Montreal High Tea, Low Tea and Afternoon Tea
There is but a handful of places in Montreal that offer the high tea experience. But before I get to that, I'd like to point out a glaring misnomer.
What Is High Tea Exactly?
Often believed to be an upper crust British-born ceremony -- did you know it was actually Portuguese aristocracy who introduced tea to England? -- complemented by scones, crumpets, dainty cucumber sandwiches, idle gossip and raised pinky fingers at say, 4 p.m., high tea is NOT at all what most of the world thinks it is. Rather, high tea is the polar opposite of bourgeois ritualism, at least traditionally.
Otherwise known as “meat tea,” high tea was observed by the working class who only got home at maybe 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. after a long day of manual labor, so their tea time was the equivalent of dinner, a heavy meal composed of cheese, vegetables, bread and budget-permitting, meat. Tea at the time, think the last half of the 18th and first half of the 19th century, was a precious, expensive commodity due to the difficulties Britain had in securing it from China, so labourers were very careful about their tea intake, if they could afford it at all.
In contrast to high tea was the well-to-do's earlier daily dose of low tea, also called afternoon tea, a snacky interlude between lunch and dinner between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. featuring biscuits and all sorts of finger foods to keep hunger at bay until supper time, which back then was around 8 p.m. Various sources speculate that it was called low tea since the upper classes usually spent their tea time chatting on low parlor chairs with the teapot and finger foods of the day placed on yesteryear's version of today's coffee table whereas the working class had their high tea on higher tables in or near the kitchen.
But since so many modern-day people confuse the term, it's safe to assume establishments offering a “high tea” service are referring to the traditional upscale afternoon tea experience, which generally involves selecting a tea of your choice served in individual teapots and a delightful assortment of finger foods positioned on a tiered tray, salty mini-sandwiches and hors d'oeuvres on the bottom, scones with cream and jam in the middle, and small pastries and cakes on the top tray.
So. Where can one experience high tea in Montreal?
Overlooking Mary Queen of the World cathedral, Fairmount Queen Elizabeth Hotel proposes a dainty afternoon of tea, sandwich canapés, French desserts, and of course, scones, all served on a tiered tray, the traditional way.
The heart of Montreal high tea destinations, this is where you come for soul food with your tea time. And to fill up.
Gryphon d'Or's afternoon tea offering proposes the best bang for your buck in the city with copious amounts of Celtic fare for a low high tea price. The ambiance is warm and laidback.
You might very well need a doggie bag when you're done. Just watch out for Gryphon d'Or's house scones, also sold at the tea room's adjacent bakery.
Many a patron claims the Celtic café bakes the bestest, freshest ones in the city.
On the topic of scones, the grand dame of afternoon tea destinations in Montreal arguably also bakes the best of their kind in the city.
They're certainly the most refined, served on a tiered tray with traditional tea sandwiches and French pastries in addition to the requisite tea. Patrons are advised to wear their Sunday best to match the sumptuous surroundings of Ritz-Carlton's Palm Court. Or at least dress casual chic.