Sunday, 30 September 2012

Afternoon Tea or High Tea?

We like to go out for Afternoon Tea -  but some people, notably Australians and Americans,  call the meal High Tea.

What's the difference?  Is there one?

Well, it’s a bit of a contentious subject.

The dictionary gives us these definitions:
Afternoon tea is a small meal snack typically eaten between 3pm and 5pm comprising tea, sandwiches scones and cakes or pastries.
High Tea sometimes known as a “meat tea” - a meal eaten in the late afternoon or early evening, typically consisting of a cooked dish, bread and butter, and tea.

So why are some very grand establishments serving tea, sandwiches, cakes and scones as High Tea?
It seems to have arisen out of confusion – “High “ rather suggests something grander and posher perhaps. But actually it seems that the reverse is true.

One theory suggests that the term was first used in the sense of well-advanced (like high time) to signify that it was taken later in the day than afternoon tea, as an early evening meal  –   originally for middle class children who would not be sitting down to dinner with their parents later.
The other version refers to the height of the tables;  high tea being served at a dining table with afternoon tea served in a salon or day rooms from low tables.   I have also seen the suggestion that it refers to a working class tea taken standing up at the mantelpiece by the man of house after coming home from work (being too dirty to sit down presumably).

The first version sounds more plausible to me. Certainly , growing up in Scotland, “high tea” was a hearty early evening meal, a great treat. A cooked dish, served with bread and butter followed by tea and cakes,  There used to be a fish and chip shop in Biggar that did a particularly fine one.... ah, memories.

Finally, and just to muddy the waters further,  Mrs Beeton  described several different types of teas:  the old-fashioned tea, the at-home tea, the family tea and the high tea. 

Whatever the origin of High Tea, it is clearly a very different thing from  the genteel meal reportedly invented by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, to combat "that sinking feeling" during the afternoon.  

 Ultimately, it doesn't really matter what you call it – as long as the tea is of good quality, the food is tasty and the company good.


Monday, 24 September 2012

The Cake and Bake Show

As soon as I saw the adverts for this, I wanted to go.  Cake!  And Baking!  Unfortunately Caroline and Mo were busy that weekend, so I was a lone Afternoon Tealady at the evening session on the first day of the show. 
I'd looked at the list of exhibitors beforehand, and had a couple of places I definitely wanted to visit.  I also had a big shopping list of baking-related items I wanted to get.  The first place I wanted to go though, was the Tea Room Garden.  According to the website:
Visitors will be able to sit back and relax in our Tea Room Garden, enjoying traditional scones and cream and of course cakes galore, while supporting the ongoing efforts of the wonderful team at Macmillan Cancer Support.
Charity, cake and most probably tea.  What a great place to start.  I made a beeline for it and have to confess, I was more than a little disappointed by what I found.  It was basically a cafe, with some astroturf and topiary.  The display counter had a few sandwiches and cakes in it, but nothing to justify its name of Tea Room Garden, so I went away cakeless, deciding it was much better contribute to Macmillan Cancer Support on their stand at the show rather than here.
No matter, I still had a whole show to see.  One of the first stands I came to was actually one that I'd been intending to seek out.  Simply Vintage Designs sell cake stands made from old, mismatched china.  You can select the plates and patterns you like from their stock which they've already drilled holes in, and they'll put them together for you into a 2 or 3 tier stand.  They also have tea cups and saucers, candles in tea cups, and other tea-related items.  I couldn't resist, and chose some plates for my own three tier cake stand.

The next stand I came to was again one that I'd intended to find.  Pistachio Rose are a company that specialise in combining Indian flavours with cake.  Among the delights on offer were Chocolate Naan, Pistachio and Rose cake and mini flavoured madeleines.  The one that I couldn't resist trying though, was the Chai Spiced cake. 

A lovely chai-flavoured cake with vanilla and chai frosting; I would happily eat this again.  The flavours blended really well together and were just the right strength.  I talked to Rekha, the owner and baker behind Pistachio Rose, about how long she's been baking, and how she used the chai flavour in this cake.  I'm not going to give away her techniques, I'm just going to say that she really got the flavouring right in this cake.  Pistachio Rose products are currently available in Fortnum and Mason, and they are now taking bookings for an Indian-inspired High Tea at the end of October.

