Afternoon tea in the Four Seasons, Dublin

“Although tea for one is certainly a fine thing, the addition of a circle of dear friends to share it with ensures the whole is larger than its parts”

 

champagneWith this quote in mind, I was delighted to arrange afternoon tea with two of my favourite people a few weeks ago. The pretext was one person moving abroad, the setting was the Lobby Lounge in the Four Seasons, Dublin and the occasion was champagne tea on a Saturday afternoon.

The Four Seasons pride themselves on attention to detail so I wasn’t surprised when they asked if there were any dietary requirements at the time of booking. I was, however, impressed that they remembered the vegetarian request when we arrived. There was a mix-up after that, which involved some very non-vegetarian chicken and salmon but the error was quickly corrected.

 

tea strainer abstract The highlight for me was infinite tea. It is possible to order as many pots of each type of tea on the menu and fresh tea is offered on a regular basis. This avoids the dilemma of choosing a tea that will go with both sweet and savoury. It also avoids drinking cold tea. Every afternoon tea service should offer this as standard but my experience in other venues is that one tea is included and there is a charge for each additional selection. Unrestricted tea – I was as happy as a clam at high tide but I was also in company so refrained from working my way through the entire menu. In fact, I only ordered two teas: the organic hoji-cha and the rooibos/hibiscus blend.  Most teas on the menu are floral or fruit blends but other teas that caught my eye were a silver needle white tea (Baihao Yinzhen) and an infusion called Ginger Twist that had a long list of ingredients (ginger, orange, lemongrass, mint, apple, ginseng, papaya and liquorice).

 

strawberries & pastriesThe Lobby Lounge is a bright, spacious rooms with large windows looking out over the courtyard garden and was bustling on that Saturday afternoon. The food is served in two courses. The savoury sandwiches are served first and then followed by the scones, preserves and pastries on the tiered platters. The scones were hot and fresh but the addition of clotted cream instead of regular would have been ideal. The profiteroles and hazelnut/chocolate pastry were also delicious but the chocolate dipped strawberries and raspberries on shortbread stole the show as a perfect, light way to finish the meal.

The champagne afternoon tea is comparatively expensive (€45) but with excellent service, good food, unconstrained tea and good company it makes for a very pleasurable afternoon. Silver teapot

Cliveden House, Berkshire

 

Cliveden House

Cliveden House (Source)

Regularly cited as the world’s most expensive tea experience, the Platinum Afternoon Tea at the Cliveden House, Berkshire costs £550 per person. “Truly special ingredients” are used for the preparation of this opulent afternoon tea and on the menu are:

  • White truffles

    Platinum Afternoon Tea

    Platinum Afternoon Tea (Source)

  • Beluga Caviar
  • Da Hong Pao Tea
  • Dom Perignon Rose
  • Cliveden House Chocolate Cake with Gold Leaf
  • Kopi Luwak coffee.
  • Mini canapé version of the platinum club sandwich

In terms of costs, they say that the white truffles are £2,500 per kg, the caviar is £4,000 per kg and the Da Hong Pao is £2,000 per kg. The choice of Da Hong Pao is an interesting one but presumably its publicity and associations with presidents and royalty helped it to edge out the competition from some of the rare pu-erhs. (See some of my articles on Da Hong Pao here and here).

Traditional Afternoon Tea

Traditional Afternoon Tea (Source)

For the more budget conscious, the Cliveden Afternoon Tea is £29.50 per person (£44 with champagne). This is described as a variety of finger sandwiches, warm scones with home-made jams and clotted cream, a selection of miniature cakes, pastries and Cliveden fruit cake. An interesting variation on the traditional offering is the Floating Afternoon Tea Experience where you take your tea on a boat floating down the River Thames.

The Clarence – Afternoon Tea

The Clarence Facade

The Clarance Facade (Source)

The Clarence, owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge was the site for last Friday’s afternoon tea. The Clarence Hotel was the subject of a controversial planning application for renovation in 2007. The building (dating back to 1852) was due to receive a €150m overhaul that would leave just the front façade intact. Planning permission was controversially received but was put on hold and everything has been quiet for the past few years. A couple of weeks ago the papers reported that a request for an extension of planning permission has been sought so we thought we better check it out before it turns into the promised “flying saucer”.clarence outside

I’m always amazed at how busy hotels are for afternoon tea but the Clarence was eerily quiet. The friendly staff took us around to the Oak room, the Octagon bar and the Tea Room to have a look and said we could choose our location. They were empty apart from one person in the Tea Room. It seemed mean to spread out their customers so we opted for the Tea Room too.

