New Zealand – especially Wellington, its capital city – may be renowned for a love of coffee but the country is also perfecting the art of the traditional high tea.
This great British tradition began in the mid-1700s as an afternoon tea for workmen, often taken standing or sitting on tall stools, meaning they were taking their tea 'on high’. Since then, this tradition has evolved and refined, becoming a favourite of the ‘leisure classes’ who would enjoy small sandwiches and bite-sized treats before attending an evening engagement.
In the 1800s, the rest of the world caught onto high tea and the idea spread. Part of the British Commonwealth, New Zealand enjoys close ties with Britain and has adopted many of the home country traditions, while adding their own unique New Zealand twist.
This precise art of fusing classic high tea fare and a perfectly brewed cuppa with a 21st century twist is becoming so popular there is an annual competition to find the best New Zealand purveyors of high tea, with the competition set to go global in 2015.
High Tea can be enjoyed throughout New Zealand in historic homes and luxurious hotels or even 190 metres into the air – giving a whole new meaning to the favourite tradition.
The Langham, Auckland
Taking its cue from the Langham London, the first grand hotel in the world to serve high tea, the Langham Auckland offers a taste of yesteryear with a twist. High Tea is served twice daily in the Palm Court (another nod to the London sister-hotel) beneath grand chandeliers and on fine Wedgewood china.
High Tea Langham style involves delicate sandwiches, decadent sweets and traditional scones alongside some modern favourites. The mouth-watering treats are served with a selection of teas which can be expertly matched to taste by the Langham’s own and New Zealand’s first tea sommelier – Benjamin McManu – who, alongside executive chef Volker Marecek, were winners of the Dilmah Real High Tea challenge New Zealand in 2014.
The Heritage, Auckland
Enjoy The Heritage High Tea under a canopy of palms at Hectors Restaurant in the heart of Auckland city. The iconic restaurant, elegantly housed beneath a light-filled, seven-storey atrium is the domain of Executive Chef Jinu Abraham who is well-recognised in the arts of locavore dining and vegan cuisine.
Hectors, the first New Zealand Vegetarian Society Approved hotel dining in the country, takes its approach to conscious-dining seriously and a vegan high tea that includes finger-sandwiches and Kiwi inspired sweets - is just one of the highlights in a classic building that has played a significant role in Auckland and New Zealand's commercial history.
Zealong Tea Estate, Waikato
Those wanting a pure New Zealand high tea experience should look no further than Zealong Tea Estate in the lush agricultural region of Waikato. High tea is taken in the Camelia Tea House overlooking Zealong’s tea plantation – the only one in New Zealand.
The tranquil refined high tea consists of delicious eats with an Asian-inspired flavour accompanied by Zealong’s finest tea – an exceptional organic Oolong brewed from leaves grown on site. Along with the culinary delights, visitors can enjoy a tour of the Zealong plantation, learning about its history and take part in a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
Experience an award winning high tea with a touch of Parisian glamour at Wellington’s Hippopotamus restaurant and bar. Recently the incredible high tea was judged the best at the Dilmah Real High Tea Global Challenge 2015 in Sri Lanka. New Zealand’s ‘capital of cool’ is known to push the boundaries when it comes to food and this high tea is no exception. Hippopotamus is the restaurant in the glorious Museum Art Hotel – a privately owned boutique hotel bursting with a colourful collection acclaimed art treasures.
The visually impressive high tea is created by French-born and trained patissier David Cadoret whose mouth-watering amuse bouches, carefully crafted petite sandwiches and miniardises are a work of art in themselves. High tea can be taken with Gourmet Dilmah Tea, a glass of bubbles, hedonistic cocktail or indulgent Champagne.
Oruawharo Homestead and Gardens, Hawke’s Bay
Oruawharo Homestead and Gardens is a jewel in Hawke’s Bay’s heritage crown. The historic homestead, surrounded by 17 hectares of abundant English country-style gardens and woodland, was established by the Johnston family in 1879 and kept as such until 1965. Since then The Homestead has been lovingly restored to life by Dianne and Peter Harris who provide a passionate introduction to the history of the home and allow guests to wander the gardens, on-site church and their extensive art collection.
As in the past, traditional high tea can be taken on the veranda, the lawn or in the wood-panelled dining room. Fluffy scones with cream and Oruawharo fruit preserves, cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, and pretty cakes are served on fine china with a selection of specially blended Oruawharo teas.
Kaituna Homestead, Canterbury
Gracious Kaituna Homestead is one of the outstanding heritage homes on Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch. The house and working sheep farm combine iconic rural New Zealand life with old-fashioned English charm.
Kaituna’s host Penelope – a local born in the heritage French village of Akaroa - offers a personalised high tea in the restful homestead sitting room. Delightful delicacies such as duck egg and herb sandwiches, cinnamon oysters, sherbet meringues and classic scones are cooked to perfection using an Aga (brought to New Zealand from London) with seasonal ingredients taken from the surrounding farm.
Larnach Castle & Gardens, Dunedin
Further south, close to New Zealand's original Scottish outpost of Dunedin, visitors can enjoy high tea in traditional fashion in a castle. The historic and imposing Larnach Castle – former home of the Larnach family - is New Zealand's only true castle and a lasting remnant of a family folly.
High ceilings, intricately designed fittings and a rich history spanning over a century, provide the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a taste of the past. An outstanding and significant garden sprawls across many acres and includes a whimsical tribute to Alice in Wonderland - something to capture the imagination of guests whiling the afternoon away with classic high tea treats.
NOTE: All high tea sessions must be reserved in advance