There were other stands selling cupcakes, gourmet marshmallows, chocolate and baking equipment such as piping nozzles, icing bags, edible glitter, stencils, and even ready made cake mixes.  However, I was disappointed at both the range and amount of stands.  There were very few actual cake or bakery stands there, and the equipment stalls were very cupcake-centric.  There were hardly any cake tins available to buy, bread flour and baking was restricted to a couple of stands, and despite it being only a few months till Christmas, hardly any stands had ideas or equipment suitable for Christmas cakes.
Obviously, stands were by no means the only thing at the Cake and Bake show.  Something that really caught my eye was the Edible Beach competition.  Competitors had to design a beach-themed cake.  The entries were fantastic.  It was hard to tell the amateur categories from the professional ones.

There were some brilliant entries, so creative and skillful, I really enjoyed looking at them all.

Also, there were workshops on everything from making chocolates to delicate sugarcraft.  These you had to pay an additional amount for, so with only 4 hours at the show I decided I didn't want to spend my time on this, but I did drop in on some of the free talks, including Paul Hollywood demonstrating some bread plaits, and two of the contestants from the current series of the Great British Bake Off making a cake together.  The last one was absolutely hilarious, as they are both amateurs at presenting and everything that could go wrong did.  My favourite part was when one of them accidentally got hot caramel into the host's eye, which he surreptitiously kept trying to remove at the same time as interviewing them about what they were doing.

There was however, a huge wasteland towards the back of the show.  The 'Wedding Cake Showroom' had roughly 6 cakes in it.  The workshop areas and 'classrooms' fed on to an almost empty area of seating, the Tea Room Garden, and the chocolate stands.  I felt really sorry for the people here as they were shoved right at the back and hardly anyone was going to them.  It was a waste of such a large area, they really could have fitted a lot more in.

My biggest gripe about the show was the lack of information.  The website wasn't fully updated, the Sugarcraft section was still missing its list of talks on the day of the show, when we got there the show guide (£3) had clearly been done before they'd decided to do an evening session, so it had all talks and workshops finishing before 6pm and was completely useless to us.  Judging by the tweets from the second day of the show, queuing and lack of refreshments were also a big problem.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at the show, but I'm glad I only had an evening ticket.  I really don't think there was enough there to hold my interest for an 8 hour day.  To be fair, it's the first time this show has happened, so the organisers didn't have much to go on.  I will probably go again next year, but only if there is a better website, a greater list of exhibitors and more information about the attractions on offer.


P.S. Some tea stands wouldn't go amiss either. 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - The Montcalm Hotel, Mayfair

Review - The Montcalm Hotel, Mayfair - £36.50 per person*

Once again, the bargain-hunting Tealadies, having seen a Groupon offer for afternoon tea, leapt at the chance to try it out. This time our voucher was for a two-for-one afternoon tea with bubbly at the Montcalm, an impressive-looking Mayfair hotel.

We were shown into the Crescent Restaurant and Lounge for our tea.  There was  a harpist near the entrance to the lounge providing some pleasant background music .

Inside, we asked if we had dietary requirements and given the tea menu.  The Montcalm serve Jing Teas and had an impressive 23 on offer. Looking at the Jing tea website, they have an extremely extensive range of teas and the 23 that the Montcalm have chosen give a good range of different types, with white, black, green and fruit teas all represented. We also were served with a glass of prosecco included in the afternoon tea which was good quality.

Mo chose an Earl Grey, Charlotte the Flowering Osmanthus green tea, Caroline the Lychee Red and Dave, the honorary Tealady, chose the Ceylon.

The teas all came in small glass teapots, big enough for one large cup. This highlighted the attractive flowering tea in particular and allowed the rest of us to judge the strength of the tea based on colour. We were all quite pleased with our teas, apart from the Earl Grey which we don't seem to be having much luck with. Once again, we judged it to be not "bergamoty" enough. We were given refills of hot water very promptly and in total got three top-ups and were even offered a fresh brew so never came close to running out of tea. We scored the tea at 26 out of 30.

Owly Images

The food was served on a traditional three-tier cake stand with jam, clotted cream and interestingly, a shot of fruit smoothie on the side. The smoothie tasted very good but we weren't sure it added anything to the experience.