 

Afternoon Tea for Two

Afternoon Tea for Two

The sandwiches, brownie, scones and mousse were all perfectly acceptable. At the price of €15 it isn’t fair to expect the added niceties of clotted cream, cloth napkins, delicate pastries or fruit but I do think they should stretch it to a proper loose leaf tea (or maybe I’m just biased!).

Here is the video of U2 performing on the rooftop of the Clarence hotel a couple of years ago. Maybe that’s where everyone was…..

 

Shelbourne Hotel – Dublin

Lord Mayors Lounge

The Lord Mayors Lounge (Source)

The Shelbourne is an ideal setting for afternoon tea – good location on St. Stephen’s Green, a beautiful old building that dates back to 1824 and a elegantly decorated Lord Mayor’s lounge complete with background piano music. It seems to be very popular with families, tourists and couples and there is a pleasant atmosphere of hustle and bustle. When I arrived  at 3pm without a reservation there were no tables available so I had a short wait in the lobby. I didn’t have time for afternoon tea so I ordered a Jade Oolong and a scone. There was a good choice of Black, Green and herbal teas and a few Whites and Oolongs.

The Jade Oolong came in a standard glazed ceramic white teapot and was a loose-leaf tea. There were plenty of leaves inside and the water seemed hot enough but the smell from the pot was a bit pungent. I waited about 30 seconds to let it steep but it wasn’t ready so I waited for about a minute. There was still no taste.  I was expecting that fresh sweetness of a Jade Oolong but it was just bland. I did a quick check of my taste buds by eating half a scone ;-). All fine there. Then I knew I had waited too long because the tea had gond from bland to bitter. I asked for extra water and diluted it to get a drinkable cup of tea but it really wasn’t great. I don’t know what went wrong but maybe this Oolong isn’t ordered much and it’s an old tea that has faded with age.

Shelbourne Hotel

Shelbourne Hotel (Source)

The total for tea and scone was €8.30. Based on the scone alone, I’ll go back for the full Afternoon Tea but I’ll avoid the Oolong and try one of the Black teas next time. Will keep you updated….

Afternoon tea – Westin, Dublin

Tea at the Westin is set in the upstairs Atrium away from the hustle and bustle of the main lobby and entrance. The Atrium is is bright because of skylights but there are no windows and this adds to the sense of withdrawal from the busy streets of Dublin’s city centre. The calmness inside and well-spaced tables make it ideal for quiet get-togethers or meetings.

The tea list was extensive and confusing.  There are three pages of tea over two separate menus. The first menu had:

Black: Irish breakfast tea, Bohea Lapsang and Lychee Red Black tea

White: Jasmine Silver Needle White tea, Westin White tea blend

Green: Flowering Osmanthus Green

Yellow: Fire mountain Yellow

Tisanes: Peppermint, Rosebuds

 

Then there was a second tea menu with:

Black: Assam Breakfast, Early Grey, Darjeeling 2nd Flush

Green: Jade Green, Jasmine Green, Flowering Jasmine Peach Green

White: White peony

Tisanes: Mint, Chamomile, Blackcurrant and hibiscus

 

I wasn’t too sure what to make of it all. On the one hand I was impressed to see a Yellow tea on a hotel menu and there was an impressive selection of Black and Green tea. On the other hand have no idea what a Fire Mountain Yellow Tea is and there were two huge categories of tea missing: Oolong and Pu-erh.

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

Blooming Osmanthus Tea

I ordered the Jasmine Silver Needle White tea and was duly presented with the Flowering Osmanthus Green Tea! I was really happy for the mix-up. I just wish they had prepared it in front of me so I could see it beforehand and watch it “bloom”. Osmanthus flower can be dried and prepared on its own as a herbal tea but for flowering teas, green tea is handtied around the flower. It starts off as a small round ball and expands to reveal colourful flower when hot water is added. These teas are appreciated for their visual appeal rather than their taste and that held true in this case too.

Westin Afternoon TeaThe food on the other hand was very flavoursome. The sandwiches and scones (with clotted cream) were fresh and tasty but the fruit cake and pastries were outstanding. There was a chocolate cup of Irish whiskey cream, pistachio macaroon, lemon sponge cake,  red velvet cake and cheesecake with berries. They were all delicate and delicious.

Surprisingly, after about an hour I was told that the table was reserved and I would need to move to another table (there were plenty) or leave before 4:30pm.  I had finished eating and wasn’t in the mood for playing musical chairs so I left but was miffed that my relaxing afternoon  was turned into a clock-watching situation.

Afternoon tea at the Westin is €24 which is not bad for the city centre location, the relaxing setting and above-average pasteries. To avoid being rushed, it would be worth confirming at the booking stage that they do not need the table back.

