, The New Yorker, The Chocolate and The Eloise. Priced from USD55 per person.
South Africa: Mount Nelson, Cape Town
Set in the exotic, lush greenery, with the Table Mountain in view; take a bite of what is regarded as among the best high teas in the world by food critics, tourists and locals. Mount Nelson has weathered through three wars and an African renaissance for over a hundred years and is now Cape Town’s oldest and most symbolic luxury hotel. Besides an extensive list of 30 loose-leaf teas to pick from, the menu serves decadent selections of smoked salmon choux pastries, freshly baked, rich scones, South African milk tarts and raspberry vanilla cream cake. Take it all in as you are serenaded with tunes from the grand piano. USD21.50 per person.