Chinese style afternoon tea (dim sum)

What’s an afternoon tea blog without a tribute to dim sum, a Chinese tea tradition that predates the English afternoon tea tradition by a millennium?  And not to mention, tea originated in China …!

Though I experienced my first English style afternoon tea in 2006, I realized I have more accurately been enjoying “afternoon tea” since I was a kid but never really appreciated the ritual because I didn’t drink tea at the time (I wasn’t allowed to!) and going out for dim sum was always a big, loud family affair–the opposite of an intimate, quiet English afternoon tea which is more in line with my personality. 😉

Vegetarian egg rolls

“Dim sum” is also known by its Cantonese name, “yum cha” (飲茶) which literally means “drink tea.”  According to some sources, Chinese tea houses first appeared along the Silk Road in the 10th century as rest stops for weary travelers where they could refresh themselves with drink and food.

As luck would have it, I attended a dim sum luncheon today that featured dishes that are the standard of measure for every dim sum restaurant.

Oolong tea is the traditional tea served at dim sum.  When I was 12 years old, I had dim sum in NYC’s Chinatown.  My 15-year-old cousin M. told me that tea was a digestive that helped counteract and cut the grease in dim sum foods.  Since M. was 3 years my senior, I thought she was super smart and cool and devoured her every word.  I remember being amused by how enthusiastically M. drank tea to justify eating a lot of dim sum. 😉

Traditionally, dim sum is served from roaming rolling carts in a restaurant.  Customers choose small tapas sized dishes that are displayed on roaming rolling food carts.  The choice of foods is dependent on where you are seated in the restaurant, location, location, location!  The closer you are seated to the kitchen, the better chance you have of nabbing the hottest (temperature), freshest, and most popular dishes.  If you are unlucky enough to get seated at some remote corner of the restaurant, trying to flag down a cart will be an exercise in frustration and futility.  Not many restaurants offer the cart service anymore but if you can find a restaurant that offers cart service, you are in for a treat.  It is simply not as fun to order off a menu because part of the fun is taking a chance and choosing a dish on whim, based solely on how it looks and smells.  [NOTE: The dim sum luncheon featured in this blog post took place at Emerald Chinese Cuisine which doesn’t offer cart service]

Daikon turnip cake

Gai lan (Chinese broccoli) with oyster sauce

“Dim sum” (點心) translates literally to “touch heart.”  When I hear “dim sum,” the first image that comes to mind is sui mai, pork and shrimp dumplings with a touch of red in its center, the red representing the heart.  As a kid, sui mai was my favorite dim sum food.

Sui mai (pork and shrimp dumplings)

Vegetarian soy sauce fried noodles (chow mein)

Steamed chicken bao (buns) [NOTE: Char sui bao or BBQ pork buns are usually the standard but these were chosen specially for this luncheon]

Whereas my favorite dim sum foods were sui mai and joong/zongzi/ (lotus leaf variety), my sister’s favorites were har gow and don tot (egg tarts).

Don tot (egg tarts): I think these were the best don tot I’ve ever eaten!?

My biggest frustration about dim sum is that there are very few vegetarian offering 😦 but it’s special enough for me to make the occasional exception! 🙂  Even dishes that are seemingly vegetarian-friendly have hidden non-plant ingredients.  For example, egg tarts.  The pastry of egg tarts is traditionally made with lard.  Chinese broccoli is served with oyster sauce (but you can ask for it on the side).  The pan-fried turnip cakes usually have tiny bits of minced sausage or dried shrimp.  However, I am in awe of the art of the dim sum chef.  I read that dim sum chefs often start their training early and train for years for a career that is shorter than the normal chef.  Making dim sum is labor intensive since everything is made by hand and chefs may retire earlier as a result.  With that knowledge, I have a new appreciation for dim sum since I find it challenging to put together English style afternoon tea foods which are just as dainty but nowhere near as complicated or complex as dim sum! 🙂  My (tea) hat’s off to all the dim sum chefs out there.  Thank you for doing what you do and keeping a tradition alive.  In another lifetime, I would love to be a dim sum chef!Disclaimer: Tastes Like Tea is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

