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It’s Tea Time!

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Gone are the days when afternoon tea in a lavish hotel was seen as a stiff event, catering to a predominantly female clientele in their 50s and 60s. In today’s hospitality industry the tea business is growing steadily and the tradition of taking afternoon tea has become popular among families and the younger generation as well. In the Middle East tea has a long tradition and the F&B offers from five star hotels play an important role on the local scenes. Bettina Quabius explores the afternoon tea concepts of some major hotel players in the region and discovers what makes the experience so special.

Tea is deeply rooted in many Arab cultures with a tradition that goes back until some 1,200 years ago. While in Europe only an average of about 5 percent of tea is consumed out of home, the Middle Eastern tea houses, shisha cafes and restaurants have a considerable share of the market. Along with the expansion of modern coffee shops, particularly visible in the countries of the GCC, tea has benefited as well albeit to a lower degree than the sales of its big competitor coffee. Tea is the second most popular drink after water, and the region’s tea market is flourishing.

However, the increase of high-quality tea products is very much driven by Western lifestyle and consumption patterns. Taking afternoon tea in the fancy environment of a five-star hotel is a relatively young phenomenon in the Middle East that has been promoted by F&B operators who need to fill the lull between lunch and dinner. Moreover, it helps to offer a point of differentiation from a hotel’s key competitors.

Afternoon tea at The Ritz-Carlton, Bahrain Hotel & Spa is served from 4 to 6 pm in the Ritz Gourmet Lounge. It’s all about presentation and atmosphere: the authentic French interior design of the lounge is inspired by the Parisian ‘Salon de The’ and the Cesar Ritz legacy, featuring wooden panels, marble flooring, rich wooden furniture and classic curtains. The ‘Afternoon Tea Experience’ includes finger sandwiches, scones, French mini gateaux and a choice of tea, alternatively the guest can choose from the à-la-carte menu. Imported leaf teas from Sri Lanka, China and South America are on offer from the tea trolley, freshly cut in front of the guest and served in silver pots.

At Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai, traditional afternoon tea at both, the Al Samar Lounge in Mina A’Salam and the Al Fayrooz Lounge in Al Qasr, is very popular among inhouse-guests and local female expats alike.

While English Breakfast and Earl Grey are still the most popular teas at the Madinat Jumeirah venues, new varieties and healthy solutions such as green tea and jasmine tea are more and more in demand. Organic tea and herbal infusion with a large variety of flavours are also growing in popularity as is the semi-fermented Oolong Tea. Children are taken care of as well: they can order specially made tea with bubble-gum/hibiscus flavour and coloured organic sugar alongside.

A selection of dainty finger sandwiches, delicate cakes and scones are a must for every afternoon tea offer.

At the newly opened St. Regis Abu Dhabi, the tradition of afternoon tea is part of the brand’s legacy dating back to the 1900s when Lady Caroline Astor would host at The St. Regis New York intimate gatherings of her high society friends with an indulgent selection of sweet and savoury treats.

At the Phoenicia Hotel Beirut, tea is the most popular drink in the hotel’s lounges.
The afternoon tea menu includes finger sandwiches, delectable freshly baked scones accompanied by sweet preserves and clotted cream and beautifully made cakes. While the customers’ budgets generally are not too much of an issue in the GCC countries, the regular guests at the Cascade Lounge expect the highest quality and at the same time absolute best value offerings.

The guests’ preferences vary according to their cultural background. Arabic guests mostly request black tea while Lebanese prefer green tea for health benefits reasons. Herbal infusions are very popular among Europeans, especially the French while British guests like Earl Grey and breakfast tea.