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High Tea Series: The Empress Hotel (Victoria)

on Jul 23, 2009 in Drink, Eat, Recipes, Travel, Vault | 10 comments

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My recent trip to Victoria with Coast Hotels & Resorts gave me the perfect opportunity to take on the mother of all high teas in British Columbia: the historic Empress Hotel.

Around the Empress Hotel

At an eye-popping price tag of $55 (make that $67 for Royal Tea), I was a huge skeptic. Even if the tea really is fantastic and the dainties to die for, can a bunch of micro sandwiches, scones, and leaf-infused hot water really be worth all that money?

Read on and decide for yourself.

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First impressions

Our group of six strolled around the ivy citadel that is the Fairmont Empress, already in awe of its Victorian glory. The room that housed us for tea was no less impressive:

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The Tea Lobby was elegant, airy, luxurious, and filled with the tinkling from a baby grand piano. I clapped my hands with glee when it became clear that he was playing the theme song from the Harry Potter films. Fittingly majestic and magical for a space such as this.

Full service afternoon tea

Have you ever gone to a tea house in Vancouver and had the equivalent of a butler see to your every need? If you have, you must tell me where, because this has only ever happened to me at the Empress.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Paul, our stately server, welcomed us with full pomp, pulling out the chairs for the ladies and placing our napkins on our seats as one would expect at a fine dining restaurant. His delivery of our strawberries and chantilly, presented elegantly in cut crystal goblets, was crisp and expedient. It was bettered only by his performance with our tea. Apparently, we were to have him wait on us completely, with our teapots set on its own table as he poured cup after cup for each of us. He even executed the cream and sugar himself on the first round.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

He was so prepared to continue pouring our tea for us, having remembered what each of us had ordered, that we had to stop him in the middle of service after we decided to sample each other’s teas. After one incident where he poured Angela’s tea into the teacup she had already half-filled with Anny’s tea, Paul realized that we were quite happy to help ourselves. He consequently pulled back a bit, returning only occasionally to top up our cups and plop more cream and sugar into those that warranted it, confirming the tea we wanted from then on.

Giggle! All the attention made me feel like a princess.

A closer look at the food and drink

It may be partially due to the service and our surroundings, but by God, did I ever love the tea here!

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

I naturally had to try the The Empress Blend, made exclusively for the hotel with the express intention of pairing with the dainties of afternoon tea. Here’s what the menu told me about it:

Exclusive to The Fairmont Empress, this delightful blend boasts a bright coppery colour and takes milk exceedingly well. The Assam component lends a rich malty character, while the Kenyan black tea provides subtle floral hints. Kenyan green tea infuses a bright and lively aroma, complemented by the fruity, sprightly, and airy piquant flavours of Dimbula from Sri Lanka. Small amounts of Kemum draw the elements together with a burgundy depth and light oaky notes.

Half the table had the Empress Blend along with me, while others selected from the menu of eight delicious sounding options. We all seemed to prefer the ones we ordered for ourselves, and my tastings of the rest, while personally paling in comparison to the Empress Blend, were fragrant, colourful, and beautiful with the food that we had in front of us.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Anny evidently enjoyed her strawberries and chantilly, as did I.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The presentation of our dainties was utterly refined. My eyes were immediately drawn to the marbled chocolate tulips on the top tier and the smoked salmon pinwheels and mushroom crostini on the bottom one.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

For me, the savouries were clearly a cut above your average afternoon tea fare. The plate popped with colour and contrast, and the flavours were bright and full without being overbearing. A lot of care seemed to be put in to ensure that these items would complement the teas (which still should be the star of the meal, no?). Best cucumber sandwich I’ve had; the horseradish in the spread was the magic ingredient, I think.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

The scones were good but not anything to write home about. They weren’t a match for the scones that I still fondly recall from Secret Garden, but they are better than those from T Room & Bakery and Bacchus. Although I downed every bite, I do wish they had served us the crumpets instead (their cookbook has a recipe dating back over 100 years).

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

By the time we reached dessert, our group was pleasantly stuffed. I was barely capable of trying even a mouthful of each of the sweets on the top tier. Besides, I find that the desserts are often made much too sweet to be served with tea, so this part of the service was not one that I was particularly looking forward to.