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The Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea

Lady MH hosted the spring tea for the Victorian Tea Society at Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe and Afternoon Tea.  Months in the planning, Lady MH reserved the entire tea room for 15 lucky guests to revel in a Royal Afternoon Tea to celebrate the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  Since the tea was held on Sunday, May 20, many of the ladies spent the previous day watching the nuptials on TV before taking their hats off to (or putting their hats on, as the case may be) Prince Harry and Meghan at the tea party!

The timing of the Royal Afternoon Tea party not only coincided nicely with the wedding event itself but Lady MH somehow managed to arrange for some English weather too!  Though we didn’t get rain, the May gray was too good to be true!

The table settings were elegant and simple in style, just like Meghan

Lady MH’s gifted all the guests with crown brooches (not pictured), pocket mirrors (not pictured), and this exquisite royal crown cookie by Penny’s Custom Cookies. I think this Penny’s best design yet!

I really love this idea! These alphabet beads identify the type of tea in the teapot. It certainly takes the guess work out of which tea goes in which teapot!

All guests got their own pot of tea. Guests can choose to sample any tea in the Corner Shoppe.

The tea party commenced with the singing of the English national anthem, “God save the Queen.”  Since this was an English-American wedding, I wondered why we didn’t dispense with all tradition and also sing the “Star spangled banner” …?  However, the menu was an English-American fusion of tea delights so all was forgiven for this little oversight. 😉

NOTE: The photos that follow reflect only the vegetarian menu.  Overall, I enjoyed the vegetarian menu very much but I want to point out that Shakespeare’s also offers a vegan menu!  Had I known, I would have chosen the vegan menu since that option is not usually available at tea houses.

Stilton port pate with pickled beetroot and toast points

The roast chicken vol au vent was an homage to the royal couple’s engagement day since Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle over a roast chicken dinner.  The vegetarian version of the roast chicken vol au vent was filled with roasted vegetables!

Left, clockwise: Egg salad with coriander, brie cranberry quiche (hidden), cucumber and mint butter, roasted vegetable vol au vent, English cheddar and arugula, vegetarian sausage rolls, and in the center, Branston pickle (which, by the way, was not vegetarian)

Branston pickle, a sweet and sour chutney or relish of chopped vegetables (traditionally: carrots, rutabaga, cucumbers, and cauliflower) in a “brown sauce,” was served as an accompaniment to the sausage rolls.  I had never had it before and it was sweet, sour, and crunchy with the distinct flavor of Worcestershire sauce which, by the way, is not vegetarian.  I don’t know for certain whether the Branston pickle served here actually contained Worcestershire sauce because I didn’t get a chance to ask but it certainly tasted like it.  Just a heads-up!

I was so happy to get a vegetarian sausage roll!

Excellent scones and real clotted cream!

Fresh fruit course

The selection of desserts were wonderful in concept and execution and appropriate to the theme of the royal wedding.  That said, those of you who know me will appreciate the irony of the selections:

  • Syllabub: Syllabub was included on the menu as a tribute to tradition.  Originating in the 16th century, syllabub is a quintessential English dessert that consists of whipped cream with sugar and wine (in this case, it was Champagne).  I think I was the only one who could taste the Champagne. 😉
  • Banoffee pie (banana and toffee pie): The inclusion of banoffee pie on the menu was a nod to Prince Harry’s fondness for everything banana.  Apparently, the royal couple almost ordered a banana wedding cake which, in my opinion, sounds even worse than fruitcake!
  • Princess tiara shortbread: Everyone’s favorite British (Scottish to be exact) biscuit but my least favorite cookie! 😦

Champagne syllabub, banoffee pie, and princess tiara shortbread cookies

To end the Royal Wedding Tea celebration, all guests were served a “slice” of Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, lemon elderflower cake with lemon buttercream frosting.

