MUCH as I adore my arabica there is no way I can kick off the day without a fortifying cup of tea – and I confess that for me it always has to be good old Five Roses.
Frenetic work days are usually fuelled by copious amounts of newsroom-strength filter coffee. But the minute I’m home again, the first thing I do is reach for the tea, always taking care to heat the cup first so as to prolong the enjoyment factor.
Tea symbolises the return to calm in my otherwise crazy daily routine, and it’s a simple pleasure that my hubby Salvelio and I share.
Let’s face it, the words “let’s have a cup of tea” have much greater power to soothe than “let’s have a cup of coffee”. And that’s why it has been a delight to me and my man that there has been a great revival in the afternoon tea tradition in recent years, including here in the Eastern Cape.
From Hacklewood Hill in the Bay to Haricot’s in Grahamstown, and Kurland Estate in The Crags to Kingston Farm near Bathurst, classy cafes, hotels, guesthouses and functions venues around the province are bringing out their finest china for convivial high teas.
Salvelio and I were recently invited to a trial run of high tea at one of Port Elizabeth’s most exclusive addresses: No 5 Boutique Art Hotel in Summerstrand.
Previously known as Shamwari Townhouse, No 5 had in the past offered super-scrummy high teas but the gracious custom went into abeyance for a while before being started up again.
The five-star hotel’s recently appointed general manager, Beverley Zonneveld, met our sample group of discerning guinea-pigs, including the likes of local personalities (they’d kill me if I called them socialites!) Ana de Beer, Michelle Brown and Gianna Doubell, and Bay TV’s Zoe Charles and Sisanda Myataza.
Awaiting us was an impressive selection of teas, juices and coffee and a sumptuous spread of dainty eats dreamed up by No 5’s head chef, Phakamisa Kolisi, and food and beverage manager Bernadine van Staden.
A traditional high tea will always include sandwiches, scones and cakey bits like petit fours, but many venues nowadays are breaking with tradition by including cocktail-style snacks, and No 5 is no different.
Purists like Port Elizabeth’s Sue Gaskin, who hosts regular high teas for friends and has attended high teas around the world, are a little dismayed that “man-sized sandwiches and baguettes filled to bursting with chunky fillings are commonplace nowadays”.
“But that is not the done thing at a proper high tea,” Sue says: “Watercress, cucumber, salmon and cheddar are strictly confined and stacked in neat, petite triangles on the lowest rung of a three-tiered plate stand.
“These are followed by dainty, fluted golden scones, served with jam and clotted cream. Petite fours iced in pastel prettiness or diminutive fruit tarts sit on top and are enjoyed last.”
The selection at No 5 did not have a scone in sight, but the correct proportions were suitably observed and there was nothing man-sized whatsoever in the room (except for my appetite). Scones in any case are quickly forgotten when you are faced with a tower of moist, miniature chocolate cupcakes with delicately piped Frangelico icing, or a clever take on the classic French choux pastry showstopper, the croquembouche – especially when the choux puffs are filled with a delectable lavender creme anglaise.
Other sweet surprises that got the group’s thumbs up included the apple, lemon and mint panacotta served in shot glasses (scroll down for the recipe) and the decadent Amarula creme brulee.
On the savoury front, Gianna and Michelle waxed lyrical over the dinkiest beetroot pickle and goats’ cheese tartlets, while everyone felt that the beef and caramelised onion vol au vents, though tasty, were just a tad heavy on the pastry.
With each tasty titbit a tiny artwork in itself, we happily clinked cups to toast No 5’s new offering.
No 5 Boutique Art Hotel is at 5 Brighton Drive, Summerstrand. Bookings for high tea are on (041)5026000 and the cost is R120 per person. Groups must comprise 10 or more people.
Sue’s had high tea around the world
PORT Elizabeth resident Sue Gaskin has had afternoon tea at the Ritz in London, the George V in Paris, Le Berg al’Arab in Dubai, the Old Winter Palace in Egypt, the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe and, last but not least, at South Africa’s own beloved Mount Nelson in Cape Town.
“Each had an ambiance of its own but all followed the protocol of those bygone times,” said Sue, of Walmer Heights. “The dress code was observed and the conversation politely flowed in orderly surroundings.
“Perhaps that’s why I love the ritual [of afternoon tea] so. It gives a sense of order to the mad world and reminds me of a time when people had time for tea.”
Today, she says, tea for many is “just a quick dunk with a teabag – horror of horrors – straight into a mug”.
