Afternoon tea – or high tea as it’s called locally – was reportedly started in Great Britain in the early 1800s by Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford. At the time, it was usual to eat only two meals per day, breakfast and then dinner well into the evening. The peckish duchess deemed that was too long a gap between meals and began to have tea and sandwiches in the afternoon. The idea caught on and soon all of fashionable London society was gossiping with friends over pots of tea and tasty snacks.
Here are three of the best afternoon teas on offer in Cape Town.
‘The Nellie’, as it’s affectionately called by Cape Town locals, certainly puts on one of the best afternoon teas you’ll find anywhere. Since it’s opening in 1899, this Grande Dame of Cape Town has remained a haven of elegance and charm amidst the growing city. Many famous feet have trodden its corridors and no doubt some have enjoyed afternoon tea overlooking the immaculate gardens. From politicians, to sports stars to religious icons, they’ve all enjoyed a visit to the Mount Nelson – famous, once upon a time, for being the first hotel in the area to offer running hot water.
You can choose to sit in the lounge, in the flower-adorned conservatory or outdoors on the terrace overlooking the garden fountain. In the lounge you are handily close to the extensive cake buffet and can hear the pianist gently tinkling the ivories in the corner.
Staff hover discreetly, never intruding but always ready to prepare another pot of tea. The hotel’s own brand, Mount Nelson tea, combines six other teas, including Assam and Ceylon, with rose petals from the hotel’s on-site gardens. In addition, there is a variety of other teas available and you’re welcome to try as many as you wish.
Delicious savouries, including mini pasties and delicate quiches, are served to your table, as are scones. The cake buffet includes macrons, carrot cake, shortbread, devilish chocolate cakes and South African specialities like melktert.
For an afternoon tea with the best vista in town then the prize has to go to the aptly-named Table Bay Hotel. With huge, double-height windows looking out towards Table Mountain, the view is almost as good as the food – almost.
The afternoon tea is served in three courses and paired with different pots of tea. You can take the advice of the tea specialist or choose your own for each course from the 28 varieties available. With light and more-ish savouries which will delight any taste buds, followed by scones and finally by a cake buffet this is a Cape Town meal not to be missed.
There are vegetarian options on the savouries and gluten/dairy/alcohol selections amongst the cakes.
Afternoon tea comes with a sense of history at Cellars-Hohenort which nestles in nine well tended acres in the upmarket Constantia suburb. Dating back to the 17th century, the estate was formerly a farm and, from 1750, a thriving winery. This afternoon tea makes an ideal stop after a visit to the nearby Kirstenborch Botanic Gardens.
Along with the usual selection of finger sandwiches, spring rolls and mini quiches and cakes, this tea has the best scones in town. Light and so dangerously lovely it’s all too easy to forget the damage you’re doing to your waistline.
There is a limited selection of tea available as well as filter coffee.
Candice Bain is Founder at Desert to Jungle.