It is believed that the Duchess of Bedford Anna Russell was the first to adopt afternoon tea, or high tea, in 1840, when the gap between a light lunch and dinner was longer. It soon became a fashionable meal, and ladies would gather to sip tea and nibble on sandwiches in the middle of the afternoon.
Fast-forward to today, and British high tea has become more of a treat for special occasions than a daily ritual in Australia. While the meal has remained fairly traditional – some form of sandwiches, scones, and cakes are a guarantee – many have taken a modern approach to the concept.
Burbury Hotel in Canberra is well-known for its high tea menus, which have just been revamped with some new additions.
French-born executive chef Fabien Wagnon says the hotel’s high tea is a combination of French and British culture, which he takes from his own experience.
“My best experience of high tea by far was going to The Ritz in London,” he says. “It was a long time ago, I think it was in 1995, but I still remember that day.
“Everything was so perfect – the drinks, the cakes, the service. It’s the whole package that makes the high tea.”
Wagnon says he tries to recreate a similar experience for high tea guests.
“It’s not just all about the food. Sure the food is a big component, as well as the tea or the champagne, but it’s the whole afternoon that you’re going to spend with friends that matters,” he says.
“The whole thing works together, if one component doesn’t work then the experience is not the same.”
Burbury Hotel’s high tea features some classics, such as buttermilk scones and smoked salmon sandwiches, and some modern menu items, like the chocolate and walnut tarte with crumbled popcorn, or the berry pavlova.
But the most contemporary touch is its gluten free high tea menu, which is made to replicate the standard menu, to ensure customers with gluten restrictions don’t go without.
The demand for gluten free options continues to increase, and despite Wagnon’s love for bread, if the demand is there then “you just do it”.
“We change the bread, which comes from Deeks Bakery, a gluten free bakery in Canberra,” he says.
“For the pastries we use gluten free pastry shells, and for the fillings we try to use the same as the standard menu but using gluten free bases.”
Burbury Hotel serves a range of TWG Teas, which Wagnon says are full of floral flavour and aromatics. He even uses one tea variety, Silver Moon, a blend of green teas and a hint of spice, in some of the cakes.
“We pulverise it and mix it in some of the cakes, it has a very strong flavour and when you bake it you can really taste it,” he says.
Head north to Queensland and the Pullman Cairns International’s high tea offering is again traditional with modern influences.
Executive chef Matt Lonne says visitors can expect sophistication and a menu that pairs perfectly with the tea on offer.
“The traditional elements of the high tea are our scones with jam and double cream, which for young or old are still a favourite, and the beautiful fresh ribbon sandwiches are always a delight,” he says.
“The modern twist has to be our sweet and savoury canapes, which includes our modern interpretation of a caramel tart, rich chewy caramel served on a sablé Breton base with double cream and a gin infused fresh pineapple, mango and lime salsa.
Espresso martinis on the menu at InterContinental.Guests at the Pullman choose from a range of Dilmah Exceptional teas, which Lonne says helps to “heighten the experience”.
“We serve white teas, green teas, black teas, herbal infusions and even the ‘Ran Watte’ single region tea,” he says.
But the tea choices don’t end there; the hotel also offers a tea-based cocktail, the Pullman Rose.
“Tea is such a versatile element, not only do we love to cook with tea, we love experimenting with it in cocktails,” says Lonne.
“The Pullman Rose is the creation of our barman Manny David. It is based with Dilmah Almond Tea then infused with strawberry, lychee and cranberry. Think iced tea with a refreshing twist.”
InterContinental Sanctuary Cove Resort, located on Queensland’s Gold Coast, has taken the high tea concept to a completely new level with its High Coffee offering.
Executive chef Matt Hart says Australians’ love for coffee was the inspiration behind the concept.
“We know high tea is one of the best-loved rituals of celebration, so we decided to take it a step further and take a twist on tradition and perhaps open the doorway to guests who may have overlooked high tea as being ‘not for them’,” he says.
“High Coffee is a contemporary style of serving a classic dining experience, and embracing those meaningful connections with family and friends.”
Hart says the team has made a deliberate focus on balancing the coffee flavours throughout the entire menu.
“We have taken the best of our sweets
and savouries and infused them with a complementing coffee flavour,” he says.