Tea at the Hotel Loutrel, Charleston

Enjoying High Tea

Posted by Oliver pluff on


Starting in the month of May, The Hotel Loutrel in Charleston is beginning to offer high tea (Thursdays through Sunday) and will be serving Oliver Pluff Teas.   You can find more about the experience by visiting The Loutrel’s Experience page (click here).  If you get to visit Charleston over the coming weeks I hope you get the chance to attend!


With tea rooms on my mind,  my dear friend and I had a wonderful discussion about the Fine Tea Rooms she has had the opportunity to visit.  Please enjoy.


Dear Oliver,


One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon is enjoying a lovely Afternoon or High Tea. I have found that having “Tea” can vary quite a bit in style, substance, and presentation, but several elements need to be included or the experience falls quite short of expectations.

In my opinion, three elements must be present for a memorable experience. First, of course, is tea. The tea must be of a high quality and several options must be offered ranging from traditional black varieties, fruity, green, herbal, and decaffeinated. The menu can include any other tea variety from the wide range of options, but the basics are a must. I also highly prefer loose tea over pre-bagged tea for a worthwhile tea experience. In addition, it is important to have the ability to remove the tea so that it does not continue to steep throughout the experience and become too strong. This, I have found, is a small but often overlooked element, especially when served tea bags in the pot. Again, loose leaf is so much nicer for Afternoon or High Tea.


As a side note regarding drinks, many people like to have the option of coffee and hot chocolate as well. As a coffee enthusiast, I still think tea is the drink of choice for High Tea. Hot chocolate remains a favorite when sharing “Tea” with children, which makes it an acceptable addition to the menu. And, many people immediately start with a nice sparkling wine or Champagne, which can elevate the mood. I find it is optional for me and is not a must.

Second, the food offerings should be well thought out and complement the tea choices. I have found that one course of traditional scones with cream and jam is an absolute must. This is not to be blended in with the savory items or desserts. Scones or crumpets are central to a good High Tea and deserve their own place of prominence. Clotted cream can’t be skipped or substituted. As for sandwiches and savory, I always enjoy a spread that includes salmon, cucumber, and other traditional tea sandwiches, but I have been wowed by many variations of the savory menu. The only essential element for the savory course is that the individual items are small and easily consumed on the small tea-sized plates. Finally, regarding the food menu, small delicate desserts or petit fours round out the perfect tea menu. If this is served in a three-tiered tower, so much the better!

The third important aspect of an exceptional “Tea” experience is already underway before the first two begin. The atmosphere can make or break it all. Part of the modern Afternoon or High Tea experience is that it is a special time to sit and savor. The surroundings need to showcase that as well. Decor can range from cozy and intimate to bright and cheerful, but special attention must be made to transform the table. Nice linens often provide this backdrop, but as long as the table is set with care the scene can vary.

The terms “Tea,” “Afternoon Tea,” and “High Tea” often blurr and have strayed internationally from the traditional late afternoon or early evening time frame. These terms are now often used interchangeably at restaurants and “Tea” is served starting in late morning at many establishments, serving as more of a brunch or extending to a late lunch. According to teatimemagazine.com, traditionally, Afternoon Tea was served on low tables as a late afternoon snack versus High Tea, which was served on dining tables in the evening (high refers to the table height and is not a reference to society social standing). “Think of it as a light supper served with tea,” the magazine states. Evening, I have found, is rarely a time when restaurants feature a tea menu or service, which shows how times have changed regarding the experience of “Tea.”


I frequently travel and have been to many delicious “Tea” experiences. Recently, I traveled to New Zealand, Singapore, and Australia and decided to try High Tea in each of these places as well. I would love to share some of the lovely High Tea experiences I had on my journey.


The first High Tea experience in Rotorua, New Zealand was at Duke’s. We were there on a fairly slow day and our table was in the best spot near the cute fireplace. Our table was set with traditional China and two-tiered sandwich plates. The restaurant is nestled in a Victorian-era hotel, so the atmosphere lent itself to High Tea by this element alone. This venue did include all the elements we were looking for except we would have enjoyed more sandwich options. The one thing Duke’s did exceptionally well was provide a full gluten-free tea tray with fresh-baked options. This was a highlight for my gluten-free companion.




Then, we headed on to Singapore and had High Tea at the famous Raffles Hotel. Here, we went upscale a notch or two. The table was set with white linens, crystal, and fresh flowers with pleasant music in the background. The color choices were traditional black and white and it was very pretty overall in the historic hotel. There were many nice teas on the main menu and upgrades were also available. Unusually, we had to ask for milk and sugar for our tea and our tea bags were left steeping in the pot with nowhere to put them, which is a downside as I mentioned earlier. For our food, we asked for nut-free and gluten-free trays and these were readily available and very tasty. The tea included clotted cream, which I mentioned is sometimes absent. Raffles served rose jelly, which is a distinctive flavor, but we found it interesting and a fun twist. Another standout is that the staff was very attentive to our table and second helpings were passed out as often as desired, which is unusual. Everyone at our table liked the savory treats and sandwiches, but we did not love the desserts on that particular day. We were served several small scones, which we enjoyed with the clotted cream and jelly.


Finally, on this trip we enjoyed High Tea at the Sydney Opera House at Midden by Mark Olive, which is located on the lower level of the complex. Our table was outside and looked over the harbor. It was a rainy day, so warm tea was especially lovely in that setting and we all enjoyed the tea options on the menu. The setup was quite different in feel, however, and featured metal and wood. The menu is dubbed “Native” and features local favorites such as kangaroo and sausage rolls and the desserts included local fruits and flavors. In our opinion several of the sausage rolls and the desserts included local fruits and flavors. In our opinion several of the dessert items were too large and hard to eat, but overall we found it interesting and a nice variation on the traditional High Tea experience. As for gluten-free options, an attempt was made, but the options were not very robust at this venue.

 Oliver, I hope you are able to join me sometime for Afternoon or High Tea. It is such a lovely experience with delicious tea and sweet and savory treats! I am looking forward to it already.