Afternoon Tea has evolved since it’s British inception. In the 1830’s and 40’s women were not welcome in coffee houses, so their social forum revolved around tea accompanied by a light meal of finger foods to stem the hunger between lunch and dinner. Ladies and their children would dress in appropriate attire, and proper etiquette was de rigueur. Victorian novels are replete with references to splendid tea times of great social consequences—the soap operas of the time.
These days we meet with our buddies for a grande mocha or chai latte and, if the seats are all taken by students with laptops, we go outside and sit on a bench. There is a movement afoot, however, to return to culture, the rituals of tea, the appreciation of delicate things and leisurely afternoons. And so, four guys–two dads and their sons, set out for an afternoon tea.
We’ll have to remind ourselves not to attack the plate of confections at first glance, but to take our time, to put away the ipads and teach our children the value of sipping slowly and enjoying time and conversation. Wearing our Sunday best we enter The Omni King Edward Hotel to do just that.
My friend selects the calming but revitalizing Spring Tea. I choose the High Cheese, a play on words and palates. Our children are served the Jester’s Tea, prepared especially for children under 12 to introduce them to the proper ritual and manners of tea. Our table is bookended by two boxes of assorted teas from the two pillars of the tea industry, Sloane Fine Tea Merchants and Stratford Tea Leaves—both Ontario-based and internationally sourced.
For the Spring Tea, my friend selects Sloane Tea’s Heavenly Cream, a smooth blend of long-leaf Ceylon and Assam black teas with notes of Italian bergamot and creamy vanilla. The accompanying tiered serving platters include savouries like smoked salmon and shrimp remoulade, and spring chicken fricassee. Delicate pastries include Robin’s Egg coconut and lime macaron; strawberry and rhubarb shortstack; chocolate gianduja tulip; as well as fresh warm scones of chamomile, lemon and turmeric served with house-made strawberry jam, lemon curd and Devonshire cream. This is just what we expect and hope for in a classic afternoon tea experience—a refined balance of sweet and savoury to excite our palates.
I am a cheese lover, but I’ve never thought to combine cheese with tea. I choose the Stratford Tea Leaves’ King Edward Blend made exclusively for The King Edward Hotel, combining floral jasmine and Ceylon with the malty character of Yunnan and finished with rose petals. There is depth and complexity in this smooth elixir from its bouquet through to its lingering finish.
Wowed by the presentation, my five-year old son and I are happy to pair and share the array of delicacies before us. A bite-sized grilled Guernsey Niagara cheddar with apple thyme chutney is accompanied by blistered grapes and candied walnuts. Manchego wedges with smoked bison are drizzled with honey from the rooftop apiary. Oven roasted pears with mascarpone and apple tarte tatin topped with Delice de Bourgogne are delectable bites to savour and engage. Gruyère gougères with Parmesan craquelin, and potted cheese and wine jelly are shareably and spreadably scrumptious. There are suggested pairings with Taylor Fladgate 20 year old Tawny Port and Gerrard Bertrand Grenache/Syrah, but we are content with tea and excited by introducing our kids to a new world of cheese.
The best part of this experience is introducing, in an accessible way, the sophistication, proper etiquette, and variety of creative flavour profiles that our kids have never known. The Jester’s Tea brings out the kid in all of us. What could be more Canadian than a maple infusion? With napkins on laps our kids wait with anticipation as their waiter pours hot chocolate from a white porcelain pot. Time to grab a handful of marshmallows. Add an ounce of maple syrup and their rambunctiousness has been silenced. Success! Now we can enjoy the moment. Their sighs of satisfaction are then met with individual platters of maple infused confections. The texture of the maple pudding parfait is dreamy. The maple-dunked donut is warm and sinfully pleasurable. A skewer of chicken set on mini waffles with a sprinkle of blueberries is a prime candidate for a dipping in the ramekin of maple syrup; as is the warm, crunchy scone. Our kids are so busy experimenting with flavours, and enjoying every taste, every moment of it. The waiter returns to offer them a maple milk latte. While they have no idea what that is, with full mouths, they both nod “yes”.
The experience and memory of teatime is special. Our kids understand that this is unlike any other dining experience, that there are rules about how to eat properly at the table, and that while, at first, this seemed stilted for them, the first question asked upon leaving our relaxed teatime is, “Can we do this again?”
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.