There were nine different types of sandwich and a bridge roll on offer - quite the biggest variety of sandwiches for an afternoon tea we've reviewed so far. There were bridge rolls with egg mayonnaise and capers, sandwiches with smoked salmon, crayfish, houmous and peppers, ham and mustard, cucumber and mint yogurt, trout paté, coronation chicken and roasted courgette and tomato. There  were almost too many and our only niggle, and it is just a niggle, was that aside of the bridge rolls there was only one of each, meaning we had to cut them all in half to make sure that we each got to try them all. We also liked the fact they came with differnt types of bread, including poppyseed.  We scored them 25 1/2 out of 30

The scones, again, followed the formula of one plain, one fruit per person. The jam was a little on the solid side which made spreading it a bit challenging, but the clotted cream was good and there was plenty of it.  The scones on the whole were fine, the plain ones were definitely the nicer of the two.  We scored them 20 out of 30.

There were five mini cakes each to round off the tea - a carrot cake, a fruit cake, a fruit tart , a  strawberry macaroon,and an opera cake.  We liked the selection available and though the carrot and fruit cakes were particular favourites, they were all good. We also liked the variety of cakes and felt there was something there for everyone.  We gave them 24 1/2 out of 30.

In conclusion, a delightful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The atmosphere was relaxing and the service excellent throughout.

*We paid £33 for two via Groupon which was amazing value for money. We all agreed that we would be happy to pay the full price of £36.50 for what we received. Having just looked at their website again, I notice that there is a two-for-one special offer available. We recommend you give it a go.

Pros                                                                                             Cons (just quibbles really)
Excellent service                                                            The harpist had a rather limited repertoire
Selection of teas, sandwiches and cakes                  The teapots were on the small side
Lovely ambience


8 out of 10

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Tea Review - In Nature Teas

The nice people at In Nature Teas sent us some tea samples for review.  We love our teas and were more than happy to oblige.

In Nature Teas sells high grade, organic teas from China.  They only sell loose leaf tea and they put the emphasis on their teas being free from any kind of additives or flavourings.  Their range includes varities of White, Oolong, Puerh, Green and Black tea.

The tea samples we received were their Pure Flower Jasmine and Red Rose Black Tea. 

The teas came in lovely boxes that we all liked.  They have a simple but attractive design that stands out next to other tea packaging.  Inside, the tea was packed in foil bags that were designed according to the tea inside.

The bags emphasised the Chinese theme, but we didn't really feel they fitted in with the pure, organic tea and the attractive boxes.  There were also leaflets in each box, with some information about the health benefits of tea and brewing instructions for each of the teas.  Strangely though, there was no information about the actual tea, either on the boxes or in the leaflets.  We had to go to the website to find out about each tea. 

Red Rose Flower Black Tea - £6.50 online

According to the website, this tea is a blend of a mild, sweet black tea from Zheijian and red roses from Jiansu.  The taste is 'mild and soothing...with a deep floral fragrance'.
The first thing you notice about this tea is the smell.  It has a heavy, woody scent with a slight sweetness that makes it smell malty.  Interestingly, once it's out of the packet, the rose scent is much more noticeable.  We were split on whether we liked the smell or not, as the sweet woodiness reminded Mo of drawer liners, whereas Charlotte really liked the maltiness.

Once it's in the cup, the tea is very pretty to look at, with its rose petals and buds.

We brewed it according to the directions on the leaflet, using water at 85C and leaving it for 3-4 minutes.  The tea was quite a light red/brown colour, and once again had the malty smell, rather than the rose one. 

This tea was surprisingly light and refreshing for a black tea.  It was clean on the palette and didn't leave a strong after taste.  It had a slight sweetness to it but you couldn't really taste the rose flavour.  For us, this wasn't actually an issue as none of us would choose to buy a rose tea, but it could be a problem if you were expecting a more floral taste.  Interestingly, adding milk to it made virtually no difference to the taste.

As black teas go, it was a nice, good quality tea but nothing startling.  Although In Nature Teas classifies their black tea as Autumn/Winter, this one would probably make a nice iced tea.  It would look beautiful in a jug with some rose petals added, and would make a refreshing summery drink.

Pure Flower Jasime Tea - £5.01 online

The website listing says that this tea has been picked from 'the finest leaves, buds and flowers picked early in the morning to ensure freshness of aroma and flavour'.
As soon as you open the packet, you get a lovely, strong Jasmine smell.  We also had a pleasant surprise, as we were expecting leaf tea but instead we got Jasmine pearls.

We were much more excited about the pearls.  It's a sign of a good quality Jasmine tea, plus it's fun watching them uncurl in the hot water. 

Again, we followed the brewing instructions and used water at 95C, waiting for 3 to 4 minutes until the tea had brewed.  There was a bit of mixed feeling about this. For Charlotte, the tea wasn't strong enough, so she put the pearls back in for another couple of minutes.

