PEOPLE sometimes prefer afternoon tea to formal dining because the tea set is more relaxing and better for social interaction.
Nana Jiang, a 24-year-old Shanghai woman, picks afternoon tea to treat her best friends and for her first dates.
“Foods in an afternoon tea set are served in finger size, which gives us more time to talk rather than chewing,” Jiang says.
That’s so important that she considers ambience above the quality of food or tea when choosing a venue. Quiet and relaxed are requirements.
Some people choose afternoon tea for its variety.
“I agonize when I have to make a choice from among the many dishes on a menu, so it’s a relief that afternoon tea is served in a set with a big variety,” says Mona Lee, a Shanghai woman fond of afternoon tea.
That also avoids making friends unhappy by ordering food they don’t like, Lee adds. A big varieties of desserts served in small portions also satisfy women with a big sweet tooth who also want to keep fit.
English, French and modern afternoon tea styles are the most popular in town.
English style, featuring a 3-tiered food set and an extensive tea menu, plays a leading role probably because England is the home to afternoon tea culture, which can be traced back to the 1840s, when the Duchess of Bedford in Bedfordshire was lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria.
The duchess felt hungry in the mid-afternoon, long before dinnertime at 8 in the evening. She asked her footman to prepare some bread, butter and tea, which gradually developed into an elaborate selection of sandwiches, scones, cakes and cookies. As she invited more of her aristocratic friends to her tea parties, afternoon tea culture became popular throughout England. The Langham is the first British heritage hotel in London that introduced English afternoon tea in 1865.
A 3-tiered set with finger-sized sweet and savory foods and fresh tea served in porcelain teacups define the authenticity of classic English afternoon tea, according to Lisa Crowe, executive pastry chef at The Peninsula Shanghai. She’s also from England.
“The silver tea stand should be served with dainty pastries on the top tier; sweetened scones, always with jam and clotted cream, on the second level, and sandwiches at the base,” Crowe says.
Scones matter for English teas and could even be considered a yardstick of authenticity and quality.
It’s a good thing for customers to find their tea set served with its second tier empty — that means the scones will soon be brought out freshly baked, warm and soft.
Some local hotels and restaurants write “high tea” on their menus to indicate their upscale and quality fare, which is a classic mistake caused by confusing English high tea with low tea. Some assume “high” means high class, but it actually refers to tea and scones often served on a high kitchen table between 5pm and 6pm to workers returning home.
“It (high tea) is taken particularly in Scotland and the north of England, where the evening meal is replaced by tea served with cold meat, fish and salads, as well as buttered rolls, toast and cakes,” says Linda Hemels, director of food and beverage at Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund.
Low, referring to “low table,” is actually a byword for the classic 3-tiered tea set served between 2pm and 4pm originating with the aristocracy.
French-style afternoon tea is currently in fashion because it is less sophisticated and places more emphasis on pastry.
Although it is called afternoon tea, French people prefer coffee to tea, according to Lu Mengxi, who studied in France for years and is now working in Shanghai.
When tea time starts, a wooden trolley called a “chariot” in French is wheeled in by a server. The trolley is filled with savory snacks and desserts such as cakes, tarts and seasonal fruit.
Customers order their drinks and then often ask the waiter to carve a slice of cake they like.
“In France, older people sit under a glass ceiling and the younger generation chooses to sit outside. I personally believe many French people use afternoon tea as an excuse to bathe in the sunshine,” Lu says.
Some pastry chefs in town are not satisfied with providing guests authenticity but also try to impress them with innovation. Based on classic English style, they update the tea setting and add foods with more of a touch of fusion and a feeling of luxury.
The traditional silver stand is replaced by a mini-sized Chinese tea shelf, an antique cabinet or even a bird cage.
Some luxury hotels combine with luxury brands to launch fashion themed afternoon teas.
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund launched an afternoon tea set with Jimmy Choo in which cakes and cookies are in the shape of high-heeled shoes. The Langham Xintiandi, Shanghai launched a tea set with a jewel brand in which the chocolate is made in the shape of jewelry pieces. Pastry chef Delia Zhu tops the handmade chocolate jewelry with some crystal sugar to make tiny, shiny diamonds.
