illustration by Jeff Kulak
Afternoon tea has a long history that dates back to the 1800s. One of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, Anna Marie Stanhope, known as the Duchess of Bedford, is credited as the one to have started afternoon high tea. The Duchess felt her noon meal had become smaller and was too hungry to wait for dinner. So, in the late afternoon, she had her servants sneak her breads and tea. The Duchess of Bedford started inviting friends to join her for a spread of small cakes, sandwiches, sweets and tea. This tea-time social became so popular, that many women quickly adopted taking part in afternoon high tea. It’s a tradition that continues to be very popular today.
Fit For A Queen
The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald has been serving afternoon tea for more than 20 years. At the beginning, it was lucky if it had a few group bookings, but the Harvest Room restaurant is now full every weekend.
“It’s becoming more and more popular in Edmonton. Guests have to book at least two weeks in advance to reserve a table on the weekend,” says Carlos Hernandez, food and beverage outlets manager at the Hotel Macdonald.
You can also pop in for tea during the week Monday through Wednesday (although they’re not as elaborate as the weekend tea). On the weekend, you can experience the Royal Tea and Tour. This involves a welcome beverage, afternoon tea with all the fixings and a tour of the suite (when the room is available)where Queen Elizabeth II stayed during her visit to Edmonton in 2005. Many high tea guests will dress up in their weekend best, with fascinators and all.
Caf Linnea is serving a more untraditional take on high tea, offering exclusive tea blends from all over the world.
“We wanted to offer an elevated high tea experience with creative food combinations by our chef, Kelsey Johnson. There is a lot of attention that goes into creating high-tea service each weekend,” explains co-owner Garner Beggs.
The high tea menus change every week. There will of course be sweets like pastries and scones, but be prepared to expect the unexpected when it comes to savoury bites. Johnson has served up everything from oysters and spot prawns to truffles and caviar.
Beggs says he’s a big tea lover. He personally curates his tea list like you would a wine list. “You wouldn’t believe the cost of certain specialty teas,” says Beggs.
Steeped In Tradition
On Whyte Avenue, you can enjoy a relaxed afternoon tea at Cally’s Teas.
“I grew up drinking tea. It’s always been part of my life. When serving high tea, I love using colourful china and place settings. We make everything from scratch including bread and crackers,” says Cally Slater-Dowson.
Cally’s Teas serves a more traditional afternoon tea, including small delicate treats like shortbread cookies flavoured with rose petals and, of course, scones – plus the classic cucumber sandwiches. For high tea, a hearty slice of quiche is added.
Slater-Dowson says she’s seeing younger generations stopping in to enjoy high tea and she couldn’t be happier. “Tea has had a revival. I think it’s partly thanks to the popularity of Downton Abbey,” she adds.
A Casual Affair
The Tea Girl is set up as a quick service cafe and tea shop. And although it doesn’t offer high tea, it does serve tea in chinaware that customers get to choose themselves. Menu options range from a light lunch to an array of pastries and desserts to go with your tea.
This article appears in the June 2017 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.