The tea was a nice golden colour when brewed, and as with the Rose tea, it gave a very clean, fresh taste.  It kept its Jasmine aroma and flavour well and didn't get bitter as it got stronger.  It was a nice quality Jasmine tea that all of us would be happy to drink again.  It was easily the favourite for all three of us, as it looked, smelled and tasted lovely.  It's also very reasonably priced for a Jasmine tea so I'm sure we'll be buying it in the future.  
Overall, the teas were very good quality and we'd all be interested in trying more of their range.   It was disappointing that there was no information about the teas on the boxes.  Without this, there isn't really anything apart from the nice packaging to single them out over other teas on a shop shelf.  We didn't even know the Jasmine tea was in pearls until we opened the packet.  We'd really like to see the information from the website printed on the boxes, as they have been so selective about their teas it's a real selling point for them. 
If you'd like to try any of the range, In Nature Teas are available from their website and in certain branches of Whole Foods, Fresh and Wild, Nutri Centres and Tesco.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Afternoon Tea Review - The Original Maids of Honour tea room, Kew

 Review - The Original Maids of Honour tea room, Kew - £14.95 per person

According to their website, the Original Maids of Honour tea room can trace its origins back to the early 18th century and the eponymous Maids of Honour pastries owe their name to the fact that apparently Henry VIII saw some of Anne Boleyn's maids of honour enjoying them and he tried them and confiscated the recipe. More on those pastries later.

It is a proper old-fashioned tea room with china knick-knacks, blue and white patterned plates and three-tier cake stands complete with doilies. Sugar comes in lumps (we approve), afternoon tea is served with cake forks and butter knives and extra hot water comes as standard with your tea order. There were metal teapots which we don't like so much, for both aesthetic and burnt finger reasons.

We ordered the "High tea" which included sandwiches, scones and a choice of cake. We three dispute that this is a high tea, as it's an afternoon tea in our opinion. Look out for a post on the difference between high tea and afternoon tea in the near future.

There was not a huge variety of teas on offer (a total of nine), with no green or white teas in the selection. All of them were Drury Company teas. According to Drury's website they have a large and varied range of teas that we'd be interested to explore, so it's a bit disappointing that the menu was rather limited. Considering the kind of tea room it is, not a hotel or a specialist tea supplier, we weren't expecting a huge range but we would have liked to see a green tea option.

Charlotte chose the Lapsang Souchong, Mo, the Assam and Caroline the Earl Grey. The Lapsang was nicely smoky without the heavy aftertaste that can sometimes accompany it. It was a clear favourite with all three of us. The Assam was good but the Earl Grey was disappointingly flavourless. We got a good quantity of tea with extra hot water and never needed to ask for more, although we're sure we could have. 21/30

There was a good selection of five different types of sandwiches, egg mayonnaise, ham, smoked salmon, cucumber and cheese. One small triangular sandwich of each per person. They were a bit of a mixed bag. The ham was excellent, the egg good, and the cheese fine but clearly pre-sliced cheddar. The cucumber had too much butter and was too thickly sliced and the smoked salmon tasted a bit poor quality. The score mainly reflects the selection and quantity rather than the quality. 21/30

We had one plain and one fruit scone each.  They were a decent size, homemade with individual pots of strawberry jam and clotted cream. Our opinions vary, we think due to scones being from different batches, but essentially they were fine. The plain scone was curiously covered in flour which ended up everywhere, including the table and Caroline's top. 21/30 (this is scarily consistent scoring!)

For the cake section, we could either have a Maid of Honour pastry or choose a cake from the counter. Caroline chose the traditional Maid of Honour which is rather like a Portuguese custard tart in appearance but the filling was more like a cross between a curd cheese and frangipane. Mo had an individual Victoria Sponge and Charlotte chose a strawberry tart. Our cakes were all nice but we do like when we can try a selection of little cakes rather than just one. 21/30 (getting spooky now)

In conclusion, it's a delightful old-fashioned tea room with a long and interesting history which we think will appeal to tourists as well as to locals. The atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. After our food was finished we stayed for a while, finishing our tea without being hurried out.  Overall, we felt it was good value for money.

We also noted that they also do a tasty sounding lunch and the salmon and chicken pies looked amazing, so we may well go back there in the future.

Pros                                                                                             Cons
Lovely atmosphere                                           Food quality has room for improvement
Good price                                                          Toilets only accessible through the kitchen
Unlimited tea                                                     Small, may be very crowded


7 out of 10