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A Tale Of Two Teas

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Post by: Barbara Edie

Afternoon tea is one of Victoria’s time-honoured traditions… and I recently enjoyed “High Tea” at two of the city’s most beloved, yet completely different, places to sip a lovely blend and savour delicate sandwiches and elegant pastries.

The first was the Venus Sophia Tea Room and Vegetarian Eatery, a hidden gem housed in a 200-year-old

The quirky beauty of Venus Sophia

The quirky beauty of Venus Sophia

building in the heart of Chinatown. After sampling a wee cup of “Peach Retreat” from a table outside the shop, my friend and I entered into what felt like an eccentric friend’s cottage. Complete with rustic white furniture, comfy chairs, and mix-matched china the Venus Sophia Tea Room has a warm, welcoming, and charming atmosphere. All that and real bicycles with flower baskets sitting a top the ledges, teacups dangling from a chandelier, and a wacky assortment of art and photography.

From a choice of 30 fair-trade and organic loose teas, some blended at Venus Sophia and others imported, I chose the “Monk’s Blend” (pomegranate and vanilla) while my friend went for the classic “Victoria Rose” (black tea infused with rose buds, rose petals, and lemon balm). We settled into our soft chairs, and were soon treated to three tiers of crust-less sandwiches, mini-quiches, fresh scones with ginger marmalade (we had to ask for more marmalade it was so good), and all topped by an array of cupcakes, macarons, and slices of lemon tart.

A delicious afternoon of delight for $26 per person.

Now if you like your afternoon tea with a spot of grandeur and formality, The Empress Hotel (now The Fairmont Empress) has served up England’s most beloved ritual to both royalty and celebrities for over a century. My friend, who was visiting from Korea and loves “tea culture,” couldn’t wait to have High Tea at The Empress.

High Tea at The Empress has, well, high standards. Here one sips tea surrounded by history, antiques, tapestries, and a view of the inner harbour. Before the tea even arrives, you’re treated to fresh strawberries and cream.

Tri-level delight at the Empress High Tea

Tri-level delight at the Empress High Tea

The Empress also has a wide array of fine teas, my friend selected the signature Empress Blend (rich and malty with components from Assam, Kenyan, and Chinese teas), while I went for the lighter Kea Lani Orange Pineapple tea made from natural herbs.

As we sipped our tea from (matching) Royal Doulton china, an elegant tiered tray arrived with delicate cucumber, salmon, and curried chicken sandwiches, as well as the Empress Hotel’s famous raisin scones, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. Atop the tier were pastries prepared by a chef, including blackcurrant lamingtons, dark chocolate cups filled with cherries, vanilla shortbread and more. Far more sugar and carbs (however refined) than any sensible girl should consume in the afternoon.

That said, feeling like royalty, we decided to up-level our afternoon experience with the addition of “Royal Tea,” which offers an extra tier of local Salt Spring Island cheeses, candied pecans, fresh honey, and a glass of port. (Royal Tea costs $30 more, added to the Afternoon Tea fee of $49.95).

All in all, a decadent hour or two spent indulging in a British-inspired tradition in grand style, in Victoria’s grand dame of hotels.

Barbara Edie is a best-selling author, journalist, and editor, who recently moved to Victoria and loves the west coast. www.barbaraedie.com

Barbara Edie is a best-selling author, journalist, and editor, who recently moved to Victoria and loves the west coast. www.barbaraedie.com

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