We here who love specialty tea, and especially those who are in the industry themselves, are understandably on a real high right now as we see what’s happening with the explosion in popularity worldwide of this delicious beverage. Much of the growth is fueled by Millennials, much of it has to do with RTD tea, and matcha and kombucha haven’t gone unnoticed either. But one area I don’t see as much about and one I’ve been cataloging articles on for awhile now is the amazing growth of the formal afternoon tea in upscale hotels and restaurants throughout the world.
Chefs like our own T Ching contributor Robert Wemischner have been on the cutting edge of bringing loose tea into the restaurant scene with delectable recipes using the leaf and, in the last two to three years, a hot competition has developed between international hotels at the highest levels to outdo each other on formal afternoon teas. Yes, a few have had afternoon teas for decades, but the new scale of quality and price is something to behold as hotels in Britain compete with creative French hotel pastry chefs, American hotels like the Baccarat in New York City offer “specialty blends of tea brewed by our Tea Sommelier”, and prices for the experience go from around $50 to $600. Some of these can feature champagne “on the side”, and the Fairmont Hotels Group is even teaching rich folks in Dubai proper tea etiquette.
In fact, the formal afternoon tea competition is becoming so hot among the high-end hotels they are not just doing ‘afternoon tea for the ladies’. There are male-themed afternoon teas with more man-friendly accoutrements like mini-burgers and beer (and tea of course), and child-themed teas with herbals and lots of yummy, sugary goodies kids love but shouldn’t have a lot of.
And, for newcomers who feel out of their element in the tea world, some of the hotels and restaurants even have their own tea sommeliers to help you choose what tea or herbal might be the right one to accompany your selection of pastries or to enjoy with your dinner similar to the Baccarat’s service mentioned above. How high-end is tea going in some circles? Well, how about a $400,000 tea bowl available at Sotheby’s? I have a feeling that won’t be used for a tea latte anytime soon.
I’m honestly not an afternoon tea person, I’m more of a big mug of strong Earl Grey girl, but I’m really excited to see tea breaking out in every direction when it’s quality loose leaf tea. Hopefully, as the mass taste for tea develops, the RTD category won’t be the big deal in tea any more. Maybe, just maybe, some of the RTD customers will cross over into the leaf after a special visit to an afternoon tea in a nice hotel somewhere and, as most of us would agree–once you taste the ‘real thing’ you’ll never go back.