Putting the tea back into high tea

By Donna Mah in Hong Kong ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-03-29 07:35:29

Putting the tea back into high tea

A member of the Hong Kong Cricket Club team competes at the high tea challenge. [Photo by Donna Mah/China Daily]

High tea was not something I grew up with, but something I have grown to love. It hasn't always been about the tea for me, but rather the "event" of high tea - a few leisurely hours sipping tea and nibbling on finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and beautiful pastries and cakes, while catching up with a good friend.

However, it has now been pointed out to me that the focus of high tea should really be about enjoying a rejuvenating cup of tea in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. All the food that comes with the tea is there to complement the beverage, rather than the other way around, as it seems to be today. In fact, in some restaurants, you can order even coffee instead of tea during high tea.

Dilmah, a family-owned and operated tea company based in Sri Lanka, recently held the first Real High Tea Challenge in Hong Kong. Each team of two was challenged to put the "tea" back into high tea. Contestants needed to demonstrate an understanding of tea and using it as an ingredient in beverages and food items. Basically, contestants needed to show they knew how the flavor is affected by where tea is grown (the terroir), how different teas taste, different brewing techniques, plus the use of other ingredients sourced from family businesses like Dilmah, if possible. Outstanding presentation and elegant service were also criteria.

The 13 teams, each consisting of a chef and a food-and-beverage person, were from hotels in Hong Kong. The teams competed for gold medals and the chance to attend Dilmah's School of Tea in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and to compete against regional competitors in early 2015.

Each team had to create a pairing, a beverage and a food item, within a specified time frame. The contestants used a minimum of four varieties of tea, served both hot and cold, and with and without alcohol. Four different pre-prepared high tea nibbles were paired with the tea beverages - two sweet and two savory items.

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