Nerdy little secret about me: I’m a huge anglophile. If there’s anything I enjoy more than reading about the royal family, it’s tucking into afternoon tea. You can imagine my glee when I found out that in celebration of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent visit to Canada, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts launched an afternoon tea series. This is no ordinary tea, folks. This tea service is comprised of the exact recipes used in the palace. You get to experience the same kind of tea service the royal family is served up everyday between 4 and 5 p.m.!
Fairmont has long had a connection with the royal family. In 1990, the Queen stayed in the Royal Suite at Fairmont Palliser, and this summer the hotel hosted Price Edward and Sophie. Prince William, Prince Harry once stayed with their parents at Fairmont Château Laurier in Ottawa, and the luxurious Outlook Cabin at Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge hosted Queen Elizabeth II.
For this special tea, Fairmont reached out Chef Darren McGrady to recreate royal family favourites for Fairmont guests. Chef McGrady was personal chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Princes William and Harry for 15 years. He flew with the Queen when she was on her royal tours. Apparently the Queen has tea every day at 5 p.m., no matter where she is in the world.
Royal Family Faves
With a nod to traditional British and French cuisine, the Royal Champagne Afternoon Tea features some of Her Majesty’s favourites, many of which remain on the afternoon tea menu at Buckingham Palace today. Every tea sandwich and petit four you’ll nibble on has a story behind it, and the menu you receive explains why it’s a royal favourite. A little secret I heard that’s not on the menu is that the Queen crumbles scones on carpet for her corgis. Maybe that’s why they alternate each day between plain and raisin – so her dogs can be assured of having a fresh treat!
The big draw (I thought) was snacking on the Chocolate Birthday Cake, dating back to Queen Victoria’s chef; and is the cake every royal gets on their birthday. The Chocolate Biscuit Cake was so loved by Prince William, he chose it for his Groom’s cake. Another favourite of Wills: Caramel Banana Cake is also on the menu. (Apparently he and Harry are huge banana fans.)
The sandwiches are pretty sweet, too! I was partial to the potted shrimp, a treat served up at Balmoral Castle in the fall. Jam Pennies were loved by Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret as young children. Roast beef comes with slices of beet at the Fairmont Palliser – a combo Princess Diana loved, as she was a huge fan of beets for their health benefits.
There are four tea selections to choose from. Organic Earl Grey is an afternoon favourite of the royal family. Darjeeling is what they sip for for breakfast. Lapsang Souchon is a seriously smokey tea, and is a popular warm up after hunting on the estate surrounding Balmoral Castle. My favourite was Rose Pouchong, a tea with a distinct rose character, and a favourite of Princess Diana’s. Apparently she had a cup every afternoon, as she found it so calming.
Where and When
The Royal Champagne Afternoon Tea is only available until the end of November 2016 at Fairmont Palliser (Calgary), Fairmont Banff Springs, Fairmont Empress (Victoria), Fairmont Château Laurier (Ottawa) and Fairmont Royal York (Toronto) with pricing starting at $45 per person. If you have the opportunity to try it at different locations you should. There were slight differences between what I tried in Calgary vs Banff. Both were excellent, but I have to say the Fairmont Palliser won the sandwich round, while Fairmont Banff Springs had an edge on the desserts.
Elevate your tea experience with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. Veuve Clicquot continues to enjoy a warrant to supply the Royal household. Note: the $45 for this tea service doesn’t include a glass of champers. This is a typical price for afternoon tea, and the experience was so fab, I went twice in one week! During a “cleanse week,” I should add. So much for willpower.
Tea Dos and Don’ts
I’ve had a lot of afternoon tea in my time, and I was surprised at some of the tea etiquette I recently learned. So you don’t make the same mistakes I did:
- Work your way up from the bottom of the tea tray, starting with sandwiches.
- Pour your milk into the cup before the tea. This was originally done to check for curdled milk (no fridges at Downton Abbey, remember?) and to prevent the glaze on delicate china teacups from cracking.
- Secure your teacup with your index finger and thumb. Pinkies out is optional.
- Use your fingers to break the scone, not a knife.
- Lash the scone with clotted cream first, then dollop with jam. I find this harder to do, but apparently it allows the jam flavours to shine.
- Clink your spoon against the tea cup whilst stirring.
- Remove your spoon before taking a sip of tea.
- Hold the body of the cup with the palm of the hand, this is considered rude.
Fun Tea Facts
- Afternoon tea was invented in the 1800’s by Anna, the seventh Duchess Bedford, and is typically served between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
- A cup of black tea has half the amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee.
- Tea bags were invented in 1908 in the United States by Thomas Sullivan.
- Back in the 80s, Prince Charles wigged out when President Regan’s butler served him tea with the tea bag still in the cup. The Prince had no idea what to do with the tea bag.
- The Fairmont Empress serves afternoon tea to 100,000 guests each year. This hotel serves up half a million cups of tea annually!
Are you a fan of afternoon tea? Where’s the best spot you’ve tried it?