High tea

The Nellie’s ditching tatty tea bags for indulgent infusions.

When I was a little girl, tea with my Gran was a treat.  She was elegant and silver haired, dressed in diamonds and silk caftans. Tea was one of her favourite rituals.  A ceremony brought to South Africa from her colonial past on the island of Madeira.

She used the good china (always the good china).  Translucent cups with saucers.  Tiny silver spoons.  Plates adorned with miniature chocolate éclairs and crustless cucumber sandwiches.  A choice of thinly sliced lemon or milk for the tea. One part of Darjeeling to two parts Lapsang Souchong. Dark pungent leaves, spooned from tea-stained tins engraved with images from the east.  Left for slow minutes to tumble and steep in a warmed and curving pot. The ticking of an old, oiled clock a companionable measure of our comfortable afternoons.

I’ve never been able to recreate the taste of that tea; smoky and fragrant, filled with memories of my grandmother’s soft hands and twinkling eyes.

Not surprising then, that I’ve always loved a good afternoon tea.  Travelling, I loved the cream teas of Devonshire, the green teas of Thailand and the endless cups of “builders” that got me through a stint in London.  But the Mount Nelsen’s famous afternoon tea has to be one of my favourites.

The Nellie has a wonderful discreet sophistication, and tea on the terrace overlooking the gorgeous garden is one of those things I always wish I could do more often.  Perhaps now I will.  The hotel has banished bags! Tea bags that is. They’ve introduced a speciality loose leaf tea menu – including a selection of over thirty tea blends – which has added a whole new dimension to the iconic experience.

Each loose leaf tea is presented in a delicate glass infuser, which is placed inside a matching glass teapot and left to steep for the period indicated on the hanging label on the pot. Individual egg-timers are provided to help you follow the correct infusion time.  Seeing the leaves float and swirl in the transparent teapots is beautifully hypnotic.

The tea menu was designed in collaboration with tea aficionados Mingwei Tsai and Joel Singer of Nigiro Specialist Tea Merchants (the new subsidiary of Origin, the coffee guys who’ve challenged everything you ever thought about good coffee). It features a selection ranging from a Standard Loose Leaf List, including delicious sounding varieties like Gunpowder Temple of Heaven Green Tea, to the Premium List, which includes my favourite Lapsang Souchong.

I tried the Mount Nelson Hotel Special Blend, which Tsai and Singer created specifically for the hotel.  It includes a combination of six locally and internationally sourced and blended black teas, flavoured with buds and petals from the hotel’s own pink roses. Delicately flavoured, with just a hint of tannin and finished with the subtle touch of rose, it was refreshing and needed neither milk nor sweetening.

No tea is complete without something to nibble. Pastry Chef Samantha Waring is the genius behind a tempting table piled high with finger sandwiches, chocolate indulgences, petit fours and classic confectionery.  In the spirit of the new tea menu, some tea infused treats have been included; Vanilla Tea Fudge, Forest Berry Tea infused Turkish Delight, Rooibos Strawberry and Vanilla Mousse Cups, Chamomile Lemon Loaf, Green Tea Cake and Rooibos Orange Marshmallows.

As part of the Hotel’s Afternoon Tea experience, they’ve introduced a series of differently themed Afternoon Teas each month:

  • November: Fruit and the Spice Route (fresh flavours inspired by the seasons’ best)
  • December: Cool Yule (celebrating Christmas with delicacies from around the globe)

Afternoon Tea is served daily in the Hotel Lounge from 14h30 to17h30 and includes Standard Loose Leaf Tea, coffee or hot chocolate.  R150 per person / R75 per child under 12.

Mount Nelson Hotel
76 Orange Street,  Cape Town
Tel: +27 21 483 1000

Written for Moneyweb Life in November 08

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