High time for Shanghai high tea

High time for Shanghai high tea

Forget tea houses, Chinese tea traditions are going upscale as high tea makes a comeback at some of Shanghai's more lux locales
High tea at the Park Hyatt
Shanghai High tea takes on new meaning when you can enjoy your break in the day while looking down on the iconic Jinmao Tower.

From classic serving trays to poor imitations of afternoon ‘sets’, traditional high tea in Asia has taken quite a hit over the years. Although venues serving true high tea in Shanghai are few and far between, bona fide high tea experiences do exist in this city for those who crave classic class and luxury. The question is, will they be around for much longer?

Tradition on tradition

Chef Gerhard Passrugger, Park HyattChef Gerhard Passrugger at the Park Hyatt sees Shanghai high tea as just another aspect of the city's ever changing traditions.High tea enthusiasts, no need to panic, the first destination is simple. Think high tea, think Peninsula. This hotel chain’s topnotch reputation is justified and its new Shanghai property is no exception.

With a palatial lobby sure to please most royals, the Peninsula offers an equally impressive spread. So much more than scones and cucumber sandwiches, it provides the complete high tea experience.

Chef Lisa Crowe elaborates, "There is no more delightful and quintessential British institution than afternoon tea; and we absolutely pride ourselves on offering the customer all the touches he or she is expecting, ranging from daily string quartet to reviving the tea dance with an 18-piece band.” 

And all pinky-raising jokes aside, it’s high time to drop high tea's unfair rep. No longer just for snooty sophisticates, the fashion of high tea is now for everyone and anyone to enjoy.

Crowe agrees: “High tea is not limited to one type of person. Our lobby is filled every day with a mixture of generations gathering for an afternoon of fun and socializing.”

We absolutely pride ourselves on offering the customer all the touches he or she is expecting, ranging from daily string quartet to reviving the tea dance with an 18-piece band.— Lisa Crowe, Peninsula hotel

Yet along with its growing fan club trails Shanghai’s ever evolving culinary scene. People will always dig the classics, but resident taste buds, old and new, continue to move with the times and high tea is no exception.

Let them eat cake

Some five-star properties have dared to put their own spin on one of Britain’s most famous exports. At Shanghai’s Portman Ritz-Carlton, die-hard fans can rest assured their favorite afternoon rite remains firmly on the menu, but chef Chris Busschaert notes a clear evolution of tastes. 

“Guests nowadays are always on the look-out for something new and we aim to make their experience more interesting,” says Busschaert, who’s turning to the seasons for his high tea inspiration.

“Our upcoming high teas will feature fresh seasonal products in a variety of delicious forms from cake to mousse to traditional pastries.” And sweet tooths won’t be denied with a delectable ‘Art of Chocolate’ tea spread planned for later this year.

High tea fusion

Across the river in Pudong, the staff at the Park Hyatt believe change is good, and according to chef Gerhard Passrugger, just another part of Shanghai life. 

Peninsula hotelThe Peninsula hotel offers a Shanghai high tea experience fit for royals with an impressive spread alongside an 18-piece band for your aural pleasure.“People [in Shanghai] have more knowledge about Western culture and food than most in China and I find them to be more appreciative of finding those classic features in a high tea,” notes Passrugger who has seen many changes since his arrival in 2003. “Shanghai is a fast and contemporary city and high tea should reflect that. It should have traditional roots, with a sophisticated contemporary touch.” 

In line with this trend, the Hyatt crew have created the perfect fusion of sweet and savory with classic and contemporary. Think cucumber sandwiches with a twist and unconventional but tasty imports like miniature New York style bagels featuring Hyatt’s signature ice cold smoked salmon.

And never mind your usual scones, guests can also satiate their sugar fix with the likes of heavenly apricot egg tarts and dark hot chocolate. 

So it looks as if high tea has a secure future in Shanghai. Hard core tea ladies (and a few select gentlemen) needn’t get their white gloves in a twist, just yet.

getting there

Park Hyatt Shanghai
100 Century Avenue, 87/F Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC)
上海柏悦酒店, 浦东世纪大道100号
tel +86 21 6888 1234
shanghai.park.hyatt.com

Peninsula Shanghai
Bund 32, 32 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Beijing Dong Lu
中山东一路32号, 近北京东路
tel +86 21 2327 2888
www.peninsula.com

The Portman Ritz Carlton Shanghai
1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xikang Lu
上海波特曼丽嘉大酒店, 南京西路1376号, 近西康路
tel +86 21 6279 8888
www.ritzcarlton.com

Stephanie Thomas is a freelance writer of all trades based in Shanghai.
Read more about Stephanie Thomas