Stopping work for a cup of tea and a natter during working hours is something most of us indulge in regularly, but an invitation to a formal afternoon tea served in the home is rare these days. But after enjoying a few special hours at the Langham Hotel in Auckland on Tuesday, I’m thinking of reviving the tradition. It’s cheaper than entertaining in the evening – the invitation is to drink tea, after all, not Champagne – and you can specify the time your guests arrive and leave. If you’ve ever suffered guests who just don’t know when to go home, this could be a blessing!
But back to the Langham Hotel. The invitation was to come and enjoy the Langham’s signature afternoon tea for the same price that was paid for it 143 years ago: one shilling six pence. How could I refuse?
The Langham London was able to establish that she was the first grand hotel to serve afternoon tea after an original hotel tariff dated 10 June 1865 was uncovered showing afternoon tea billed as ‘Teas, Plain’ consisting of simple but dainty items including cakes, sweets, bread and butter and, of course, tea. Other popular afternoon tea establishments such as The Ritz and Savoy were not in existence at this time.
To honour this part of dining history, Langham hotels around the world – in Auckland, Boston, Hong Kong, London, Melbourne and Pasadena – served afternoon tea in grand style for little more than a few cents on Tuesday 10th June. (For New Zealanders one shilling six pence equates to .18c NZD.)
The Langham Auckland afternoon tea consists of petite scones, smoked salmon pinwheels, tomato, cucumber and egg sandwiches, chocolate-coated tuxedo-dressed strawberries, fresh fruit tartlets, lamingtons, English fruit cake, and spice cake accompanied by crème fraiche, strawberry preserve, butter, and of course, tea and coffee. What a treat!
My first formal afternoon tea was taken at The Farmer’s department store in Auckland with my mother. It was a hat and gloves’ affair and while I remember steaming pots of tea, sandwiches and scones, I remember much more clearly the hushed words from my mother asking me to be on my best behaviour. That meant asking for food to be passed rather than reaching and grabbing it, otherwise speaking only when spoken to, eating with one’s mouth closed, and never talking while eating. Afternoon tea at the Langham this week was a far cry from those days. My daughter Ilaria and friends Sue and Liz and I relaxed in the soft squishy armchairs, and while doing our best to hold on to some decorum, we started with Champagne (why not, we chorused?) laughed louder than we should, ate more than we should, and had way more fun than I ever did as a girl in those tight little afternoon teas. Highly recommended.