As far as British clichés go, the tradition of “taking”, not, “having” high tea in the late afternoon is top of the charts. Right up there with the likes of those perennial, dreary weather conversations. With the nation’s almost pathological obsession with the royal family shenanigans, jostling for third spot!
Think ‘high tea’ and montages of bonnet-donning Victorian ladies daintily sipping lukewarm demitasses of Assam tea while nibbling on crust-free cucumber and watercress sandwiches swirl into perspective. Then there are those frou-frou customs of holding one’s pinky finger up while sipping said tea. Always stirred in a clockwise motion with a silver spoon, once the sugar cubes and cream are added to the porcelain cup, mind you.
While we cannot verify the veracity of the above quirks, it is believed that the concept of high tea came to popularity in the early 19th century. This, thanks to the Anna, the Duchess of Bedford who decided that it was important to fill in the long gap between lunch and dinner at a time when dinner was served as late as 8 p.m.
Served daily between 4-5 p.m. alongside mini sandwiches, tartelettes and petit fours, this midway meal is also known multifariously as ‘afternoon tea’ and ‘cream tea’. The latter, however, only if clotted cream, jam and scones are part of the line up.
Cut to India 2023, and the concept of high tea has been given a fillip like never before. With everything from plates of Delhi-style shakarkandi chaat and Parsi chicken dhansak tartelettes, to earthenware kullads of Kashmiri kahwa and spiced Turkish coffee thrown into the fray.
Leaving us to wonder: what would the Duchess make of the following Eastern do-overs to her beloved high tea?
Turkish High Tea
As one of Mumbai’s leading purveyors of both, baklava and lokum (Turkish delight) candy, Hurrem’s is a confectionery shop-cum-cafe that’s always coming up with interesting additions to its menu. The recently-launched, all-vegetarian high tea is a reflection of the decidedly Turkish aesthetics of the place, with all the bells and whistles pat in place. Served daily from 3-6 p.m. and prepared by chefs flown in from Türkiye, one gets to sample a mix of sweet and savoury goodies that sit atop the three-tiered, half birdcage-like stand. These take the form of an assortment of mini baklavas and the flaky phyllo pastry spinach-cheese boreks to Turkish tarts, mousses, and mini tea cakes. Speaking of tea, on offer are bottomless glass cups of piping hot Turkish tea or shots of spiced coffee, if you so choose.
Price: Rs. 1,800 for two
Available at: Hurrem’s Turkish Baklava Confectionery, Fort, Mumbai
The Westin Saga High Tea
The recently opened The Westin Resort & Spa, Himalayas in Uttarakhand curates an interesting local Garhwali themed high tea called The Westin Saga. Set on the property’s Sky Deck on level 11, and overlooking the city of Rishikesh and the Holy River Ganges from its perch in the Shivalik range, this daily free high tea is an hour-long musical affair for all resort guests, from 4-5.30 p.m. Here, one can tuck into local Garhwali snacks like the bun tikki (a close cousin of the Mumbai vada pav), Delhi-style street food like the tangy shakarkandi (sweet potato) chaat and warming drinks like masala chai and kesar milk. For those with a sweet tooth, there is everything from creamy rabri and gajak, to till ke ladoo to pick from.
Available at: The Westin Resort & Spa Himalayas, Narendra Nagar, Tehri Garhwal
The Mumbai Afternoon Tea
Set against the backdrop of The Drawing Room—St Regis, Mumbai’s contemporary lounge—is this elegant and thoroughly desi high tea service. This one is an all day, through the week affair. Called The Mumbai Afternoon Tea, it has a decidedly local Mumbai leitmotif running through it. So, you get to try some kadak Mumbai masala chai with savoury goodies like a chicken dhansak tartelette, pav bhaji vol au vents and a quintessential Mumbai sandwich among others. From the sweet selection, you’ll find a Mahim halwa and the conceptually brilliant shrikhand tart. And if chai doesn’t float your boat, there’s also coffee on tap, or the cardamom-saffron perfumed Kashmiri kahwa tea, if you prefer a milk-free cuppa.
Price: Rs. 1,700++ for one
Available at: The St. Regis, Lower Parel, Mumbai
Bombay Style High Tea
In-keeping with its name, Bengaluru’s Bombay Borough restaurant—that’s housed in a quaint heritage bungalow in Ashok Nagar—has recently come up with a Bombay Style High Tea. Claiming to offer “the best of hyper-local and regional flavours”, said high tea—that’s available daily from 4-7 p.m.—is made up of old Bombay street staples such as Bambaiya vada pao, Chowpatty corn chaat, and new takes like a pulled chicken puri among other savoury options. The twist here comes in the form of the libations that range from good old cutting chai to cocktails like Chowpatty Beach lolly, and Darjeeling nights to mocktails with equally imaginative names like pink city and rickshaw refresher.
Price: Rs. 799 for both the veg and non-veg high tea platters. Cocktails, extra at Rs. 400 each and mocktails, Rs. 200 each.
Available at: Bombay Borough, Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru
Asian High Tea
Segueing perfectly into this list is this Far Eastern dim sum iteration of the high tea. Called yum cha in Cantonese, dim sum and tea (cha) are only ever had together in the afternoon and never post sunset in the south of China. Keeping this in mind is the Asian High Tea at Mumbai’s Yauatcha that is available from Monday to Friday. It features a pot of tea of your choice, and three dim sum baskets along with macarons. Expect to find in your baskets, delicate dumplings like chicken and prawn shui mai, spicy har gau and vegetarian options like the shiitake dumplings and the water chestnut and asparagus dim sum, along with a plethora of dipping sauces and other condiments. These are best combined with fragrant teas like oolong and white leaf for the perfect Asian high tea.
Price: Rs. 2,500 for two
Available at: Yauatcha, BKC, Mumbai