Lemon elderflower wedding cupcake

This Royal Wedding tea party boasted the largest attendance of any Victorian Tea Society event to date.  Members and friends of the Victorian Tea Society came together to share the experience of afternoon tea which this plaque in the Corner Shoppe summed up quite completely.  Thank you Lady MH and co-hostess, Lady K., for hosting a royal occasion that will be remembered for years to come and congratulations to the royal couple!

Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar

I tried to make reservations for afternoon tea at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar over the winter holidays because my friends N., S., and I wanted to go somewhere fancy for Christmas tea.  It turns out they don’t have afternoon tea service during December!  Instead, they serve hors d’oeuvres (cheese, crackers, and deli meats) so my friends and I decided to wait.  Fast forward 4 months later … we finally made it to the Fairmont Grand Del Mar for afternoon tea!

Making my way to afternoon tea…

Such expanses of land on the vast property, and look at the wide driveway!

Resort main entrance (photo from Fairmont Grand Del Mar website)

The bathrooms are even elegant! I especially like the full sized doors on the stalls and reusable hand towels.

Tea menu (click image to enlarge)

The Fairmont Grand Del Mar used to offer Tea Forte teas but they recently changed their tea selection, which is great!  I like Tea Forte but I prefer trying different teas whenever I can.  I tried the Liza Hill Darjeeling which was nice but didn’t have a strong enough flavor profile for me, even when it was steeped for awhile.  The Grand Bazaar Spice tea was spicy as its name suggests and it was a nice dark tea.  N. liked it a lot.  The creamy Earl Grey had a wonderful aroma but like the Liza Hill Darjeeling, S. thought the tea was not strong enough.

They still have beautiful china and the individual teapots and tea strainers which I really like.

The Fairmont Grand Del Mar does offer a vegetarian menu and I was very impressed with their vegetarian sandwiches which were mostly vegan and plant based, rather than cheese based.  This is my favorite vegetarian tea menu so far because all the ingredients were so fresh and so much thought went into the sandwich fillings which were delicious and innovative.

Vegetarian sandwiches (top to bottom): open face egg salad with microgreens, asparagus and tomato, open face artichoke tapenade, roasted garlic and cauliflower on whole wheat, open face roasted vegetable hummus on marbled rye

Their regular tea sandwich menu was also lovely.  I could have happily eaten these too!

Regular tea sandwich menu (left to right): Open face roasted vegetable hummus, open face egg salad, open face smoked salmon, honey ham and cheese, and shrimp BLT

I love that they still offer 2 scones per person because their scones are excellent: currant and Tahitian vanilla.

The mixed berry “preserves” were so good that I could have eaten them with a spoon! It was more like a berry puree and tasted like a coulis. My friend S. declared the lemon curd was the “best” she’d ever had!

Candied lemon cake with hazelnut

Raspberry macarons and profiteroles with caramel cream and passionfruit custard

Caramel creme macarons and opera cake

Tiramisu and fruit tarts with strawberry custard

Judging by the desserts, they still have a French pastry chef on staff (yeah!).  The desserts were all delicious but the profiterole was truly an experience, the most delectable dessert I’ve enjoyed in a long time.  A light profiterole puff (slightly crispy on the outside, soft on the inside) filled with caramel cream and passionfruit custard, studded with a ring of crispy dark chocolate pearls.  Aaaahhhh!!!  I think I actually momentarily left my body and mentally abandoned my 2 tea companions while I was eating this!  Is that what it means when something is so good, it’s like a “bite of heaven”? 😉

Bye, bye, thanks for the wonderful tea!

I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since I last had afternoon tea at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar–I was very impressed when I called to make reservations because my name was still in their system!  In any case, I won’t wait that long again until my next visit.  My only regret is that we were not able to get a table in the library but now we have a reason to come back!  Thank you N. and S. for a lovely Sunday afternoon outing! 