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Again, as you can see, Anny enjoyed whatever had been put in front of her. Others reported the deliciousness of the sweets, ultimately favouring the the most delicate ones due to their pairings with the tea. From my nibbles, I leaned towards the lemon tarts and the shortbread with crumbles of Earl Grey tea leaves baked in.

Our verdict

High Tea at the Empress Hotel

Is high tea at the Empress expensive? Hell, yes! All told, the six of us spent nearly $400 for an afternoon that didn’t even qualify as a full meal.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. Best afternoon tea experience I’ve had to date, in an atmosphere of opulence and a city of much Victorian charm.

Make your own Empress afternoon tea at home

Anyone that helps us give to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society for Blogathon 2009 has the opportunity to win a tin of The Empress’ Centennial Blend plus a copy of If Teapots Could Talk, which is filled with recipes for the food you see above and more. See full rules and eligibility below.

  1. By day’s end on July 24, 2009, every $10 that you donate towards Tiny Bites’ Blogathon drive for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society grants you 1 entry to the draw. If you donate $50, that equals 5 entries for you and $50 x 3 = $150 worth of food for the people that the Food Bank helps.
  2. Please contact us about your donation and/or bookings before July 25th so that we can make sure you get all the entries that you deserve.
  3. The winner will be announced at 4:30am on July 26, 2009, while I am on shift for Blogathon 2009.

Thank you for your donations and best of luck in winning this Early Bird prize!

10 Comments

  1. Terri

    June 21, 2013

    What a nice article. I was debating taking a friend there when she visits, and I think after reading this it is an absolute must!

  2. Ken

    February 19, 2013

    Afternoon Tea is NOT “High Tea.” High Tea is an evening meal.

  3. Jana Vizdal

    February 15, 2013

    As an artist I have a great appreciation for beauty…and the afternoon the at The Empress is just that.
    As far as I can remember I have been going to the afternoon tea at Empress.
    Lately it has been with my oldest daughter who had inherited the love for the elegant event. At times we are joined by the rest of our family clan all dressed up enjoying the beauty,individual service and yami delights together with the best teas in town.
    Jana Vizdal/Kitty Stinner and Stinner family

  4. Linda McElroy

    November 14, 2010

    We have thoroughly enjoyed the tea from our complimentary tin of Centennial Blend Tea. It reminds us of the beauty and stateliness of the Hotel and Victoria. Unfortunately, we have only one tea bag left. Is there a way to purchace more tins? And if so, do you know the cost?

    Thank you,

    The McElroys

  5. Michele Last

    September 4, 2010

    My husband and I were guests at the Empress and partook of the tea just last week. The scones were unbelievable good, light and moist and tasty. They were my favorite part of the “tea”. I bought the cookbook from the hotel shop and I am going to try the scones myself very soon. Only thing is, because it was such a warm day, we had iced tea, I know a big no-no. Good just the same.

  6. coral calvin

    July 18, 2010

    I enjoyed the pictures. I was there a few years ago and really liked the esperience. Since then I want to have a tea party at my house and wanted to remember some of the menu items to get ideas. Would like a good scone recipe, any suggestions?thank you, CC.

  7. Brenda Dreyer

    March 22, 2010

    I use to live close to Victoria and I would take my daughter there often as a child. Now that she is grow she still loves going and I now want to take my daughter-in-laws too. It just give you a little snap shot of something very lovely and sweet. Your worth the cost, trust me you won’t reget going. After ward take a walk in the park near by, its nice too.

  8. Barbara LeCropane

    February 16, 2010

    My daughter and granddaughter enjoyed High Tea at your hotel. They brought a tin of your Centennial tea to me upon their return. This is the best tea I have ever had. Do you sell your Centennial tea? If so, could you tell me the cost and an address to send an order? Thank you.

    Barbara LeCropane

  9. Alex van Broek

    November 1, 2009

    We are down to our last tea bag of your wonderful tea from our trip to Vancouver Island this summer. Paul was our server. How great to see his picture on your website.

  10. Hélène

    July 23, 2009

    I should go sometimes I like just few hours from Victoria. Love the great pictures.

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