With the Christmas season upon us, we tend to find ourselves swept up in weeks of indulgence: confectionaries, wintery cocktails, and enough carbohydrates to tide us over until the New Year.
Perhaps it has something to do with A Christmas Carol, A Child’s Christmas In Wales, or the fact that so many of our holiday carols are of English origin, but something about the season can feel quintessentially British. Even the foods we tend to eat at this time of year are borrowed traditions from the old country; mince pies, Christmas puddings, Christmas cake. It’s no surprise that, for the past number of years, North Americans and Brits alike have settled in after a Christmas Day feast with a nightcap and the Downton Abbey Christmas special; there’s something about the idea of Christmas in England that is tinged with nostalgia for times gone by.
Perhaps there is no better archetypal English tradition than high tea. It’s a custom that is thought to have originated with the wealthy class in the 1840s, and consisted of a light meal served in the late afternoon or early evening. This meal would typically include tea—of course!— as well as light savories and sweets.
Many luxury hotels and restaurants around the world have taken to serving high tea year round, with seasonal flairs being added throughout the Christmas season. Here are our picks for the best seasonal high teas around the world.
Palm Court at the Ritz (London)
The Ritz London totes itself as “The world’s greatest hotel, conceived by the world’s greatest hotelier.” This hotel has been a landmark London destination since its establishment in 1906. Its iconic Palm Court, originally known as the ‘Winter Garden’, was once a salon for the upper classes to see and be seen.
Christmas Tea at the Palm Court consists not only of dainty finger sandwiches, delicate pastries, and fresh scones and cakes, but it also includes carol singing from the Ritz Choir. This event runs throughout the Christmas season until the 30th of December. On Christmas Day, Santa Claus makes a special appearance with gifts for the young children in attendance.
The Russian Tea Room (New York)
Founded in 1927 by members of the Russian Imperial Ballet, the Russian Tea Room has long been something of a New York institution, housing intellectuals and artists as well as society’s elite.
The Russian Tea Room features a Royal High Tea from 2-4:30 pm daily, serving champagne and delicacies like Siberian Osetra caviar, smoked Scottish salmon, and NY smoked sturgeon. For those looking for something a little heavier on Christmas Day, the Tea Room will be serving a three-course prix fixe with a curated selection of Russian cuisine on the menu.
Old Mill Inn (Toronto)
Still clinging to its ties to the Commonwealth, Canada has long fostered a special fondness for all things British. The Old Mill Inn in Toronto is the city’s own little slice of Old England. The Old Mill Tea Garden originally opened on August 4th, 1914, the day WWI broke out. It quickly became a hub at the time for events and exchanging news, keeping the community connected to the country for which it would soon be fighting. The land’s financier, Home Smith, often referred to the place as “A little bit of England far from England.”
The Inn takes its Christmas traditions seriously, decorating the dining room, bar, common areas, and endless nooks and crannies with trees, poinsettias, and lush garlands. The Old Mill hosts several Christmas events throughout the season, includin festive high teas that feature seasonal treats and live music.
The former home of Napoleon Bonaparte’s grandnephew, Prince Roland Bonaparte, the Shangri-La Hotel in Paris boasts a rich history and is situated right in the heart of the ‘City Of Lights.’ One of its restaurants, La Bauhinia, is renowned for its elegance in everything from the fare to its glass cupola and Murano Chandelier.
La Bauhinia serves an eclectic mix of French and Asian dishes, as well as a popular afternoon tea in the Asian tradition. Always on the cutting edge, this restaurant has even begun to serve a 100% vegan tea, featuring plant-based delicacies such as Sicily pistachio cream and coconut cream instead of the traditional clotted cream dairy variety. If you’re celebrating Christmas in the Parisian way this year, La Bauhinia is a must.
The Mandarin Oriental (Bangkok)
This luxury five-star hotel has been a popular destination with travellers for one hundred and forty years. Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok is home to the Authors’ Lounge, supposedly one of Bangkok’s—perhaps even Thailand’s—most photographed locations. With private lounges named for the famous writers that frequented the place (Noel Coward, James Michener, Somerset Maugham, and Joseph Conrad), the dining room is a hub for intellectuals and travellers alike.
Served from 12 – 6pm daily, the Lounge’s high tea offers selections between a traditional Western Afternoon Tea Set, Oriental Afternoon Tea Set, and Vegetarian Tea Set. Visitors attending during the Christmas season would be well served to try the Winter Blossom Mocktail, a beverage made from Sakura Mariage Frères Tea, Apple Juice, Cranberry Juice, Fresh Lime Juice, and Sugar Syrup.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills (Los Angeles)
The “only AAA Five Diamond and Forbes Five Star-rated hotel in Southern California every year since 1993,” the Peninsula Beverly Hills is a slice of opulence in the lush, tropical world of Beverly Hills. This might not be the land of evergreen trees and snow, but nonetheless, the hotel takes the festive season very seriously with stunning décor and numerous holiday events.
During the month of December, guests are welcome to indulge in Festive Afternoon Tea, tasting treats such as Chai Spice Marshmallow, Scottish Shortbread, and Chocolate & Douglas Fir Bonbons. And best of all, this event takes the true meaning of the season to heart; a portion of every afternoon tea sold is donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.