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Savory bites and a selection of sweet treats
By Ruby Gao

Afternoon tea is a lovely British tradition that can be traced back to the 1840s. It started when the Duchess of Bedford felt hungry one mid-afternoon day and asked her servants to prepare some bread, butter and tea. She soon started inviting friends over and it gradually evolved into a three-tier tea set with savory sandwiches at the bottom to desserts at the top.

Hotels, cafes and restaurants around the world have since taken afternoon tea to new heights, as they look to outdo one another and attract customers.

“A typical afternoon tea gathering in our hotel is two or four ladies, young and decently dressed,” says Aileen Yang, marketing manager at Sofitel Shanghai Hyland.


She adds that afternoon tea in Shanghai used to be mostly popular among older adults (especially women), or retired people playing mahjong over a pot of green tea without any food.

Hotels now offer extensive tea menus with tea leaves coming from such places as China, Sri Lanka, India and Japan.

Of course, restaurants have also modernized the classic and offer variations that may include Champagne, fresh juices and even smoothies.

Some restaurants and hotels are trying to make their afternoon tea menus more luxurious by cooperating with luxury fashion brands.

The Langham Xintiandi Shanghai has teamed with Italian jewelry brand Damiani to launch an afternoon tea with chocolate shaped like a high-heel shoe, chocolate diamond rings and gems like macaroons.

Afternoon tea in The Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel is completely tailor made with only one table available per day.

In terms of food, Phil Du, the food and beverage director at Marriott City Center, says mixing and matching is a big trend.

“A cup of tea doesn’t just have to be with an English muffin or scone these days,” Du says. “It could be a Peking roast duck roll with a mint mocktail.”

Yannick Oppermann, executive pastry chef at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai thinks healthy seasonal ingredients play an increasingly important role on afternoon tea menus.

“We are going more with sugar free or low sugar, or either gluten free food, more healthy, which doesn’t mean less tasty. I think it’s even the opposite,” Oppermann says.

Hotels have often served the most memorable afternoon tea sets due to their distinctive ambience, location, great service and more diverse options.

“Hotels are generally quieter. Plus the private ambience complements the social function of afternoon tea and then there is often a wider variety of food and drink,” says Wendy Wu, the outlet manager at Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai.

Compared with independent restaurants, hotels usually have a better location, often by the river with a view or with a rooftop terrace and garden.

“Hotels also offer the best service. When you go to a hotel very often they will remember your name, your favorite drinks and treat you like their friend,” Du says.

This week we highlight six hotels known for their afternoon tea. Some include nice views of the Huangpu River while one offers a combination of Italian, French and Chinese cuisines while another has a chocolate fondue accompanied by madeleine cakes.

Great artist inspires the Van Gogh set

Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai has recently launched the Van Gogh afternoon tea set in its lobby lounge to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the artist’s death.

The hotel’s pastry chefs use their skills to take guests on a journey of Van Gogh’s life.

They serve the tea set in a painter’s palette, with three tiers of food inspired by some of Van Gogh’s most famous works. For example, to highlight his painting “Sunflowers,” a golden sunflower chocolate cake is served. The cake is covered with yellow cream and jelly to represent wheat fields.

Five different flavored creams in yellow, brown, orange, red and green — Van Gogh’s favorite colors — are served in the palette.

The plate, the bottom of which is made of chocolate, includes a brush, allowing diners to dip it into the colorful creams and pretend to be an artist.

Cookies are topped with a self-portrait of the artist made from chocolate.

Price: 368 yuan + 15%/set
(including two glasses of Champagne)

Tel: 2828-6888

Address: 1/F, River Wing, 33 Fucheng Rd

A variety of flavors

Afternoon tea at Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai is in a spacious, yet cozy lounge and its adjacent terrace. The decor is chic and sophisticated, yet a bit quirky and modern in its daring use of color. Bright pinks and oranges are splashed throughout the lounge, taking form in a variety of mini-sofas, cushioned chairs, and giant paintings by local artists.


A massive glass wall at the back allows sunlight to pour in while customers enjoy their afternoon tea.

Guests sitting on the outdoor terrace can see Xintiandi.

