There is no experience quite like Tea at the Empress. This grand tradition has been a staple at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia, since 1908. Royalty, celebrities, and dignitaries have enjoyed this timeless English ritual at the Empress. It is rumored that Winston Churchill had more than just tea in his cup during prohibition. Afternoon tea is held in the hotel’s recently reinvigorated lobby lounge. The lounge is a bright, airy space that is respectful of its Victorian past. Live classical music is played in the hotel. There are many places to enjoy tea in Victoria but here is why the Fairmont Empress stands out.
Pro Tip: The best time to visit Victoria and the Fairmont Empress is in the off-season. During the summer months, the city is packed with visitors. Many of them arrive by cruise ship. More than 80,000 guests enjoy afternoon Tea at the Empress each year, and in the peak summer months, they serve 400 people a day. I enjoy a cup of tea much more when the weather is chilly. On my recent visit in the fall, the crowds were nonexistent and my group enjoyed a nice, relaxed experience.
Note: I was hosted on a press trip at the Fairmont Empress; all opinions are my own.
The Fairmont Hotels Tea Program
Fairmont Hotels not only serve tea, but they also have an extensive tea program which culminated in the launch of their tea collection LOT 35. The company paired with the Metropolitan Luxury Tea Group to create this collection of luxury-grade whole-leaf teas. Ingredients were sourced from all over the world and represent the top 5 percent of quality tea leaves. A LOT 35 tea is sustainably farmed and ethically sourced from farm to teacup and ingredients are 100 percent traceable.
The Metropolitan Luxury Tea Group created a special blend of tea exclusively for the Fairmont Empress. With high-quality ingredients from Assam, Kenya, South India, Sri Lanka, and China. The Empress Blend produces a flavorful, nuanced tea that the Fairmont considers one of the finest blends in the world. Guests for afternoon tea can select from 21 teas on the menu at any time. The teas are rotated throughout the year to highlight tea-growing regions throughout the world.
Pro Tip: Try the decadent Madame Butterfly Tea which is a $15 upcharge. Ingredients for this tea are grown just three weeks per year in the higher elevations of the Fujian Mountains of China. It is infused for seven nights with jasmine buds.
No tea is complete without tea tiers filled with decadent, culinary delights. At the Fairmont Empress, menu items are created fresh daily from ingredients sourced from local suppliers. Items change with the season but year-round guests will enjoy the renowned freshly baked scones prepared in special ovens. This warm treat is served with house-made strawberry jam from local berries and clotted cream.
The culinary team also utilizes ingredients such as lavender from the rooftop garden or honey from the hotel’s beehives. Savory delicacies include a mini quiche and tea sandwiches including the classic cucumber. The culinary team shines with sweets that are mini pieces of art. The Chocolate Teacup is the perfect example. Chocolate ganache is shaped into a tea cup and filled with eggnog mousse, marble crunch, and sprinkled with gold flakes.
Pro Tip: If you have dietary restrictions, call 24 hours before your reservation to let the team know. They will ensure that you will have the perfect tea tiers for your diet. After tea, head to the Fairmont Shops to purchase a tea towel that has the iconic scone recipe on it.
The Royal China Collection
The iconic china service used during afternoon tea dates back to 1939 when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Victoria where they hosted a dinner for 250 people at the Fairmont Empress. They had china shipped from England and then gifted it to the Fairmont Empress Hotel. It was locked away until 12 years later when Princess Elizabeth visited in 1951. Once again it was locked away and then forgotten.
In a bit of serendipity, a buyer for the hotel discovered a tea cup with a crown that resembled the Empress logo in an antique shop. Research revealed it was made at the Booth Factory in Stoke-on-Trent, England, and the pattern was still available. The china was reproduced exclusively for the Fairmont Empress and was unveiled on Victoria Day weekend in 1998. Today, guests sip tea and eat scones on china cups and plates designed for royalty.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for pieces from the original 1939 china, which is displayed throughout the hotel.
Recreate Afternoon Tea At Home
The Fairmont Store offers a variety of items to recreate afternoon tea at the Empress at home. For a big splurge purchase a Royal Empress Afternoon Tea Set and drink your tea like royalty. The Fairmont store offers other china at lower price points. There is such a variety of LOT 35 Tea it can be hard to choose. Select a favorite from your visit to the Empress or pick something new.
Wellness teas include Cold and Flu, a detoxifying blend designed to flush impurities from your body, and Skin and Beauty tea designed to hydrate and detoxify skin. One of my favorites is the Empress Blend, the tea exclusively made for the Empress. Tea is available in bags.
Who knew luxury sugar was a thing? Luxe sugar cube sticks are available in a variety of flavors. Infused with flavor, it definitely ups your tea game. Purchase a tea timer like the one used at the Empress to ensure a perfectly brewed cup of tea and create your own afternoon teas.
For more information on traveling to Victoria, check out these articles: