High Time for High Tea

The afternoon tea break is making a comeback in Canada.

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It’s Saturday afternoon in downtown Toronto and the Lobby Lounge at the Shangri-La Hotel is packed. People of all ages have come to participate in the hotel’s daily “high tea” service – an afternoon snack that includes gourmet finger sandwiches, scones with jam, colourful pastries and 68 different teas. The hotel began offering this when it opened in 2012 and, says Sheena Brady, the hotel’s service manager, it’s seen incredible growth since.

This trendy Toronto hotel isn’t the only outfit that has a high tea service. In Victoria, B.C., the Fairmont Empress serves afternoon tea to approximately 100,000 guests each year, while hotels in Banff, Ottawa and elsewhere have jumped on the high tea bandwagon too.

Part of the reason why more places are offering tea times is that consumption of the drink is booming. According to the Tea Association of Canada, we drink almost 9.7 billion cups of tea each year and tea consumption is expected to increased by 40 percent between now and 2020.

Over the last several years, though, tea has made a comeback thanks to the influence of the popular British TV show DOWNTON ABBEY.

There is another reason why hotels like the Shangri-La have afternoon teas, says Brady. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, when social networking was a face-to-face activity.

High tea was created in the early 19th century when Anna Russell, the Duchess of Bedford, invited friends to join her for a cup of tea and sweets in the afternoon to fill the gap between lunch and dinner. While afternoon tea never fully died out, its popularity was eventually eclipsed by the quick 3 P.M. coffee break.

Over the last several years, though, tea has made a comeback and thanks to the influence of the popular British TV show Downton Abbey, where afternoon tea is prominently featured, the midday ritual that the Duchess popularized is back in fashion.

It’s hard not to enjoy an afternoon tea, says Brady. It’s about slowing down, feeling comfortable and spending time with friends, all of which is hard to come by in our always on-the-go world. There is a great deal of ceremony too – you have to choose the right pot, select the perfect tea and then match your drink with your food. Fortunately, tea specialists can help you sift through the daunting tea menus. If you want to get really traditional, it’s the woman of the house who usually pours the tea, says Louise Roberge, President of the Tea Association of Canada.

While tea time may not fit into everyone’s schedule, if you have some time on your hands then think about trading in your cup of coffee for some tea and conversation. “You grab a cup of coffee and sip a cup of tea,” says Roberge. “It’s only a matter of time before more people start reaching for a cup of tea in the afternoon.”

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