High Tea in Dubai

While the Victorian Tea Society ladies were attending Lady MH’s Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea, Lady J. was on a 28-day “Timeless Wonder Cruise” on Oceania from India to Rome. During her trip, she got to experience High Tea in Dubai.  She was gracious enough to provide photos and to write about her experience for Tastes like Tea!  In the words of Lady J. ….

During our “Timeless Wonder Cruise,” we had the opportunity to go on the half-day shore excursion, “Dubai Heritage Tour with High Tea at Burj,” which included a 1.5 hour lunch break for “high-tea and pastries” at Sahn Eddar Lobby Lounge (“Reception of the House” in Arabic) in the Burj Al Arab hotel, the third tallest hotel in the world.

Burj Al Arab

We went up to the 18th floor for our tea and were surprised to find ourselves in the spa area.  We walked through a hallway and came to a clearing where tables of mostly ten were set up for tea. One could look over the railing to see the lobby down below.

View of the lobby from the 18th floor

We were able to grab a table for our nine traveling friends, including P., from the ship’s crew. When we arrived, the finger sandwiches and desserts were already set out on the tables. They were not set on tea caddies but on vertical stands–short stands for the desserts and taller ones for the sandwiches. I thought the stands were made of glass but TW said they were cardboard. KM disagreed and thought they were plywood, which seemed more likely.

The waiters (all men) served the sandwiches, desserts and tea. The waiters preferred that we helped ourselves as it took too long for them to serve every guest. Instead of serving or presenting us with one of each sandwich, the waiter asked us what sandwiches we wanted.  It didn’t take us long to realize our waiter was not knowledgeable in afternoon tea food service styles since this was unlike any tea service we’ve experienced before.
Several times we had asked for more sandwiches because there weren’t enough to go around (i.e., there was not one for each person per type of sandwich).  It had been six to seven hours since breakfast so most of us were hungry, especially the men. TW remarked that she liked the egg salad sandwich, but the rest of us didn’t get offered any. Much later, the waiter brought another plate of sandwiches that included the “missing” egg salad sandwiches and cucumber sandwiches.

There were four different sandwiches (rectangle: eggplant and chicken salad; round: salmon and imitation crab with a slice of egg on top). The waiter stacked the two smaller ones on top of the rectangle sandwiches on my plate, but I wanted to see them and so asked him to arrange them separately on the plate.

The hot tea, served in a silver carafe, tasted like Lipton tea. I was disappointed that teapots weren’t used. At one point our waiter was pouring tea from a teapot that matched the plates on our table. However, he didn’t come all the way around the table to where I could get a picture, and I never saw the teapot again. One of our friends asked the waiter what the two syrupy bowls on our table were. He said they were to put on the desserts.  We then got confirmation that they were for the scones, so we asked the waiter, “Where are the scones?”  We weren’t sure if he understood but he went to the kitchen and brought us a basket of the scones!  The scones were typical of small round ones I’ve had in the States with raisins. It turned out that the 2 mysterious syrupy bowls on the table were actually strawberry and apricot “jams.”  Wheras the Devonshire cream was very thick as expected, those syrups were definitely not “jams.”

When the waiter presented the desserts, he did a sloppy job and got chocolate on the other desserts.  We also had a chocolate cake, fruit tart (with dragon fruit!) and a lighter cake with two mini marshmallows on top.  Some of the ladies were tickled by the marshmallows since it made them feel like they were having a children’s tea rather than a tea for adults.

We did eventually get our proper share of sandwiches and started to finally fill up. However, instead of the promised 1.5 hours for tea as printed on our itinerary, our local guide gave us only 1 hour!  I am used to taking at least two hours for tea so 1.5 hrs. was already too short!  As a result, I was the last one at our table to finish as I was still sipping my tea.  I was also late leaving the tea area as I was waiting to talk to the head waiter, hoping to get a menu from the chef of what we ate, but I was not successful.

The cucumber sandwiches had a thick cake-like bottom layer (one couldn’t call it bread) with a thin layer of green Jell-O (aspic? gelatin?) on top–we didn’t finish eating all of the cucumber sandwiches.

