Did you know there was such a thing? A whole week dedicated to Afternoon Tea? Well, we celebrate everything else on earth, so why not afternoon tea? And you need a week, really, not just a day, so you can sample the offerings of all the tea houses in your area.
Afternoon tea can be stiff, unimaginative, and poorly executed. It’s often expensive as well, which leaves me feeling foolish for indulging in something fancy that I didn’t really enjoy. When it is done right, however, it is divine.
While in Melbourne, I had to try the Champagne Tea at The Hotel Windsor, the city’s longest running afternoon tea service. Very often, when visiting an iconic hotel, you come for the history and the ceremony, and hope the tea is good. Often it is not. But The Windsor was very, very good indeed. Better than good, by quite a bit.
We were greeted at the door by the most charming host, who delighted us with his explanations and accompanying witticisms. He poured our champagne promptly and with a generous hand. It was a warm welcome that put us at ease right away.
The champagne arrived first, Louis Roederer, to have with our sandwiches and savouries. While it was not inexpensive, the pricing was clear both for our meal and any additional glasses (which of course we had to have).
The savouries and sandwiches were very nice. Fresh, not soggy as happens in some famed Toronto establishments, with classic flavours done well. We had artichoke mini-quiches and a mushroom-truffle bit of decadence before our traditional trio of chicken Waldorf salad, egg salad and cucumber fingers. We were too hungry to snap a photo before we devoured the tray, so you’ll just have to trust me that they were lovely.
The tea came next with the sweets. Clearly, tea treated with reverence here, as cherished as coffee is to coffee lovers. Each selection was brewed perfectly. The signature black tea was a blend of the harvest of three Ceylon teas, with notes of honey and wet cedar. I had the Grey de Luxe, which uses Australian lemon myrtle in place of the traditional bergamot. A softer, less bitter finish, best had straight up.
Our many coloured sweet stack had a little bit of everything: apple and caramel, strawberry and rhubarb, yuzu and passionfruit, lemon poppyseed, and of course chocolate hazelnut. All quite as good to eat they were to behold, but the scones were the thing.
The scones were two distinct textures. The first was closer in texture to a traditional scone, but lighter and less flaky. The next scone was fluffier still, with slightly more distinct crumb, and heavenly flavours. Much like a hot cross bun, it was scented with a spice mixture and candied peel, but lemon rather than orange, just to remind you where you were. I found this extremely pleasing and will borrow this concept come Easter.
Oh and the clotted cream! Silky smooth, the barest hint of sour for complexity, and rich yet airy. We were encouraged to ask for seconds if we wanted them, and we did. And thirds.
As my companion said, it was all very traditional except for the palm trees outside the window, but that’s a very Canadian perspective. To Australians, this is the penultimate tea, the longest running tea service in Melbourne. Only the pandemic shut it down; it carried on through two world wars and the Depression since its opening in 1883. Christmas lunch was instituted in 1963 as the only variation from the daily schedule. Small wonder the whole event was flawless; they’ve had a bit of time to perfect it.
The Hotel Windsor was exactly what we were looking for in afternoon tea, and I’m grateful to have experienced such a delightful venue. So quintessentially Australian: proudly patriotic, dedicated to excellence and yet down-to-earth. A note to travellers: if you take afternoon tea on a Tuesday through Thursday, you are eligible for a discount on a room.
Wishing you happy sipping this Afternoon Tea Week!