Sinking into a couch in front of the fireplace, the piano keys tinkling through the buzzy lobby of the Shangri-La hotel Toronto, the mood of quiet indulgence is totally set for their Nutcracker High Tea. A multi-tiered tray, as colourful as a Christmas tree, is crowned with Nutcracker-inspired treats like the spicy “Spanish Dance” chocolate truffle, “Arabian Dance” coffee opera cake, and the “Chinese Dance” Darjeeling Tea — a wee parfait, layered with cassis cream, Darjeeling tea gelée, and adorable teardrop meringues.
The tea cakes, scones, finger sandwiches and amazing gingerbread loaf cake are nothing to shake a flute at either — all the handiwork of executive chef Damon Campbell and crew. The Shangri-La has over 75 premium teas available year-round, as well as some seasonal ones like Apple Crumble and Ginger Sencha. Enjoying a high tea during a snowy winter’s day is a magical way to spend a holiday afternoon; a calming experiential gift during this busiest time of year.
There are many high and afternoon tea experiences across the country — here are seven of our favourites:
1. The Shangri-La’s Nutcracker High Tea is served daily from 2-5pm, until January 2nd. Their regular tea service runs throughout the year.
2. Empress Hotel, Victoria. One of the oldest and dearest options in the country; this afternoon tradition started in 1908. I love their signature Empress tea blend, and the fine china is as dainty as it comes.
3. Windsor Arms, Toronto. Another oldie but a goody, since 1927 they’ve been serving elegant, champagne-tinged Afternoon Tea. Their lemon scones are to die for.
4. Zoe’s Lounge in Chateau Laurier, Ottawa. The storied Fairmont hotels sure know how to do tea! I took my niece Julia here when she was five. She had the kid’s menu and chose the bubblegum tea. “I like the tea,” she said. “It has lots of fruit taste in it and you get a gum-ball on the side.” In fact, Julia enjoyed the entire high tea experience: “I think it’s a very nice place to be.”
5. Wedgewood Hotel, Vancouver. I’m a sucker for plush seating, candlelight, live piano music and primo people watching, and the Wedgewood’s afternoon tea in Bacchus restaurant and lounge has it all — including mini bakewell tarts!
6. The Doves Nest, Calgary. Homemade, traditional charm, complete with thick pink frosting and dense brownies, sandwiches and over 100 teas from which to choose.
7. Grandma’s Tea Room, Charlottetown. Housed in a PEI B&B, you just know it’s going to be good — and it is. Tea scones, clotted cream, garden fresh strawberry jam, Island butter and crustless sandwiches are all made for sharing. Tea parties are also available for extra fun.