Food and drink tend to be more diverse. Chinese dim sum and Thai and Japanese desserts are added. Besides classic Western black teas such as Earl Gray and Darjeeling, Chinese green tea and oolong tea are also included. In some luxury hotels, Champagne almost replaces tea.
Shanghai Daily picks seven afternoon tea destinations in town that provide you with diverse experiences, from English to French, from classic to innovative.
The Peninsula Shanghai
A live orchestra, high ceiling and courteous server make guests feel like they’re in London. Their heritage afternoon tea features authentic English flavor, organic ingredients and the hotel’s bespoke tea. Their Michelin-recognized female pastry chef, Lisa Crowe, is also a highlight, known for her food presentation with a feminine touch.
The tea set starts with savory snacks on its base tier, including London roll with king crab and cress, organic egg salad with cucumber and arugula, warm sweet corn tartlet with smoked bacon and tomato confit. Its freshly baked scones are served with their homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream. Almond macaroons and elderflower cake are highlights of the desserts. Champagne by the glass is also available.
Price: 290 yuan+15% per person; 520 yuan+15% for two
Time: Daily, 2-6pm
Tel: 2327-2888 ext 1699
Address: 1/F, 32 Zhongshan Rd E1
The Langham Xintiandi, Shanghai
English afternoon tea is synonymous with The Langham brand. In Shanghai, the hotel, together with Italian jewelry brand Damiani, has launched a new afternoon tea set at Lobby Lounge in which the whole presentation is inspired by jewelry, a spin-off from its original classic 3-tiered Tiffin Afternoon Tea set. Bespoke blended tea also makes the set distinctive.
While keeping the authentic English experience represented by scones and cucumber sandwiches, pastry chef Delia Zhu impresses guests with a jewelry-inspired, artisan chocolate high heel shoe decorated with a carved butterfly. Precisely molded cross pendants and chocolate diamond rings are also eye-catching. Chocolate ganache tarts and pink ginger honey macaroons are presented like colorful gems.
The hotel’s own Langham Tea is known for its fine and sophisticated flavor. The Langham breakfast is the signature, in which classic English breakfast tea is the base and Indian assam is added to create a malty thick taste. Their palm court exotic blend is also recommended. Chinese white tea with hibiscus flowers and pink rose petals infused in the cup produces a soft pink hue and a light, zesty flavor.
Price: 688 yuan+15% for two (including one glass of Bollinger Champagne per person)
Time: Daily, 2-5pm
Address: 1/F, 99 Madang Rd
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund
Their afternoon tea, called “red velvet,” is historical and legendary, no matter the venue.
The tea set is served at Salon de Ville with guests seated in cabernet sofas, with a coffered ceiling and period chandeliers above them. It formerly was the reading room of the Shanghai Club, a six-story Baroque building built in 1910 that was an exclusive British men’s club at the time.
The name of the set comes from the Waldorf New York’s signature red velvet cake made from beet juice and cocoa powder and buttery frosting, which was created during the 1920s.
Guests’ experience starts with selecting a tea from among the assam black tea, herb and ginger, fruit infusion, Irish whisky cream black tea and Chinese dahongpao (a kind of Oolong tea).
The set includes two scones, of orange and plain flavors, four different sandwiches and nine desserts. Red velvet cake is undoubtedly the highlight while its orange flavored scone is also recommended.
Price: 338 yuan+15% per person (with unlimited food and tea)
The hotel redefines afternoon tea through mixing Chinese, French and English culinary cultures and putting the tea set into a 7-course fine dining experience at the Lobby Lounge.
The set starts with a Chinese pastry plate composed of four crispy cakes with fillings such as red bean paste, coconut and ivory jasmine flavors. The second course is berry mille fuille (alternating layers of pastry with custard cream).
Then guests move on to Peking roast duck served by the table, followed by a cup of Chinese cloud tea featuring a clean and fresh taste to cleanse to palate.
Then comes a fusion style tea set served on a stand designed like a bird’s cage comprised of cakes, cookies, petit cones and sandwiches.
Its cucumber sandwich, featuring balanced flavors from pickled cucumber and goat cheese mousse, is a highlight. The creative char-sui sandwich is recommended, in which chicken is marinated in char-sui sauce and then grilled and diced with mayonnaise, featuring a rich sweet-and-savory flavor.
