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The tea is hot and fragrantly scented. A three-tiered silver service stands ready with finger sandwiches of smoked salmon, light-as-air scones and delicately frosted fairy cakes. Rhapsodic notes spring from a grand piano in the corner of the ornately furnished English Tea Room, half hidden by the ivory shaded columns and potted palms. Such is afternoon tea in the landmark Empress Hotel in British flavored Victoria, British Columbia.
Tea in the Victorian Age
Take away the modern dress and the sounds of traffic along Government Street and the scene is not all that much different than when this iconic hotel opened in 1908. Back then, horse drawn carriages delivered gents in top hats and tails. Ladies would dress in high-necked gowns of silk and lace, complemented by elbow length gloves and hats adorned with exotic feathers and yards of ribbon.
Elegantly attired, guests would be seated in the wing-backed chairs fronting hand carved tables. The best tables overlooked Government Street and the Inner Harbour, providing entertainment and a chance to gossip, discreetly of course. The Royal Doulton china tea service would appear, along with milk and lumps of sugar, decadent for the times. The tea was poured British style, milk in the cup first if you please, followed by the inevitable question, one lump or two?
A Century of Tea Sipping
Sounds like a scene from a vintage play, doesn’t it? It is, yet it isn’t. Taking afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel is just as elegant an experience in the modern era as it was more than 100 years ago. The dress code is more relaxed, but do leave the baseball caps, the torn jeans and bikini tops at home.
The Empress also offers a Prince and Princess Tea for children 12 and under, at a reduced rate. Introduce the family to the boldly flavored special Empress blend of tea or perhaps the fruity Berry Berry variety. Adults may also add a glass of Sumac Ridge Steller’s Jay Brut, making your experience an official Royal Afternoon Tea.