Location on Google maps

Afternoon Tea at Radisson St Helen’s, Dublin

Radisson SAS - Saint Helens (Source)

Radisson SAS – Saint Helens (Source)

I decided to have afternoon tea at the Radisson St Helen’s because I sometimes have meetings close-by and I’ve always admired the view of the hotel from the Stillorgan road when I’m passing. I went online to have a look but the menu that downloaded from their site was just the bar menu and didn’t cover afternoon tea. When I called, the barperson was helpful and friendly and went through the menu over the phone. He said there would be no problem just showing up but if I made a booking the table would be made up when I arrived which he said would be much nicer.

There was a funny glitch with the website: when I went to the Location page, and tried to get directions from “city centre” it gave me 472 steps of driving directions from the city centre of Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia. :-)!

Ballroom at St. Helen's

Ballroom at St. Helen’s (Source)

Anyway, nerdy entertainment aside, the hotel is very easy to get to on the Stillorgan dual carriageway and there is plenty of free parking inside. I arrived at about 3:30pm on a dreary Monday afternoon and the place was buzzing – some business meetings but mostly pairs of people just relaxing and chatting. My table was in the Ballroom Lounge with big sofas and soft lighting but I had a quick look into the much brighter conservatory. It seemed less formal and maybe not as fitting for afternoon tea.

I can’t remember all the tea options and I forgot to take a picture of the menu but I remember there being a lot of jasmine. There was a jasmine green tea, an assam with spices, a ceylon and a darjeeling with jasmine and maybe one or two more. I chose the assam with spices but think I got just a plain assam. It was a Ronnefeldt teabag. I do like some of the Ronnefeldt loose teas but this Assam teabag was definitely nothing special. It was brought in the pot with the hot water and judging from the lack of utensils, it was supposed to stay in there! This resulted in a very stewy pot of tea by the time 20 minutes had passed! In fairness, the staff had no problem topping it up with more hot water when I asked.

Afternoon tea laid out

Afternoon tea laid out

 

The food came on the usual three-tier cake stand. Sandwiches and crisps on the middle plate, two large raisin scones with butter, cream and jam on the top plate and four pastries on the bottom plate (brownie, lemon tart, profiterole and mille feuille). The scones were a little on the dry/chalky side and clotted cream would have been nice instead of regular cream but apart from that everything was fresh and tasty. It was a lot of food for one person and would serve as a very substantial late lunch.

Garden at St Helen's Radisson

The gardens at St. Helen’s

The tea was the most disappointing part of the whole experience but in terms of atmosphere, setting and food it was well worth the price of €21.50 excluding service.

Location on Google maps.

Corrib House Tea Rooms – Galway

This was my second lunch stop in Galway. It is situated overlooking the corrib river just a few minutes walk out of town. From the outside it looks like a regular residential house but inside it is a beautifully restored, high-ceilined, bright cafe that is split over two rooms.

Corrib House Tea Rooms

Corrib House Tea Rooms (Source)

The views over the weir and the lack of traffic make it very peaceful and just to add to the ambience, the fire was lighting the day that I was there. Most tables were taken at three o’clock and it seemed to be mostly locals having late lunches.

Corrib House Cake Selection

Corrib House Cake Selection

I had the tomato, roast mushroom, hummus and goats cheese on brown bread (they love their brown bread in Galway). The thick, heavy, homemade bread was tasty and went well with the toasted mushrooms, hummus and salad but I think it would have been a nicer lunch without the goats cheese on top of it all. I was too full to try the baked goods/scones but they looked delicious. If I had looked more carefully on the way in I might have skipped lunch and gone straight for desert.

The tea menu had nine choices of tea but the selection of teas was carefully thought out to accomodate all tastes so that it didn’t feel like a limiting menu. There were three black teas (two assam/darjeeling blends and an earl grey), a green tea, a jasmine, a rooibos chai, a peppermint, a fruit blend and a herbal relax tea (which was probably a chamomile though it didn’t say). I had  the “afternoon tea” which is a assam/darjeeling blend. The loose tea came in a large teapot and after a minute or so, gave a lovely crisp, light tea. Then I proceeded to tie myself up in the usual knot: I’ve waited a few minutes for the tea to steep, I’m enjoying my first cup of the lovely tea but all the while I’m drinking all I can think about is that the rest of the pot of tea is still steeping and starting to get bitter. I try to work out the volume per second that I’ll need to drink to get all the tea out of the pot in the next two minutes. It does not involve sipping lazily. My other option is to start fishing the tea leaves out of the pot but I probably won’t get half of them out and stirring and fishing isn’t going to help the situation. So I enjoy the first and second cup and add milk to the rest to mask the bitterness.

