The formula for a classic afternoon tea is straightforward: savories, sweets plus tea. Though high tea has British roots, it's an art embraced throughout the world, and some might even say Asia does it best. Every country adds its own spin, with emphasis on ensuring that the tea itself is a little different. Below, a look at six distinct afternoon tea services around the world.
CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
Location: ซอย 1 Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Afternoon tea at the Dhara Dhevi hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand is served in the property's Cake Shop, and obvious Thai influences are speckled throughout little bites. Pay particular attention to the sai oua, a spicy pork sausage that’s a regional specialty. Here it comes stuffed into puff pastry, baked and sliced. Mariage Frères teas are on the menu, but the most popular order is iced Thai tea. Cliché, yes, but delicious nonetheless. Cake Shop brews a special, particular brisk blend of black tea in-house with just enough milk. It’s barely sweet, but rich with a frothy finish. A definite departure from ordinary Thai tea.
InterContinental Hong Kong
Location: 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong
In Hong Kong, every respectable hotel pulls out all the stops for afternoon tea. Nothing is too extravagant, no collaboration too wild. People line up at The Peninsula Hong Kong where reservations for their legendary afternoon tea are not accepted. Meanwhile, customers reserve months in advance for prime seating at The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, which has one of the highest afternoon tea in the world, on the 103rd floor.
But it’s only at the InterContinental Hong Kong where tea made from agarwood—considered one of the most expensive woods in the world—is on the menu as a regular offering. InterContinental focuses on Chinese teas, specifically highlighting oolong and pu’erh. Select one (best to go with a richer, darker tea for these purposes) and it comes steeped with a cut of rare agarwood—a type of wood used in Chinese medicine as a natural detoxifier, but rarely offered in an afternoon tea setting, much less combined and brewed with quality Chinese teas. Alongside, in place of the standard finger sandwiches, are classic sweet and savory Chinese pastries like chestnut cakes dotted with pitted longan fruit.
Location: 1538 Kapiolani Blvd Ste 106, Honolulu, HI 96814
Honolulu's most interesting tea service, held on the third Sunday of every month, is at pastry chef/co-owner Michelle Karr-Ueoka's MW Restaurant. In addition to small Japanese-American bites like matcha beignets and polenta French fries, the tea to order here is the lemon-mamaki. The lesser known mamaki is a native Hawaiian plant in the nettle family, and the loose leaves are crushed and brewed with the hint of lemon, giving the heady herbal flavors a bright citrus lift.
The Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
Location: Kamogawa Nijo-Ohashi Hotori, Hokodencho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto Prefecture 604-0902, Japan
First thing to note: this afternoon tea is a permanent collaboration with famed French macaron maker, Pierre Hermé. So that means classic Pierre Hermé sweets done in miniature. But even more exciting than that is the selection of seasonal tea blends. Come in autumn for black tea blended with osmanthus, and green tea dotted with crushed chestnuts. The flavors are surprisingly intense, the fresh fruits, nuts, and flowers blended into the tea leaves are unexpected and beautiful. And when sipped along Kamogawa River in a most serene setting, the logic in traveling for tea seems to make perfect sense.
Seasons Tea Lounge
Location: Four Seasons Doha, The Corniche, Doha, Qatar
In Qatar, afternoon tea takes a Middle Eastern spin. Alongside a traditional three-tier setting, pots of Earl Grey and English breakfast are offered, but who wants any of that when Moroccan tea services are on the menu? On the right is the Moroccan tea itself. It’s made of a brisk gunpowder green tea base and a fistful of fresh spearmint leaves. The tea service comes with tiny Middle Eastern sweets. The ghorayebah (an Egyptian butter cookie) is heaven with tea.
Cha Cha Thé
Location: No. 23, Lane 219, Section 1, Fuxing S Rd, Da’an District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106
Tea at Cha Cha Thé in the Da’an District is greeted with a distinct Taiwanese spin. Spot the housemade pineapple cakes with fresh chopped pineapple and the glorious, sticky black rice tarts. Cha Cha Thé is first and foremost a tea shop (as evidence by the walls lined in bricks of packed tea leaves). Think Mariage Frères, but Taiwanese instead of French. Their selection of Taiwanese teas, especially the oolongs, is impressive. One could drink through an entire menu, up and down the country, in every tea producing region all while alternating cups with little bits of sweets and savories to keep from getting excessively "tea drunk." And yes, that's an actual thing.