Would I do tea in Dubai again?  Probably not.  Calling it “High Tea” is a misnomer since it was more aptly “Afternoon Tea,” as there were no savories and not even close to a supper-type tea.  Even though the food was not bad, the service was just not proper tea etiquette!!  P., from the ship’s crew, learned much about afternoon tea from the comments made at our table!  TW said I had spoiled them in how to enjoy the ultimate in tea ritual!Thank you Lady J. for sharing your afternoon tea experience in Dubai!  The fact that you could enjoy afternoon tea in Dubai is a testament to the popularity  and demand for this beloved ritual.  Though the service lacked attention to detail and authenticity, and the tea could have been better, the location certainly looked luxurious and unique!  The food looked wonderful and most importantly, it sounded like you were among many friends. 🙂 In my book, that makes it true afternoon tea experience!

Lady Di’s British Shop and Tea Room

I want to give a shout-out to my friend S. in Portland, OR who celebrated her birthday at Lady Di’s British Shop & Tea Room in downtown Lake Oswego, OR.  She treated herself and 3 friends to their first afternoon tea!  What a wonderful gift!  S. was very kind to share photos from her special day.

Click menu to enlarge

S. reported that the teas were Twinings brand tea bags.  Each guest got their own little teapot.  Though the teas were delicious, S. said she would have preferred a properly brewed cuppa of loose leaf tea.

Mini quiche and sandwiches: Cream cheese and cucumber, salmon spread and cucumber, turkey and tomato, and Cheddar and chutney

Lady Di’s Tea Room has an interesting business model for sandwiches–guests get to choose one sandwich from the menu.  Portion-wise, one sandwich makes 4 little sandwiches which is enough to satiate any appetite.  It sure beats trying to figure out what to do with leftover sandwiches when you don’t have an even number of guests.  However, one sandwich is boring … unless you have tea with at least 4 friends so that you can each order a different sandwich to share!  I understand that one of the delights of afternoon tea is sharing it with friends but I might be in the minority since I don’t mind having tea by myself. 😉

According to S., “Everything tasted good. The scones were not as good as Marlene’s but tasted fine.”

Fresh fruit garnish with Eton Mess (strawberries, meringue cookies, and whipped cream), lemon bars, shortbread, and chocolate pound cake

And last but not least, here is some “British” bathroom humor.  I think it’s strange to find bathroom humor in tea rooms but it’s not uncommon?!  Even at the St. James Tearoom, which is probably my favorite “British” style tea room, they have some bathroom humor.  Their restroom is known as the Winston Churchill room or the WC (i.e., water closet). 🙂

Thank you, S. for reporting on Lady Di’s British Shop & Tea Room!  Happy birthday to you and may you find time for more afternoon tea in the coming year!

“Make tea, not war.”
― Monty Python

Spring tea in a cottage

Happy spring!  As a token of her gratitude for helping her co-host her Tea tasting party earlier this month, Lady B. treated a few of the VTS ladies to afternoon tea at the Julian tea & cottage arts tea room.

Bright and cheery white and yellow daffodils painted our way to Julian, a 19th century gold rush era mining town located in the Cuyamaca Mountains in San Diego County.  Its current residents live 45 minutes from the nearest supermarket and 1 hour from the nearest movie theater.  I had never been to Julian in the spring so this was a rare treat.

Julian Tea & Cottage Arts

Established in 1995, the Julian Tea & Cottage Arts occupies a historic house built in 1898 for Clarence King, son of the gold miner George Valentine King.  King struck gold in 1871 and founded the Golden Chariot Mine, the second most productive in the Julian area.  The house served as the King family’s residence until 1927 when Mrs. King sold it to their daughter, Lucy Bell, for $10.

I last visited the tea room 5 years ago and with the exception of the scones and the fun tea shop, there was little to entice me back for a 2nd visit.  Fortunately, things can change in 5 years and I’m happy to say that there was marked improvement in several areas, most notably, their sandwiches and service.