“But those of a certain age or discerning nature all know tea is not a quick fix. Tea is a tradition, a ritual.”
Sue enjoys the idea that, “not that very long ago, in polite society, tea was served at 4pm sharply”.
“It was a time to show off your best china and your very best linen – even better if the linen was hand- embroidered and could be admired by others.
“Tray cloths, tea cosies and dainty napkins edged with tiny stitches – everything about afternoon tea was in miniature.”
A pot of hot tea accompanied the tea tray and tiered plate stand laden with eats. “A strainer was necessary as a variety of tea leaves was served. Exotic teas such as Lapsang Souchong, Oolong and Darjeeling joined favourites Earl Grey and Ceylon and Assam.”
Rooibos has also found its way onto afternoon tea menus, though Sue delights in the remark of Mr Twining when he visited South Africa several years ago: “Oh please don’t call it a tea – it’s made from twigs, not leaves, so technically it’s an infusion!”
Share your tea-time recipe and win!
ONE lucky reader can win a one-night stay, and breakfast, for two people at No 5 Boutique Art Hotel in PE.
All you have to do to stand a chance to win is send us your favourite or best afternoon tea recipe, whether for a savoury or a sweet treat, plus a sentence saying why this recipe is special.
Weekend Post’s Louise Liebenberg and Beverley Zonneveld of No 5 Boutique Art Hotel will choose the recipe they like the most, and that person will win the prize, which must be claimed before the end of March next year, subject to availability. The stay and breakfast are included, but any other costs are for the winner’s pocket.
“We’re looking for an interesting or unusual recipe; something that involves a bit of innovation in terms of either the method or ingredients used,” said Bev.
E-mail your recipe to: firstname.lastname@example.org or fax to (041)585-4966, marking it for Louise’s attention and including your full name and contact number.
* Entries close at noon on Wednesday August 14, and the winner will be notified telephonically by the end of that week.
Other places where you can enjoy high tea
BESIDES No 5 Boutique Art Hotel, here are other spots where afternoon tea can be savoured:
The five-star Boardwalk Hotel on the PE beachfront serves high tea in its lobby lounge on Saturdays from 3-5pm. Their mousse-like chocolate brownies have been a hit; also try tiny croissants with trout and chevin cheese. Tickets are R75 but bookings on (041)5079452 are advised as seats are limited.
For a five-star spread, visit Hacklewood Hill Country House in Prospect Road, Walmer, where teas can be arranged for any day, given at least a day’s notice. Treats include chocolate-glazed eclairs with coffee mascarpone and gravalax tartlets with cucumber and horseradish. Cost is R90 per personand bookings are on (041)5811300.
Slipperfields, the elegant function venue near Lady’s Slipper, teams up with Fat Cats Catering to host high teas on the last Wednesday of every second month. The next one is on September 25 from 2.30pm and the cost is R75. Book with Jana on 071-856-5787.
Kingston Farm, outside Bathurst, hosts groups no larger than 15 (bookings only). Try the Coronation chicken sandwiches or strawberry tartlets with rose-petal syrup, plus a selection of Asian teas and superb coffee. Tea is on the stoep of the Edwardian farmhouse or in the rose garden overlooking the appaloosa paddocks. Cost: R100 per person. Contact Carla or Fred on (046)6250129.
Haricot’s in Grahamstown has splendid teas from R50 per person, depending on the menu chosen, and subject to prior booking (minimum three people). Call (046)6222150.
Magnificent Kurland in the Crags serves high tea daily for its hotel guests, but does take outside bookings on (044)5348082. Cost: R140 per person.
Recipe: No 5’s Lemon, apple and mint pannacotta
1 litre cream; 1 cup sugar; 5 gelatine leaves (available at stores like Five Ways Spar); Zest of 4 lemons; 2 Tbsp lemon juice
500ml apple juice; 3 gelatine leaves; 10g mint leaves, chopped
Heat cream, sugar, lemon zest and juice. Once simmering, remove from heat. Separately, soak gelatine leaves for base in cold water until it resembles jelly. Squeeze leaves to get rid of excess water.
Slowly add gelatine leaves to hot cream mixture. Pour through a sieve and into moulds. Let cool and set overnight.
For the topping, heat apple juice. Soak gelatine in cold water until it resembles jelly. Squeeze to get rid of excess water. Slowly add gelatine and mint to hot juice.
Once at room temperature, pour over set cream mixture. Cool and set again.