Isaree Thatchaichawalit went
When I heard that High Tea was being held at the Old Course Hotel, courtesy of the Fine Food and Dining Society, I was thrilled. As an American, high tea seems like the quintessential British experience. I envisioned people dressed to the nines, seated around a white-tablecloth-covered table, politely sipping tea and nibbling sandwiches. This event fulfilled that fantasy to the letter, with the addition of a friendly atmosphere and a thorough education on the very tea we were drinking.
The managing director of PMD Tea (the Old Course’s tea supplier), Dananjaya Silva, educated guests on the tea at the event. Over the course of two and a half hours, he gave us a presentation on the process of making a cup of tea, beginning with the Camellia sinensis bush and ending with how to make a proper brew.
One of my tablemates compared the experience to a lecture — but I didn’t think that was a bad thing. As Dananjaya pointed out, we were all tea drinkers, but none of us had any idea exactly how a cup of black tea — the proper, full-leaf kind, of course — was made from start to finish. It was fascinating to learn about all the care that goes into selecting and preparing these leaves before they end up in our kitchen cupboards.
The charismatic demeanour of Dananjaya made his talk all the more enjoyable. Through his active engagement with the audience, Dananjaya quizzed us on cool tea facts, such as the average size of a tea plantation (1000 acres) and the reason for planting trees on a plantation (to give the tea bushes some shade, and to provide a roosting place for birds that eat insects, eliminating the need for pesticides).
During the breaks in Dananjaya’s talk, we sampled a variety of teas. The first tea was Silver Tips, a type of white tea. Silver Tips is made from the buds of the tea bush, which gives it a delicate aroma. Dananjaya suggested for us to drink it while we ate the sandwiches on the table. He said that tea can either be a food enhancer or a palate cleanser. In this case, it was a palate cleanser: the Silver Tips was able to neutralise the not-so-subtle flavours of smoked salmon and chorizo.
The next tea we had was a Milky Oolong. Paired with scones and clotted cream, this tea definitely enhanced the food. As the name suggests, Milky Oolong has a creamy flavour. This unusual taste comes from the special cultivar of tea bush it comes from and the high altitude at which it’s grown. This tea tastes so much like dairy that, according to Dananjaya, one vegan woman buys Milky Oolong because it’s the closest thing she can get to drinking milk.
The final tea we sampled was sencha, a Japanese green tea. During processing, sencha leaves are steamed instead of pan-fried, which gives the tea a slightly sweet overtone to the woodsy aroma typical of green tea. Dananjaya mentioned that sencha is drunk in Japan after a meal to help with digestion, and it did make the perfect palate cleanser after the cakes and pastries we ate.
As expected from a high tea, this event was a fancy affair, and the Old Course Hotel’s Conservatory was the perfect setting. The tables — covered in white tablecloths, of course — were elegantly set, and the entire room was illuminated by sunshine from the floor-to-ceiling windows. The hotel staff had polished manners while greeting us, taking our coats, and pouring our tea, which heightened the sophisticated atmosphere. To fit the locale, the guests were all smartly dressed, with lots of suits, crisp shirts, and floral and pastel dresses.
At the beginning, the whole event almost felt too fancy — when we started on the Silver Tips, guests were uncertain of how to even eat the sandwiches. Most guests used their forks and knives, but I went ahead with my hands and felt a bit like a savage. And when you feel like a savage while eating finger food with your fingers, you know you are in a swanky place.
But after a few moments, we all relaxed as the conversations around the tables went past the ice-breaker stage. Luke Botting, the event organizer, told The Tribe that he hoped attendees would see how welcoming and sociable the society was. He succeeded. The guests at my table, for instance, had come to the event on their own or in twos or threes. By the end, however, all eight of us had had conversations with each other — and yes, they went beyond small talk.
Both friendly and fancy, High Tea at the Old Course Hotel created a comfortable atmosphere for its guests to experience something new. With its prime location and an expert guiding us through the teas, it showcased what the Fine Food and Dining Society has to offer, making it the perfect start to the society’s line-up of events.
Their next event is “Harvest at the Cottage Kitchen“, a friendly seasonal feast in the coziest restaurant in St. Andrews. Menu and tickets are available on their website.
Photo Credit: Isaree Thatchaichawalit