To a tea … Dilmah founder Merrill Fernando enjoys a brew.The high tea has been hijacked. So say connoisseurs of the world’s most popular brew.
The founder of the Dilmah tea brand, Merrill J. Fernando, who is in Australia for a high tea competition, worries that the art of tea consumption has become too commercial. Meanwhile, Holly Orsman Smith, director of sales and marketing for The Tea Room QVB and The Tea Room Gunners Barracks, says the term “high tea” has been corrupted.
Every week thousands of Sydney residents enjoy a hot brew accompanied by a three-tiered stand of scones, finger sandwiches and cakes, blithely thinking they are having high tea. But Ms Orsman Smith has a different definition for the experience: afternoon tea.
“High tea has become the in thing to call it but we use the correct term which is afternoon tea,” she said.
“High tea originally was done before supper at 5pm. It was a meal for the English working classes. We refrain from using the term high tea in all our marketing and branding because it’s not what we do.
“A lot of people call it high tea but it’s not high tea in the correct sense.”
Mr Fernando, who has been involved in the tea industry for much of his 82 years, is not too fussed about the terminology but is concerned that people have forgotten about the quality of the tea.
“So many people today, they don’t even know how to make a proper cup of tea,” he said. “It is so sad.”
He sees hope, though, in young people, who “are willing to learn how to do it the proper way”.
Whether a consumer calls it high tea or afternoon tea, uses a bag or a pot, there is no denying Australia’s appreciation for a good cuppa.
According to the market research company Datamonitor Group, the value of the Australian tea category will rise from $437 million in 2008 to a forecast value of $473 million next year, with the out-of-home market accounting for 12.5 per cent of sales.
The Tea Room QVB serves about 1500 afternoon teas each week, starting at $39 a head, with a further 600 consumed at The Tea Room Gunners Barracks in Mosman.
“It’s something that is quite a cross-generational thing to do,” Ms Orsman Smith said.
“We’ll quite often have young girls with their mothers and grandmothers coming in.”
Mr Fernando, in Australia for Dilmah’s High Tea Challenge competition, believes tea should always be consumed in company.
“In the good old days you never had a cup of tea by yourself,” he said. “You always tell your friend let’s have a cup of tea. Tea is a drink to be enjoyed with your friends.”
For Elaine Armstrong, who has consumed many thousands of cups of tea during her 20 years with the NSW Country Women’s Association, the brew is not the most important thing. “You learn a lot about what’s going on over a cup of tea,” she said.
“For me, it’s not so much about the tea, it’s about the chat over the cup of tea.”
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