High Tea is as ubiquitous as tea itself, enjoyed by some for the elegance of the occasion, by others for delicious cakes and pastries that are an essential part of high tea. There is debate amongst traditionalists in social etiquette, as to what constitutes ‘high tea’- an evening meal or an occasion for taking tea in the afternoon. Amidst all this there is the unfortunate reality that whether high or afternoon, tea is at most an afterthought for most purveyors of the occasion. The concerns of nomenclature obsessives were therefore cast aside in pursuit of the much more important task of putting the tea back into high tea.
The Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge was born in Colombo in 2007. The initiative was triggered as much by the lack of authenticity amongst even the most celebrated of high teas around the world, as by our desire to define a contemporary high tea. Since then the quest has traversed the world, with a group of tea inspired Judges challenging culinary and hospitality professionals in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka and shortly also in South America, Europe and Asia.
Emphasizing tea as the pivot, requiring sensual pairings of tea and cuisine, the use of tea as an ingredient in the sweet and savoury accompaniments to high tea whilst honouring the style of the occasion, the journey so far has been deliciously indulgent. Tea dignifies food in a very sincere way; the texture, body and flavours in tea, its ability to cleanse the palate of richness and sweet has made the quest for an authentic and contemporary high tea especially rewarding.
The modern definition of the ritual is enriched here with precise thought on the role of tea in high tea – from the warm welcome that a perfectly brewed Ran Watte tea offers through the beguiling tea inspired cocktails and even the dessert teas, and then what food would harmoniously complement each. The challenge is to understand tea and its myriad tastes and aromas, and interpret these with respect and creativity without compromising authenticity.
Thus far the result has been beyond expectation. Experiencing tea for the first time with an emphasis on the aromas, flavours, mouthfeel and the sensual harmony of these offered in combination with the healing properties in tea has ground breaking in every sense. In honouring authenticity in tea, and luxury of terroir in tea, the innovation in Real High Tea has been genuine, very different to the cosmetic appeal of most high teas that lack the inspiration of real tea.
The additional requirement for an emphasis on originality, sustainability and use of local ingredients has produced a resounding response to the question, ‘what is a contemporary high tea?’…. there is none. A genuinely tea inspired High Tea in Abu Dhabi is fundamentally different to the same occasion in Wellington. A contemporary high tea served in winter is not the same as the same ritual in summer, nor the same when served in the home of one person and not the other. Real High Tea is a very personal occasion, decorated with Grandma’s teapot and stories of handmade tea, of love and friendship. It is indulgent though not overly so, as the tea inspired Chef understands that as much as tea is varied in its tastes and aromas, it is also effective in balancing richness, in easing sweetness, and in bringing savoury flavours to bloom.
A Real High Tea demands an understanding of tea from its brewing and presentation to its infinite flavours, texture, components and the terroir that is responsible for the fingerprint of nature on each tea. With that knowledge, the true tea ‘terroir-ist’ can expand upon culinary and hospitality skill to produce a sensationally pleasing outcome. Tea is pleasure but it is also natural goodness.
There is no herb that is quite like tea … fresh and properly brewed tea is good for our health – genuinely a healing herb, that protects against stress, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and virtually every other lifestyle disease. The combination of the two – pleasure and natural goodness – are the reason we chose our pursuit of a genuinely tea inspired, contemporary high tea. The Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge will reach its finale at the Global Challenge that is due to take place in Sri Lanka in 2014, 7 years after it started.
One team will win, but all who participated will be winners for their commitment to a challenge that is as respectful of the ancient art of teamaking as it is of contemporary style.