Tea for two
© By Mike Keenan
It was only a matter of time. Since 1908, esteemed guests such as Queen Elizabeth II, Rudyard Kipling, Shirley Temple, Spencer Tracy, Rita Hayworth, the King of Siam, Bob Hope, John Travolta, Barbra Streisand, Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell among other notables, enjoyed Afternoon Tea at The Fairmont Empress. Granted, Victoria, BC is a long way to travel to sip tea, but it might have been farther because the ritual
originated in China, where making tea is a revered art form.
For Westerners, the story goes that in the 19th century, the poor, exhausted Duchess of Bedford experienced a terrible 'sinking feeling' around five in the afternoon one day, so she asked her friends to join her for tea, some buttered bread and little cakes. Afternoon tea was thus serendipitously born in the same fashion that afternoon beer and potato chips were invented by me during college days.
Our family actually drank copious amounts of tea, a habit my dad picked up in England during WWII. He and I preferred mugs to suit our large fingers. Mother more elegantly employed china and an extended pinkie.
Afternoon tea at The Empress begins with a serving of fresh seasonal fruit, topped with
Chantilly cream. Then, as we sip a cup of signature Empress Blend from exclusive Royal Doulton china, three tiers of goodies are presented. On the bottom tray is a display of sandwiches filled with cucumber, smoked BC salmon & cream cheese, carrot & ginger with cream cheese, open-faced shrimp mousse with fresh papaya garnish and curry mango chicken salad, leading upwards to the middle tray festooned with freshly baked scones with strawberry preserves and thick clotted cream. Emerging at the top tray, a selection of light pastries, including French Valrhona
Manjari chocolate truffles, fresh fruit and lemon curd tarts, miniature chocolate eclairs filled with milk chocolate mousse and Cardamom shortbread cookies, prepared by award-winning pastry
chef, D'oyen Christie beckons one to gamely finish the lot, the gourmet equivalent to baseball's triple tray. Okay, a triple play or tray is a bit hokey, I suppose but I ike the gastronomic/athletic symbolism.
Undaunted by the array, I view the imposing tiers of carbohydrates with the same zest as Hiliary first gazing upon Mount Everest, determined to graze my way from base camp completely to the top. Unlike Sir Edmund's craggy scenario, live piano music plays softly in the background and well-dressed porters are at our beck and call.
Choosing tea from the selections offered is not an easy decision. Besides the Empress Blend,
there was Earl Grey, Willow Stream Spa Blend, Berry Berry, Borengajuli Assam, Jasmine Butterfly and Margaret's Hope, but our server, Yosef, with a mere twenty-six years experience on the job, recommended the Empress. Marlene, a co-worker with only thirty-one year's experience, advised that they often serve 600-800 tea services per day. Apparently, the cruise ship in Victoria Harbour is to the Empress Hotel what a busload of hungry teenagers is to a McDonald's franchise.
In eighteenth century England, tea mania just like Beatle mania swept through the country. A pattern gradually emerged, the first pot made in the kitchen and carried to the lady of the house who waited with invited guests who were provided with fine porcelain from China. The first pot was warmed by the hostess from a second pot, (usually silver) heated over a small flame. Food, tea and conversation were then distributed presumably in even portions amongst the assembled guests.
The Empress china was originally presented to King George V in 1914 upon the opening of the Booth factory in Stoke, England. The china was first used by The Empress in
1939 to celebrate the Royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The pattern is produced by
Royal Doulton exclusively for The Empress and available in the store adjacent to the Tea Lobby - cup and saucer retailing for $75 plus taxes.
Rationalizing that my hands remained too large for such delicacy, I opted for more tea to transport home in lieu of china. The top secret Empress Blend is produced by the Metropolitan Tea Company, a Canadian manufacturer, importer and dealer of specialty and customized teas with over 23 years of industry experience. With my historic familiarity in sipping tea, I judged this brand as excellent. Yosef was right. Afternoon Tea costs $55 during the peak summer season.
Oops, I hear our kettle whistling impatiently from the kichen so I bid you "cheerio."
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
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