Afternoon tea

Julie Fitz-Gerald
April 05, 2013
Written by Julie Fitz-Gerald
The clink of a delicate teacup being placed on its matching china saucer, the aroma of steeped tea as it is poured, the taste of a freshly baked scone melting in your mouth: it’s no wonder afternoon tea has been rising in popularity across the globe. The success of afternoon tea in bakeries and cafés across Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand (and of course a resurgence in England) is proving that posh hotels no longer have dibs on this swanky affair.

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High or low tea isn’t just about the beverage and food; it’s an experience. 

 

The Tea Association of Canada (TAC) reported that hot tea servings in Canadian food service totalled $380 million last year, representing a four per cent gain over 2011 and making it one of the fastest growing beverages in the country. Its popularity is expected to increase 40 per cent by the year 2020, according to the Canadian Food Trends to 2020 report commissioned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The jump in consumption is being fuelled by a growing consumer interest in the health and wellness benefits associated with tea. With numbers like these, steaming pots of tea paired with a selection of baked goodies and finger sandwiches could be a winning combination for your bakery as well.

Afternoon tea or “low tea” dates back to the early 19th century, when Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, began inviting guests to her residence to enjoy a cup of tea with some sweets and savouries in the afternoon as a means of staving off late-day hunger.

These afternoon affairs consisted of a pot of tea, small sandwiches, light desserts and occasionally a cake, which were served on low tables, hence the more unused phrase, “low tea.” According to the TAC, “high tea” was in fact a full meal served to the lower classes that included tea and was eaten at a high table. Today, the phrases seem to be used interchangeably to describe tea served with finger sandwiches and sweets. While the selection of tiered goodies that make up a traditional afternoon tea varies from place to place, customers have come to expect two very important components to be part of the offering: cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches and freshly baked scones served with clotted cream and preserves. The remaining sandwiches and dainties that make up the tiered plate can be left to the bakery’s discretion based on what their best-selling items are.

Tracy Dueck, CEO and owner of Tracycakes Bakery Cafe in British Columbia, has served afternoon tea since first opening her doors in 2006. The grandeur that comes along with an afternoon tea service provides customers with a distinctly special feeling, which fit perfectly with Dueck’s vision for her bakery.

“High tea was always a part of opening at Tracycakes. We always wanted everything to be an experience because high tea is generally not something you do every day. It’s something that you experience with your loved ones and your friends. It’s a time where you can connect around this beautiful tiered food which creates really great memories and that’s what we’re about.”

Afternoon tea embodies pure elegance, from aromatic teas and delectable treats, right down to the dishes they are served on.

While Dueck initially served her homemade scones, mini quiches, finger sandwiches and dainties on standard “cordon bleu” white dishes she eventually made the switch to china teacups and silver-tiered serving plates to foster an even more regal feeling among her customers.

“It’s what customers have come to expect. It offers this higher level of an experience that maybe at home you wouldn’t get. Drinking out of a china teacup is really special.”

Dueck’s attention to every detail of her high tea service has made it a huge hit with clientele. While Tracycakes is best known for its famous cupcakes, Dueck says that high tea accounts for 30 per cent of sales at her Fort Langley location and 25 per cent of sales at her Abbotsford location. Tracycakes’ brief opening in White Rock had high tea sales of 45 per cent, before the location was put on hold due to unforeseeable circumstances. The numbers show that she has found customers eager to indulge in the extraordinary delights of afternoon tea.

“It’s really much like the tiers; there are layers of reasons why customers want to have high tea. You want to do this special thing with your mom or your very dear friend and there is something in our minds that when we see this tray coming towards us, it creates an “awe” affect. It’s so special, and it creates a really great memory that’s solidified in the experience of sharing that together. I think it meets all of those needs on every level. It’s very unique and different and not something you do every day,” Dueck explains.

If a full-service afternoon tea is too involved for your bakery or café, there are plenty of foodservice establishments offering a more simplified version for customers who are on the go. Louise Roberge, president of the TAC, has noticed an increase in TAC members offering tea with a scone or cake priced between $5 and $10.

“The fast food operators or the specialty tea stores are definitely looking to have some offerings for the crowd, to have something special for them to come in and purchase with their tea. It’s natural to eat something with tea – to have something sweet – it just goes together,” says Roberge.

Technomic’s 2012 Canadian Snacking Occasion Consumer Trend Report found that foodservice operators are undergoing a rush of menu-development activity in an attempt to cater to a dramatic rise in consumer snacking. Technomic’s study found that more than 56 per cent of consumers polled say they snack more than once a day, up from 25 per cent of consumers polled just two years earlier. This huge jump is bolstered by consumers broadening their definition of what constitutes a snack, which affords restaurateurs the flexibility of getting creative with their menus.

With Canadian consumption of tea expected to continue rising over the coming years, finding room for this ancient beverage in your business is bound to attract new customers. Roberge says tea consumption is expected to rise among baby boomers as they enter retirement and spend more time relaxing with a cuppa, as well as among youth who often have friends from different cultures introduce them to tea, particularly in the green tea category. The public’s ever-increasing focus on health and wellness and the countless benefits that tea affords will also play a significant role in tea consumption.

Whether you’re offering customers a full-service afternoon tea or simply a premium brew to accompany a scrumptious pastry, having a selection of quality tea is crucial.  Since there are as many varieties of tea as there are wine varieties, the TAC is happy to offer guidance.

“Absolutely, bakery owners can come to TAC members; we have members that are packers and we have members who sell tea and actually have that training. They will certainly make sure you know what you’re selling and they do have very good relationships with their customers. If you go to www.tea.ca, you will find that all our members are there, including the retailers across the country,” Roberge notes.

In a time when “social” media is rampant, causing the public to communicate more through text messages and e-mails than through face-to-face interaction, the thought of meeting a friend for idle chit-chat and a cup of tea has never been more appealing. Customers are quietly yearning for a reason to sit down and relax; why not offer them one!


Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and is a regular contributor to Bakers Journal.

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