Two afternoon tea set options are offered, a traditional set and the newly launched chocolate fondue option. The former consists of 13 items covering English, French and Italian delights including raisin scones, cucumber-lox finger sandwiches, tiramisu and éclairs. The icing on the éclairs is neon, fluorescent pink, the panna cotta contains Asian-style sago, and the tiramisu is topped off with a glitter-dusted piece of dark chocolate in the shape of a stiletto heel. Also in the set are a tofu cheesecake and what can only be described as a mini pastry version of the xiaolongbao (steamed dumpling usually with pork filling) filled with cheese.

The fondue is made of famous Royce chocolate imported from Japan and is accompanied by mini madeleines, fresh fruit, ice cream scoops, marshmallows, shortbread cookies, egg rolls and potato chips.

Madeleines are slightly crisp on the outside, buttery on the inside, and still-warm from baking, with a slight hint of lemon.

Price: traditional set (168 yuan + 15% for one person, 328 yuan + 15% for two); chocolate fondue set (168 yuan + 15%, serves multiple diners)

Tel: 2310-1710

Address: 1/F, 88 Songshan Rd

French refinement

Sofitel Shanghai Hyland’s afternoon tea set incorporates traditional French refinement into the urban fabric of Shanghai, offering many scrumptious snacks with an emphasis on French desserts.

The three-tiered tea set including sandwiches, scones and desserts is highlighted by airy and crispy macaroons.


Try replacing the tea with a cup of hot chocolate to fully enjoy the French “art de vivre.”

While the menu is distinctly French, the location provides the Chinese aspect.

The hotel is on Nanjing Pedestrian Mall, the city’s most famous shopping street.


Guests having afternoon tea will have a good view of the activity taking place on the street below.


Price: 168 yuan + 15%/set

Tel: 6351-5888 ext 4474

Address: 2/F, 505 Nanjing Rd E.

The sky’s the limit

Afternoon tea at Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden can be completely tailored to the desires of each diner.

Customers can order their favorite food, tea and other drinks in advance and hotel’s international culinary team will try its best to satisfy.


Only one table is available each day so reservations are required at least one day in advance.

The set includes a complimentary bottle of Mumm Champagne.

Afternoon tea is on the hotel’s roof terrace of the hotel and boasts a 180-degree view of Shanghai’s historic Yu Garden.

Built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), it was once the largest and most prestigious Chinese-style garden in Shanghai and is now a popular tourist site.

Price: 1,888 yuan + 15% for six people

Tel: 2321-8888 ext 6234

Address: Rooftop terrace, 159 Henan Rd S.

Tea in the garden

Afternoon tea at Shanghai Marriott Hotel City Center is served in its winter garden, a five-story glass atrium decorated with seasonal plants, where floor-to-ceiling glass walls allow an abundance of light.


The set combines authentic Western pastries presented in a three-tiered traditional Chinese red wooden box. Pastries include scones and there are a selection of sandwiches and other desserts.


The scones are freshly baked and are served with a silky clotted cream, a fresh sweet-and-sour orange cream cheese, and strawberry jam.

Price: 168 yuan + 15%/set

Tel: 2312-9712

Address: 1/F, 555 Xizang Rd M.

Hanging out on the Bund

Banyan Tree’s afternoon tea is offered both in its second-floor lounge and on the roof bar. Both options utilize the hotel’s location on the Bund.

The lounge boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the Huangpu River and the Pudong skyline, providing a tranquil way to enjoy the city. The rooftop bar also offers nice views of the Bund.

The afternoon tea set is presented in an elegant bird cage that hangs next to each coffee table. This unorthodox setup isn’t just about aesthetics as it allows guests to have an unobstructed view of one another.

The foods, including eight desserts and five savories, push the boundaries of international cuisine with a tomato and cream cheese tartine, spicy tuna maki, avocado and kidney bean-stuffed smoked salmon roll, and herb-marinated Wagyu beef skewers.


Seasonal fruits tarts, mousses, tiramisu and mango-green tea blancmange add sweet touches.

Price: 338 yuan + 15%/set (including two cups of coffee or tea) for lounge bar; 430 yuan + 15%/set (including two cups of coffee or tea) for rooftop bar

Tel: 2509-1188

Address: 19 Gongping Rd

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164