The tea set is followed by a freshly baked, melted chocolate fondant cake with tonka bean ice-cream, featuring a distinctive cold-and-hot sensation. English scones are served as the last course.
Price: 328 yuan+15% per set
Time: Daily, 2-6pm
Tel: 6882-8888 ext 6888
Address: 1/F, 33 Fucheng Rd, Pudong
Shanghai Science Hall JE
This restaurant is inside a 2-story historical Renaissance building with a neoclassical touch built in 1926, covering 5,000 square meters, formerly the Shanghai French School.
If guests choose an outdoor seat, they can enjoy one of the most beautiful garden views in Shanghai.
Two kinds of afternoon tea are available, English and Chinese. The English style tea set provides six different sandwiches, a scone, muffin and six kinds of desserts. The Chinese tea set includes seven traditional Chinese desserts and snacks, highlighted by kidney bean cake, rose cake, glutinous rice cake filled with green bean paste and mango pomelo sago.
Price: 258 yuan+15% for two (with unlimited coffee or tea)
Time: Daily, 2-5pm
Address: 47 Nanchang Rd
Hilton Shanghai Hongqiao
Pastry Chef Cary Cheng, inspired by his grandma’s secret candy jar, has launched a new afternoon tea set at Pulse, called “grandma’s secret sweets cabinet,” to evoke nostalgic feelings.
Guests start their tea journey by opening a wooden cabinet with a selection of colorful food inside.
Desserts are on cabinet’s shelf while savory snacks, mainly sandwiches, are in its two sliding drawers.
Strawberry cheesecake is the chef’s signature item. Cheese provides a tangy taste while strawberry adds freshness. Coconut rice with mango pudding, a Thai style dessert, also deserves a try.
Price: 228 yuan+15% for two
Time: Daily, 2-6pm
Tel: 3323-6666 ext 51410
Address: 1/F, 1116 Hongsong Rd E.
Paris Rouge Café & Restaurant
All things here are authentically French, from the interior design to the service and food. Restaurateur Stephane Liu once worked for French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse, the only person in the world overseeing three Michelin 3-star restaurants.
The restaurant has a glass ceiling that provides natural light. Outdoor seats are also available. When afternoon tea starts, their waiters wheel in a chariot, presenting five different desserts and three savory food varieties.
Desserts are highlighted by the vanilla puff pastry, caramelized apple tart with caramel mousse, and lychee macaroon. The chef slightly adjusts the recipe of the macaroon, making it not so sweet to please the local palate. Smoked salmon blinis is their signature savory snack.
Friendly reminder: The coffee is often better than the tea in a French restaurant.
Price: 198 yuan+10% per person (choose five selections from the trolley)
Time: Tuesdays-Sundays, 2-5pm
Address: 1/F, 133 Yuanmingyuan Rd
Afternoon tea manners
Etiquette matters, especially for afternoon tea, considered as an important social occasion. There’s a lot that can go wrong with sophisticated English afternoon tea.
Countess Postiglione Angela Harwood highlighted some tea manners during an interview with Shanghai Daily at Pudong Shangri-La, East Shanghai, where she holds an etiquette master class.
• Many people go round and round when stirring tea, but it actually should be stirred back and forth.
• Never use a knife to cut a scone. Instead, break it open with your hands.
• Men should not take their seats before the ladies.
• Usually the most senior woman pours the tea for guests.
• Take small sips of your tea and small mouthfuls of the scones and sandwiches.
• Dab your mouth with the napkin rather than wipe.
• Never stick your little finger out when holding your teacup.
Make your own scone
Besides going out for afternoon tea, you can also make scones at home to entertain your friends.
Ingredients: Self-rising flour 225g; pinch of salt; butter 55g; superfine caster sugar 25g; milk 150ml; one egg
1. Heat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Grease a baking sheet lightly.
2. Mix the flour and salt together and fold in the butter.
3. Stir in the sugar and then the milk to make soft dough.
4. Knead the dough lightly on a floured work surface. Pat out to 2cm thick. Use a cutter to stamp out rounds and place them on a baking sheet.
5. Brush the tops of the scones with the beaten egg. Bake scones for around 15 minutes until they are golden and well risen.
6. Cool scones down and serve them with jam and clotted cream.