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The Art of High Tea Has Evolved, and There’s Something for Everyone

sultan tea at baccarat hotel
Courtesy of Baccarat Hotel

Tea for who? We found the coolest interpretations of high tea around the world

Charu Suri

At the two-year-old Baccarat Hotel in midtown Manhattan, tea sommelier Gabrielle Jammal pours a deeply-steeped Moroccan mint tea served at the end of a newly-created Sultan Abdülaziz experience that takes about two hours to fully savor.`

The tea steams out of the 24k gold-plated teapot shaped like a camel from Mariage Frères, Paris, and is served with house-made labneh sorbet with shaved rose halvah, sliced candied kumquats and dried rosebuds. “This is an unusual type of high tea,” says Jammal, who says that the clientele love the savory nature of the pastries, hummus and baba ganoush served with the experience. Although the price is steep ($300 for two), the spread illustrates how the nature of high tea, with its image of delicate finger-sized sandwiches and petit fours, is changing.

The hotel will also debut a children’s tea called Le Petit Prince ($60 per person) and a seasonal Nutcracker tea ($90 per person) in time for the holidays from November 25 to January 1.

The notion of a high tea began in Britain in the mid-1700s as a meal in and of itself, often served for the working man on tall stools—hence the phrase, “high tea.” But the image of what is served with this tea is changing as the tastes and demographics of tea-goers change.

At the recently-refurbished Lowell Hotel on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, food and beverage director Gerardo Tiscareno says that he has seen a shift in the way people approach high tea. “While there is still a strong traditionalist mindset as to how an afternoon tea looks like, we are in an age where allergies and personal preferences become more present,” he says. “Many high teas now accommodate people with vegetarian and gluten-free menus; we can even do it on very short notice.”

Tiscanero says that when people think of “high-tea,” they imagine an “elegant lady on Park Avenue,” but the demographics are “quite wide,” he says. People in their 20s and 30s are coming to teas, and many young Asian professionals from South Korea, Japan and cultures that grew up with tea (experienced in a slightly different way) are getting a kick out of the high tea service. “Men, too, are starting to love the tradition,” he adds. (Prices here are from $55 per person). Teas are sourced from the French house, Dammann Frères, known for the quality of their teas and the fact that they "give you a larger cut of the leaf,” says Tiscanero.

Here are some of the most interesting high teas around the world right now. 

Art Tea (Dublin)

For art aficionados, the Merrion Hotel in Dublin, built in the 1760s for Irish merchants, serves a two-course “art tea” created in 2000 by the hotel’s pastry chef, Paul Kelly. Kelly, who was part of the Irish Olympic culinary team, thought it would be fun to create a tea around the hotel’s private art collection, considered the largest in Ireland apart from the National Gallery.

Courtesy of The Merrion

It is served in the bright Georgian drawing room with comfortable chairs (€49 per person). Nine paintings of John Boyd, Jack B. Yeats (the brother of the poet), William Scott and Louis Le Brocquy have inspired the pastries’ artwork.

You feel like a kid staring at bright Lego-like colors on coconut and blueberry macaroons, feuilletines and mousse; you may feel the urge to dash back into your room and open a box of crayons. “Each pastry is unique,” says Kelly. He and his team make them with classical techniques, including hand-tempered chocolate, classic choux pastry and Joconde Sponge (the hotel also boasts Ireland’s only two-star Michelin restaurant, by Patrick Guilbaud.)

Pet Tea (Portland, Oregon)

Furry travelers are also getting their moment in the high-tea spotlight. Hotel deLuxe in Portland, Oregon will introduce a tea service just for pets this month, served in the lobby ($39 per person; $20 per pet.) Pets get a cup (or a bowl!) of herbal tea blend from TeaPet, which makes nerve-calming, caffeine-free tisanes for dogs and cats with cute names like “Meowtopia” and “Ruff Day.” While the pet-friendly hotel has long served a proper English tea in partnership with Steven Smith, co-founder of Tazo, it is also known for its tea cocktails, considered a “Portland spin” on the traditional tea service. The idea of a dedicated pet tea came about because people loved to just sit in the lobby with their furry friends and eat a snack or two.

Courtesy of Provenance Hotels

Champagne Tea (The High Seas)

Cruise lovers are embracing high teas on the high seas: Viking Ocean has an afternoon high-tea that is part of their DNA, serving a popular afternoon tea in their Wintergarden salon with its blonde wood lattice-like ceiling, an homage to the Nordic Yggdrasil, the tree of life, with a string quartet performing in the background. But this tea is again, casual, despite the formality of the service itself. After a $45 million refit, Cunard’s Queen Victoria carries on the decades-long tradition of serving a Champagne afternoon tea with Laurent-Perrier in its Verandah restaurant.

Healing Tea (Bali)

Some people are opting for high teas that focus on wellness. The Four Seasons Bali at Jimbaran Bay and Sayan serve a healing Rosella tea with dried flowers produced by a local village; the tea sommelier recommends this for guests with hypertension and high blood pressure.

Ski Tea (Park City, Utah)

At the Washington School House hotel in Park City, Utah, which is very popular among skiers, there is a “High Altitude Tea” that was recently launched in partnership with the local brand, Atticus Teas. The tea service comes with a “Peace, Love and Jasmine” blend that is recommended specifically for those who have trouble adjusting to the altitude of 7,000 feet, with high levels of potassium.