I went for a walk by the river after lunch and noticed that the departure point for the Galway river cruise is just one minute away which makes the Corrib House Tea Rooms  ideal  for a quick lunch or afternoon tea if you are taking a cruise. Even if you are not, this tea room is well worth a visit.

Location on Google maps.

 

Jimmy Choo Afternoon Tea

I thought Jimmy Choo made shoes but it turns out he does afternoon tea too. It was launched recently at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong. Prices start from €25. This could be something that would suit the well-heeled (really sorry – couldn’t resist!).

Jimmy Choo Aternoon Tea

Jimmy Choo Aternoon Tea (Source)

“Taking inspiration from Jimmy Choo’s Spring/Summer 2013 collections, which highlight the haute gypsy glamour of the late ’60 and early ‘70s, this fashion afternoon tea will feature tempting items such as edible miniature high heels and sandwiches made to resemble the design of the CAYLA clutch. Prices start from HKD 260 per person”

Cupán Tae – Galway

Cupán tae is located at the Spanish Arch in Galway. Being in such a prime location I’ve passed it several times, expecting it to be a regular tourist cafe.

Cupán tae - Galway

Cupán tae – Galway (Source)

The cafe was pretty busy when I arrived. Most tables were taken but there was one left between the window and a young couple. The tables are really close together so despite the background jazz music I felt  like I was joining the couple on my left for their romantic lunch. It was impossible not to hear every single word. I tuned it out as best I could but at one stage the guy said “Look at that – it’s raining”. Without thinking, I cursed myself for forgetting my umbrella and looked up from my paper to check how heavy it was. I think the three of us realised at the same time what had just happened. The rest of lunch was spent in whispers (them) and intense paper reading (me)!

The atmosphere in the cafe is farmhouse style cosy. The floral teacups and mismatched fine china makes it feel like tea in someones’ sitting room (except with really good food). For lunch I had the goats cheese salad which was four large pieces of goats cheese covered in crumbled nuts with sides of honey, red onion relish, salad and brown bread.  It was absolutely gorgeous.

Teapots - Cupán Tae

Teapots – Cupán Tae (Source)

The tea menu is fairly extensive but with a definite emphasis on flavoured teas and herbal infusions rather than non-flavoured traditional teas (tea menu here). The loose-leafed tea is served in large tea-pots and left to steep in the pot so I chose the organic pu ehr (doesn’t get bitter/astringent when it’s left steeping for a long time). It wasn’t a high quality pu ehr but it was fine.

My lunch including the tea was €11.60 which I thought was great value. The afternoon tea was advertised as €12 for sandwiches, scones, pastries and tea and would be well worth investigating. Overall, the place was very snug and homely and while it’s not the best for teas or private conversations (!) it is well worth a visit for the excellent food, good value and a cosy ambience.

Getting sorted

I was setting up the categories for this tea blog and it got me thinking about the neatness of the tea classes. There are six classes or categories of tea (green, white, yellow, oolong, black and pu-erh) and I still find it fascinating (and handy now) that each of the thousands of different teas that are out there can fit into one of those six categories. Better again, all tea comes from the leaves of a single species of plant: Camellia sinensis.

Camellia sinensis

Camellia sinensis

Here are the categories that I have for the blog so far:

  • Tea:
    1. Black – almost fully-oxidised and mostly produced in India (Assam and Darjeeling), Kenya, Sri Lanka and China. E.g. Keemun, Zhenshan Xiaochung (lapsang souchong).
    2. Green – teas such as sencha, Matcha, Gunpowder, Longjing, Taiping Houkui that have had minimal oxidation and kept the green color of the leaves. Predominantly from China, Japan and Korea.
    3. Oolong – partially oxidised and complicated in production, this type includes Da Hong Pao (red robe) and Tieguanyin. Produced in China and Taiwan.
    4. Pu-erh – post-fermented tea from China and called ‘black tea’ in China. Comes as sheng (raw) or shou (cooked). My favourite!
    5. White – made from the buds of the Camellia sinensis and very lightly processed it includes bai mudan (white peony) and Baiho Yinzhen (silver needles).
    6. Yellow – these teas are not easy to find here so this category won’t be used too much to start with but it didn’t seem right to leave it out.
  • Buying tea & storage: looking at where to get good tea and how to store it or age it.
  • Tisanes: This will cover all the herbal drinks that are sometimes referred to as tea but are herbal infusions or herbal teas. This covers peppermint, chamomile, ginger, fennel etc.
  • Rooibos & Honeybush: Technically these are tisanes but they get their own category because I love them so much!
  • Out and About: This is where I post about going for afternoon tea or lunch to see what the tea is like out there.

I’m sure there are plenty more categories that I’ll need to add as I go along but theses will do for a starting point.