Velvet caramel notes, a muscatel finish, smooth with reasonable depth and body: I could be reading a wine list, but instead I was discovering the breadth of tea drinking – a time-honoured tradition as complex and rich as the winemaking art.
From a cart wielding more than 50 glass jars housing loose-leaf teas from around the world, I chose a tea to accompany my Tea at the Fairmont afternoon dining experience.
The tea offering was mainly comprised of Chinese teas. The homeland of tea drinking dates back to 2700 B.C. Tea didn’t travel overseas to Europe until the late 16 th century.
Learning about the process behind tea was fascinating – The Fairmont’s Janis Romeskie, a certified Tea Sommelier, is more than happy to share her tea-cup-clinking passion. The Fairmont’s scented Jasmin Dragon Tears tea from China undergoes a time-staking drying process where the green tea leaves are blanketed in jasmine to dry in the sun. The jasmine is then removed, leaving only its essence behind. Each leaf is then individually rolled by hand. There is even a version where the leaves are folded into tiny butterflies.
Instead of grouping wines, the Fairmont’s tea menu has categories for teas, including black, green, herbal and fruit, and ornamental.
You can never turn back to tea bags after experiencing the luxury of loose-leaf teas. Our extremely knowledgeable server introduced our noses to the aromatic dried leaves, fruits and spices – even a bubble gum tea to get kids excited.
A glass teapot allowed me to watch my Three Flower Burst ornamental tea literally blossom into a garden. The brown, ball-of-string-like bulbs opened under hot water to reveal delicate red and white flowers inside. Primarily an herbal tea drinker, the subtle peach and jasmine elixir was wonderfully refreshing to me sitting on the sun-filled patio.
And it was appropriate. Contrary to North American belief, Chinese medicine suggests hot tea cools the body.
This Sunday afforded a warm afternoon tucked away on the Fairmont’s garden patio, nestled among trees, a stream and blue sky. Silverware gleamed on crisp white linens. At one table a mother and daughter caught up over steaming cups, while at another an older gentleman sat back alone to take in his finger sandwiches and mountain views.
I enjoyed my afternoon and high tea experience in the manner it was intended – engaging in conversation, although much of ours was devoted to gushing over the heavenly bliss experienced in two-bite adventures.
Afternoon tea arose from the hunger pangs of the seventh Duchess of Bedford (1783-1847) who took her afternoon tea with bread and butter to fill in the gap between noon time lunch and nine o’clock dinners. She then turned the snacking hour into a social soiree, inviting friends for teatime chats over small pastries, sandwiches and scones.
High tea later joined the British menu. Meats and cheeses were added, turning the ladies’ social into a middle-class meal served around 6 p.m.
The Fairmont offers both traditional afternoon and high tea as well as a formal afternoon tea, which includes a glass of Champagne.
My guest and I shared the afternoon and high tea menus. While afternoon tea staples such as the cucumber and watercress sandwich and dill smoked-salmon pinwheel were so dainty they melted in your mouth, the Alpine High Tea’s open-face sandwiches and cheese plate stole the spotlight. The Alpine High Tea stacked all of my favourite foods into one sitting.
The Fairmont put a distinct B.C. spin on traditional high tea, with B.C. bounty showcased in sandwiches such as the house-made prosciutto with figs and Salt Spring Island goat cheese. The Salt Spring Island cheese plate boasted bleus, a slightly smoked rind soft cheese and a goat cheese so fluffy it almost floated away.
We moved our way up the china plate tier to blueberry scones with Devonshire cream and fresh strawberries. Flakey casing, soft centre, every crumb was savoured. And there was still the top tier to come. Don’t let the bite-size mini meals deceive you; tiered together you’ll pass on dinner.
Pemberton raspberry jam cookies, Salt Spring espresso chocolate opera cake, pistachio cake and lemon tarts finished our climb. The delicate details in the dried Okanogan cherries and thin lemon slice crowning the tart illustrated the thought, attention and innovation paid to all tea items.
We wrapped up more than two hours of elegant tea service with a croquet game on the lawn.
Afternoon and High Tea, ranging from $28-$32 per person, is served daily between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Tea can also be purchased at the Fairmont Tea Shop. Check out the Fairmont’s unique flora spin on traditional Earl Grey tea, something former 19-century British Prime Minister Charles Grey himself would rave about.