It brings me great joy and pleasure to write today’s blog post. Today’s write-up is a labour of love. So, you know how I have this rather humble blog of mine, and you know how much I love high teas (well, tea and food in general) … well, I have had the rather extreme good fortune of partaking in the World of Tea experience at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tokyo as an invited guest! You might recall that back in May to usher in my (30th! Gasp!) birthday, I had a rather tiny soiree (with some fellow gastronomes) at one of the creme de la creme extravagant high tea experiences at the Ritz Carlton in Tokyo – the highest place to do High Tea in Tokyo (on level 45).
Correct me if I am wrong, but I do believe it may also be the highest place to do Afternoon Tea in the World! So after writing that particular blog post and review of the High Tea at the Ritz, the Executive Assistant Manager of Food and Beverage who oversees the dining establishments at the Ritz in Tokyo read my blog, and got in touch with me. I had no idea why he wanted to get in contact with me. So naturally, my imagination went wild. Perhaps a job offer as a food photographer (one can dream), or perhaps he wanted to give me a tea warmer (which I had raved about). As it turned out, much to my delight, he was extending an invitation to me (along with Tami and Kaori) to attend as special guests to the World of Tea experience! Wow. Talk about incredibly amazing.
A free afternoon tea at the Ritz! Now there’s seven words that I like very much. He also wrote me some kind words about that blog post: I quote: “Dear Aleisha, Greetings from The Ritz-Carlton! I have read your blog regarding the High Afternoon Tea experience at our Lobby Lounge. Thank you very much for your honest description of the time spent with us. I enjoyed your subtle sense of humour as well as your attention to details while creating the blog.” —- I was extremely flattered. He had me at: “I have read your blog”. (I don’t think many people I meet could say that to me! My blog has a very small readership.) I won’t get too carried away on this point…must bring myself down a notch. They probably have Google Alerts set-up everytime the word “Tokyo Ritz” appears on the internet. He then went on to say in the email: “Your tea time story brought so much joy to our Lobby Lounge Team! Therefore I would be more than honored if you accept my invitation for our World of Tea. Please feel free to ask your two friends Tami and Kaori to come as well. This is our Lobby Lounge monthly special event in which we partner with different tea company every time in order to create unique and memorable moments for our guests.”
Wow. How exciting. And how unbelievable! This stuff only happens in the movies! This was better than winning the lottery! And then my alarm went off…and this was all just a dream. No, just kidding!!! Seriously all of this happened!!!!
The World of Tea experience happens at the Ritz hotel for three days exclusively every month. Each month they feature different tea suppliers/brands and offer a customized afternoon tea menu (usually based on a theme) with an assortment of tea pairings from that particular tea supplier. In the past they have had Taylors of Harrogate, and Leafull, to name just a couple. Even though I was invited back in May, I decided to take up the offer this month. August’s World Of Tea Experience was presented by Lupicia (a well known tea brand) with the theme being ‘Ryou’ meaning ‘Cool’ – ideal for summer with a focus on iced-tea blends. With a couple of month’s notice, my friends and I had arranged time off from work to partake in this World of Tea experience at the Ritz as special guests. The Ritz on the House!
Upon arrival, I simply said my name and was ushered immediately to our seats (by the window, I might add). Window seating – always a plus! Me: “Hi. My name is Aleisha.” Them: “Right this way”. (So this is how the other half live! I could get used to this.) We got lovely window seating with great views over Tokyo (it helps to be on the 45th floor).
We sat and perused the World of Tea special menu (which I took home as a keepsake. Might have to frame it or laminate or something).
The table was exquisitely set up.
There was a tea course which involved samples of six different teas (all from Lupicia)! What I loved about it, was that each tea was served in a different tea cup/beverage vessel! The Welcome Tea was an Oolong tea served in a champagne glass. (This was a chilled tea). I was half-expecting this to taste sweet.
Mustn’t forget the bird’s eye view of the tea. Look at the clarity of the tea.
The First Tea was Sencha (a deep-steamed green tea) served in a chawan which I forgot to take a photo of! My only saving grace is that you can see the cup that it was served in, in this photo. It’s the little Japanese cup to the right of the photo (with the little lid on it).