Sandwiches (left to right, clock wise): Olive cream cheese (open face), toasted sharp cheddar with chives (open face), cucumber, egg salad, salad and hummus (croissant), chicken salad (croissant)

I ordered the vegetarian menu which was very good.  On this visit, their menu was all vegetarian by default except for the croissant chicken salad which was replaced by a salad and hummus croissant.

In addition to afternoon tea and scones, the Julian Tea & Cottage Arts tea room also offers a lighter lunch menu for walk-ins, smaller appetites, or for those who don’t have the luxury of sitting down for afternoon tea.  Their lunch offerings are named for some of the historic players in the history of the King House, including George Valentine King, Drew Bailey, and Lucy Bell.  Their soup du jour on this occasion was pumpkin soup.

Lady B. ordered the Lucy Bell lunch: Half a sandwich with a green salad or soup, and tea

Their scones are still as excellent as I remembered: Crispy on the outside, warm and fluffy on the inside.  I would have preferred Julian apple butter or jam but the cherry blood orange jam was interesting.  Also, their lemon curd is made in-house!

Perfect scones!

While I was impressed with their cheesecake dessert on my last visit, I did not care for their bread pudding dessert.  However, this is more of a personal preference because I have yet to meet a bread pudding I actually like!  It’s simply not one of my favorite desserts so I cannot even tell you if this was a good version.  Overall, the tea service itself was excellent.  I was really happy with their tea, food, and service!  The tea server was friendly, professional, and knew exactly what she was talking about.  The tea itself was properly brewed (as it was last time) and kept hot.  The quality of the food was a vast improvement over my first visit.

DSC08757 (Small)

Bread pudding

I can’t end this post without mentioning a cute tea thing.  Lady B. was carrying a most curious purse!  I thought, why is she carrying a teapot around?  Then she revealed it was a purse or “tea bag” by Parisian designers, Pylones!  I love the little details such as the tea bag tag button closure and the lid flips up to reveal a compact mirror.

CUTE TEA THING: Tea bag from Pylones

Thank you Lady B. for treating us to a lovely and memorable spring afternoon!  It was absolutely my pleasure and privilege to help you host a tea.

Tote bag in the Julian tea & cottage arts shop (photo by Lady J.)

December high tea at Marlene’s

My friends N. and S. wanted to do something “fancy” for the holidays this year.  Since Christmas tea at the Hotel Del last year was so disappointing, we wanted to make sure we had a better experience this year.  After plans for tea at the Grand Del Mar and the Park Hyatt Aviara fell through, I suggested going to Marlene’s Tea & Cakes (of course :))!  (NOTE: The Grand Del Mar serves hors d’oeuvres for tea during the holidays and by “hors d’oeuvres,” they mean “cheese, crackers, and champagne”–say whaaat?)

As my friends remarked, Marlene has “impeccable taste!”  Marlene’s Tea & Cakes is, hands-down, my favorite place to have afternoon tea.

Don’t you love the Royal Albert Christmas china?

As usual, Marlene’s menu was delicious!  I really appreciate that she is able to accommodate vegetarians (advance notice is required).

Roasted winter vegetable soup with puff twist

S. ordered the vegetarian option. I loved that the vegetarian sandwiches were marked with little sprigs of parsley!

The cranberry white chocolate scones were delicious!  Marlene bakes the best scones!

I LOVE the gingerbread reindeer cookie!  It’s almost too cute to eat!

When I first tried a savory cookie, it produced one of those “wow” moments in my culinary world.  Well, now there’s a savory eclair!  What do you think of that?! 😉

Savory eclair with tomato, ricotta, and basil

Thank you N. and S. for sharing a lovely afternoon with me!  It was a wonderful way to end the year.  Merry Christmas and a very happy new year to all!

The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of love and of generosity and of goodness. It illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than in things.

–Thomas S. Monson