Afternoon Tea is all about indulgence. Sipping fine tea from a bone china cup with delectable treats served on a tiered stand, simply adds to the charm.
It’s not as if one cannot drink the same cup of tea at home with some ordinary biscuits or a slice of cake. But there is something glitzy about sipping it in elegant surroundings replete with a piano playing in the background, divinely decadent tea selection and salmon or crust-less cucumber finger sandwiches, lemon cake, scones with jam and clotted cream, laid out on a table covered with a crisp white table cloth.
While this may seem straight out of an Enid Blyton storybook, hotels and tea rooms across India, are making ‘Afternoon Tea’ fashionable all over again, albeit sometimes with a twist, to suit the Indian palate.
Reviving Afternoon Tea
Tea has always had a lasting place in the British culture. But it was Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who created the tradition of afternoon tea in England, as she would get hungry in the long hours between breakfast and dinner. She began asking her servants to sneak in a pot of tea with some bread stuff to ward away her hunger. Eventually, this became a daily ritual and she shared this custom with her friends. Afternoon tea soon became popular among the aristocratic class.
In India, while this custom of afternoon tea was somewhat retained and followed only in eastern India, it is now being revived in other cities too. Although people are busy, hotels and tea rooms are encouraging tea lovers to fuss around their evening cup and step out and take a tea break.
Anirudhya Roy, Executive Chef, Taj Lands End, Mumbai, explains, “Afternoon tea offers guests an opportunity to reconnect over light-hearted conversations and brings respite from an otherwise hectic day at work. The plush environs of Atrium Lounge, overlooking the vast expanse of sea, complements the mood to unwind and recharge your batteries over a delectable cup of tea.”
Fine Teas Galore
Pure Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri, may be the teas of aficionados, but hotels, offer a wider selection comprising Infused Teas, Earl Gray, English Breakfast, Lemon, Indian Masala, Herbal Teas, Chamomile, et al, catering to all palates.
Neeraj Tyagi, Executive Chef, Shangri-La’s – Eros Hotel, New Delhi, elaborates, “The beverage menu at Mister Chai provides a plethora of choices with its tea selection. It offers a custom blend of in-house tea that is freshly prepared in front of guests. The ‘Chai Ki Tapri’ consists of traditional cutting chai, meri apni cutting and kadak masala chai, thus providing the quintessential Indian Chai experience. The beverage menu further offers varieties of black tea, green tea, Oolong tea, herbal tea, regional tea, as well as a variety of iced teas.”
Drawing inspiration from Bandra, a posh area of Mumbai, with Portuguese influences, Taj Lands End offers guests an hour to enjoy with family and friends. “We thus launched the Bandra Hi-Tea with underlying lyrics at Atrium Lounge, “Tea for two and two for tea” from the 1925 musical Tea for Two. We wish to indulge our guests with an exciting menu of teas and gourmet delights, to make afternoons a memorable time of the day,” Chef Roy quips.
At the Atrium Lounge, Taj Lands End, the tea selection reflects the wide variety of teas being made in Mumbai. Right from Sulaimani Chai to Mumbai Masala Chai and the classic Portuguese Cha to the Parsi Choi, infused with mint leaves and lemongrass, with fresh ginger and cardamom, everything is served.
Teas maybe the mainstay at an afternoon tea service, but hotels encourage guests to embark upon a culinary journey with delicacies that are served alongside the selection of fine teas. This enhances the tea drinking experience apart from satiating hunger during early evening.
While some hotels prefer to stick to the quintessential English teatime pastries and savouries, others want to do away with the predictable fare and offer creative interpretations.
Mister Chai celebrates the blend of Indian regional street food and India’s tea culture with a modern twist. They serve Colaba Fish fry Sandwich, Butter Chicken Samosa and Goan Chorizo Pao for guests to munch on. “Our menu is a kaleidoscope of regional dishes with a modern twist, featuring unique and exciting concepts such as ‘Chaat Pe Charcha’, ‘Taste of Mumbai’, ‘Wow Pao’, ‘Namkeen ka Dabba’, ‘Firangi Twist’, giving our guests an array of choices,” reveals Chef Tyagi.
At Taj Lands End Mumbai, delicacies like Dodol – Sweet toffee rich flour confection, Pastesis de Nata – Egg custard tart, Bolo-d-arro – Rice and coconut muffin, Queijo Fresco – cream cheese tartlets, Chicken Cafreal Buns, Bifanas, inspired from the Portuguese, are on offer.
Others, like Confeiteria at Grand Hyatt Goa, choose to go the English way and offer scones, pastries, lemon meringue, blueberry cupcakes, sandwiches, apart from local classics like vada pav, chana jor garam and kanda bhajiya.
The Table, Mumbai goes a step further and offers a ‘champagne high tea’, where along with the warm scones and cream, mini sandwiches, petite pastries and hot beverages, comes a glass of Moet & Chandon Brut Imperial Champagne, for those who don’t fancy a hot cuppa.
Five star hotels are not the only place one can relish an elaborate afternoon tea. Tea rooms, both swanky and modest, have sprung up in several cities and are hosting popular afternoon teas sessions.
“Anytime is teatime at Infinitea,” is Gaurav Saria’s motto. Says the CEO of Infinitea, Bengaluru, “Our guests are predominantly ladies as having a chat over a tea is so ladylike. The variety we offer, satiates. The concept was introduced to cater to our ever-decreasing attention span, where people feel bored if they are forced to eat only one type of sweet or savoury accompaniment.”
Elma’s Bakery in Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, is known for its mouth-watering teatime treats, as is Kuki Jar in Chennai, which also offers a takeaway afternoon tea box for those who want the experience, but are short on time.
With afternoon tea is enjoying a resurgence in India, one no longer needs to wait for a visit to the Ritz or Savoy to recreate the nostalgia of childhood story books.
Written by Mini Ribeiro