The Second Tea was a Bocha (a roasted tea) served in a really cool cup and saucer. The saucer was hollowed out to fit the cup perfectly (ぴったり). No mixing and matching cups and saucers with this one! We checked the bottom of the cup and saw that it was made by Lupicia, so me thinks, you can probably purchase them from a Lupicia store.
The ‘Tea for Break” – the ‘intermission tea’ was Gyokuro – another iced-tea. They alternated between hot teas and iced-teas. It was served in a little egg-cup-like shot glass.
The Third Tea was a Japanese black tea (hot).
And the Encore Tea (I love how they called it an ‘Encore’ tea!) was a matcha tea (a traditional rich Japanese green tea) which was chilled and served on the rocks (i.e. with ice).
An interesting selection of Japanese teas both chilled (perfect for summer) as well as hot teas. All the teas presented on this occasion are all from with Japan. The tea menu came with a description blurb of each tea which was very thoughtful. The teas are served as progression throughout the meal, and not served all at once.
If any of these teas take your fancy then check out Lupicia in Australia, Japan, the US. Don’t you just love how that an anagram for ‘tea’ is ‘eat’ (and ‘ate’) which brings me nicely to the part where we talk about the food (transition…subtle). There was an entree of cutlass fish which I think was part of the savoury tier.
The flavour was a little too subtle for my liking. It could have done with a bit more flavour. Time for the piece de resistance. The magnum opus. The three tiers of epicuriosity.
Here was the savoury tier which included some delicious sushi! This platter was so visually appealing. Fresh and vibrant colours. Even the photos look edible!
First, you must eat with your eyes, as beautifully captured on my SLR Nikon D5000 (you’re welcome). Hence, an overload of photos. The sweets tier:
And then the scones, with the beautifully quinelled (curled scoop) of cream:
And lest we forget the jam and preserve condiments.
Once the tiered platter is brought out, no one is allowed to eat until I’ve taken no less than 200 photos of it, which takes a good 10-15 minutes. Then we’re allowed to eat. (I apologize to anyone who eats with me.) My ritual then is to bring each food portion down onto my serving plate, followed by another photo session, but at least this time I’m not preventing other people from eating. I always start with the savoury plate. Such clean presentation. Such awesome food photography skills (I am typing this one-handed whilst I toot my own horn with the other) 🙂
How skillful was this corn shinjo. The outer layer of the corn kernels have been delicately placed around the seafood cake to make it look like a slice of corn cob! Food art.
The food menu was very Japanese-influenced. Sushi, sweet potatoes, rice noodles (which just quietly, something was amiss with).
I love the clarity of the rice granules in this next shot:
Following the savoury treats is the sweet delights. Remember: Savour then Devour.
I arrange each onto my plate, like so:
Same plate, different angles!
This was the rose flavoured white peach tartlet which was delicious.
There was also a yuzu chocolate macaroon. Love chocolate. Love yuzu. I couldn’t get enough photos of this! I am rather obsessed with looking at macaroons. I could look at them all day and take photos of them all day. I like looking at them more than I like eating them. I’m actually not a huge fan of them…still eat them nevertheless. (Just thought of an awesome idea. I am going to change my computer screen wallpaper at work to a macaroon display). Look here and here (two Google image searches, different spelling – ‘macaroons’ and ‘macrons’.) I took about thirty photos of this macaroon. I will spare you all thirty. Here are just a handful.
The art of restraint is one I have not yet mastered when it comes to food. I always save the scones for last.
Keeping in mind that the theme of this tea was ‘Cool’ – it was only fitting that the menu was fresh, vibrant, light, colourful, refreshing and very さっぱりした。 I found that the assortment of Japanese teas was very cleansing. And to prove that I am not being paid or ‘influenced’ by the Ritz to write a glowing review – I will say the following that could have been enhanced: – more staff, faster service (this was mentioned in my first review of the Ritz). – fresh plates to be brought out for each tier. Now, I don’t know of any hotel or tea venue that does this. But I think this would be a really nice touch and I would commend any hotel that does this. At every afternoon/high tea that I’ve done, you have only one small serving plate that you use as you work your way through the three tiers. It would be preferable to have fresh plates so that after I’ve eaten my savoury morsels, I am then not eating off the same plate that has cakes on it next. Not necessary. But nice. I think such a gesture would make a five-star place stand out from the rest of the pack. Relaxing, eating, drinking – no better way to spend a Friday afternoon, courtesy of the Ritz.
