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New-School Afternoon Tea, Canadian-Style

All this talk of prince William and Kate Middleton’s engagement (and her engagement ring) and British royal weddings is making me Jones for a proper high tea, English-style. Can it be had outside of London? Oh yes.

This past spring, we went to tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. It was wonderful. The best tea experience I can get without hopping a plane to London. I’d never been. I knew they did it, but it became one of those things I had known about for so many years it just slipped by under my radar. Recently they’ve upped the experience a notch, modernizing high tea with a series of matcha tea mar(tea)nis. Apparently the infusion of matcha (powdered tea) with alcohol increases the polyphenol count considerably. Who knew? Here we are chugging quantities of green tea for its antioxidant benefits, and all we need to do is add a shot of vodka.

When you arrive for tea, the experience begins with white linens, real silverware and a stunning mountain view. Mike said as we sat down that he wished he traveled more (so do I) so that he could definitively say that this was his favourite place on earth. Not just Banff, but that particular spot – any window seat, really – in the Rundle Lounge at the Banff Springs.

Once you’ve settled into your blissful spot, they bring out a tea cart and do a little talk, educating you about their various loose teas, letting you sniff and ask questions. For the kids there’s a bubble gum tea that actually has tiny gumballs nestled in the leaves in order to infuse them with flavour. (My friend Nik has this same tea, and she brings it to events at which kids will be present, like skating parties and school plays, as an alternative to hot chocolate. In summer she chills it and serves it instead of juice. It’s caffeine-free, brilliant pink and tastes like bubblegum. How completely awesome is that?)

After you make your tea selections they go steep it and bring tall martini glasses filled with fresh fruit as a palate cleanser. Then the tea arrives in silver pots, your first cup poured tableside through a silver strainer.

There is, of course, honey and milk and lemon on offer. And then comes the tower of food. I’m not sure what W was more ecstatic about – the fact that we were going to a real tea party in a castle or the three-tiered plate that arrived at our table laden with strawberries, wee sandwiches, and two-bite cakes and tarts.

There were mini flaky croissants stuffed with egg salad, soft baguette topped with smoked salmon, ham finger sandwiches with creamy/spicy dijon, and PB&J with the crusts cut off for W (we didn’t even have to ask – although he favoured the ham and dijon). One plate up there were small crème brûlées, tiny pots of strawberry jam and real clotted cream. On top: small chocolate cakes, cream puffs, whole strawberry tarts and tiny lemon tarts with torched meringue tops.

It was like the mother ship was calling me home.

And then they brought the scones – they had to arrive separately, because they were WARM.

Mike (who had never experienced scones with clotted cream): ohmigod, are you serious? You’re kidding me. YOU’RE KIDDING ME. This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

Me: (Can’t talk, eating.)

Mike: If I’m ever on death row, this is what I’m choosing for my last meal. Do you have to be British?

Naw, all you need to do is visit the Fairmont Banff Springs.

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