Last updated: 03:30 PM ET, Tue March 31 2015

High Teas with Mad Hatters and Dothraki Warriors

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | March 31, 2015

High Teas with Mad Hatters and Dothraki Warriors

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Afternoon Tea in Britain took its time in turning into the ritual it is today. The sacraments of these rites include such delicacies as finger sandwiches, scones, macaroons, clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches, pastries and home-made jams, all ascending the silver terraces of a multi-tiered cake stand. In London, where 40 percent of all beverages served are teas, there are countless variations on the rite. In Knightsbridge and Mayfair at Harrods, the Mandarin Oriental, Claridges, the Chesterfield and too many others to count they’re serving the classic pinkies extended High Tea. The Grosvenor’s Grand Imperial Restaurant offers a Chinese take on High Tea with dim sum dishes arranged among the savories.

Where did this all begin? The legend says that Chinese Emperor Shen Nung became the first to drink tea some 5,000 years ago when a branch of dried tea leaves fell into his cup of hot water. Tea went to Japan with Buddhist monks. The ships of Britain’s East India Company reached China and by 1644 the British were in the tea trade. By 1700, more than 500 houses were serving tea in London. Then posh London gardens began serving tea.

In the early 1800s, the seventh Duchess of Bedford conceived the idea of Afternoon Tea. It was to be a light meal served between an early lunch and a late dinner. The habit spread throughout polite society and by the 19th century Afternoon Tea became popular with all tiers of British society, upstairs and downstairs.

Teas For All Seasons

This year they’re celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland. Through May 11, the Conrad London St. James will commemorate the celebration with a tea to make the Mad Hatter giddy. The Alice in Wonderland tea will serve the sort of tarts preferred by the Queen of Hearts as well as such confections as an Earl Grey panna cotta with edible “eat me” gingerbread tags. Mini lemon toadstools and “painting the roses red” cakes were dreamed up by Executive Pastry Chef Zoe Wager.

The chef has created several seasonal Afternoon Tea menus to showcase the changing flavors of the seasons. Free-flowing G.H.Mumm Champagne will join the Earl Gray in helping the delicacies down the rabbit hole.

The St. James’s Glorious Garden tea (May 11 to July 11) celebrates early summer with servings of chocolate bees and glitter icing butterflies as well as rhubarb spelt cakes and lavender shortbread sandwiches. Raspberry and orange macaroons are joined by by terracotta pots holding carrot cakes complete with candied carrots. Summer in the City (July 12 to Aug. 30) features jelly “cocktails,” mojito macaroons and chocolate mousse mini ice cream cones. The scones will be infused with coconut and pineapple. Savories include a “mini pint of prawns” and a selection of mini rolls and sandwiches.

The Autumn Bramble Afternoon Tea (Aug. 31 to Nov. 23) will feature chocolate pine nuts and pebbles, autumn fruits as well as apple and blackberry tart and blackcurrant and licorice macaroons. Pumpkin cheesecake and a tonka bean white chocolate mousse cake will also be available. The teas are priced at £49 per person with Champagne or £35 per person without.

Tea with the Lannisters

Up in Northern Ireland, Ballygally Castle is now serving a Game of Thrones Tea, which is sure to be popular with the legions of fans who are gasping for the show’s April 12 return. Northern Ireland’s Ballygally Castle, part of the Hastings Hotels group, is laying out such delicacies as Lannister egg Rolls, Baratheon Bread, Little Finger Chicken Caesar wraps, Jon Snow Cakes and Dothraki Trifle with mini Dragon’s eggs. You could already hear the diners asking for Dragons Egg whites only omelets. The castle recommends you call a day ahead for the reservation.

About 80 percent of Game of Thrones is filmed in Northern Ireland at such locations as Belfast’s Titanic Studios, the Cushendun Caves, Murlough Bay, Ballintoy Harbour, Larrybane, Antrim plateau, Castle Ward, Inch Abbey and Downhill Strand. An overnight stay on a B&B basis at Ballygally with the Game of Thrones Afternoon Tea is priced from £65 per person double, through the end of June.

Ballygally Castle is positioned at the start of the Antrim Coast, near the foot of the famous nine Glens of Antrim, and the soon to re-open Gobbins Path, a famous and dramatic coastal walk known for staircases along the cliff edges, tubular bridges and tunnels. The hotel looks over Ballygally Bay and towards Scotland. It recently added 18 coastal view bedrooms including six family rooms making it one of the largest hotels on the Causeway Coastal Route with 54 bedrooms.

 The castle features jewelry from Steensons, the official jeweler to Game of Thrones. Ballygally The hotel will also be offering medieval banquets for groups of 10-30 people booked in advance and can arrange Game of Thrones horse-riding and high end tours upon request. 

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