Three very lucky gals enjoying a World of Tea right here in Tokyo!
Live pianist as well to provide some ambient sounds.
Halfway during our afternoon tea, the manager who had extended the invitation to us, came over to introduce himself. It was lovely to meet him in person. Each month they try to do outdo themselves coming up with better and more creative World of Tea experiences from all across the globe. And various tea suppliers/tea brands are coming on board to showcase their tea line. I’m sure there is something to suit every taste. You should keep an eye on their events calendar to find out which ones pique your interest. Afternoon Tea at the Ritz is very popular and they have carved themselves a nice little niche in this market. They offer a regular afternoon tea which can be enjoyed on weekends. They also have the more extravagant Ritz high tea (which I indulged in for my birthday). There’s also the monthly World of Tea experience which changes every month. They also have a children’s Teddy Bear afternoon tea just for the kiddies! What’s more, is that you can also do a Ladies Afternoon Tea luncheon (more a lunch than an afternoon tea.) Check their calendar for specials. Current offer is: 4th lady is free in a group of 4, that is, four for the price of three.) I am fan of the artworks which adorn the Lobby Lounge inside the Ritz hotel. I have since discovered that the artist is Sam Francis. (You’re welcome). The World of Tea experience is generally held once a month over three consecutive days on the last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the month (best to check via their website for dates etc). Each month has a different theme, presented by a different tea supplier with a totally different menu. Teas from all around the world are presented. So you won’t expect the same thing twice. You can, however, guarantee that it will be creative and unique. Given that they’re on a weekday, it’s not something that I would normally be able to experience. Having worked overtime during this week doing additional computer training at work, I was able to take a few hours off work to attend this tea (in lieu of overtime pay). Judging by the crowd in the Lobby Lounge, it seems that this is quite popular amongst ladies of leisure. So this is how the other half live. I even saw one lady partaking in afternoon tea on her own. Kudos to her (*virtual high five* – *tap chest twice peace sign*). One of my other friends told me that she did afternoon tea alone when she was in the UK where at the Jane Austin teahouse you can order the Mr Darcy afternoon tea set. (Me squealing with joy on the inside). ‘Awe’ and then ‘some’. That just went straight onto my bucketlist!
Housewives with wealthy husbands that can afford to do tea on a weekday (as you do), whilst the rest of us peasants have to work for a living. Where do I find me one of these rich husbands so I can do tea at the Ritz on a weekday every month?! World of Tea experience costs 6000yen per person. I am extremely grateful to have been able to partake in this courtesy of The Ritz. Thank you to Mr Cernia and his team at the Lobby Lounge at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Tokyo for the generosity shown to myself and two friends. We truly appreciate it. It was a wonderful, unforgettable experience! As a collector of memories and experiences…this one rates up there! Disclaimer: This review (as with all my reviews) are simply in my humble opinion, and are written purely as a hobby. I am not a professional food critic or writer (although am happy to do so if you have an offer!). I don’t recommend that you just start a blog just to get yourself a free meal. I write and blog about food and High Teas in particular purely as a hobby without any intention of profiting from it. For me, I am passionate about tea, about food, about food photography and Japan (hence this High Tea Project). Keep in mind that I have done over 16 high teas in Tokyo alone (over a period of 18 months), and over 20 high teas combined around the world, and this was the first time I have ever been given such a “gift”. My High Tea Project takes a toll on the wallet and the waistline. Yes, it’s a health hazard. It is just a hobby. But a hobby that I love. I have also reviewed well over 200 dining establishments throughout Japan on this blog and this is the first time I have ever “gained” something from it. Also be mindful of the fact that I also first went to the Ritz for afternoon tea on my own dime. You can read about that here. So this particular occasion was a fortuitous blessing and certainly not an expectation (although happy to take any offers if other 5-star hotels would like to follow suit!). Warning: Shameless spruiking/plugging. As an amateur food photographer, I would love to take photos of your food. Food is the only currency required. That’s right, no cash, just food, for my services. If you would like to enjoy High Tea at the Ritz check out their website. The hotel is located in Midtown (Roppongi). Complete photo album slideshow (this was the culled version and it has 132 photos. The full album contained 168 photos and that was after I trashed all the dud shots. This blog post has taken me over 3 hours to put together with text, images and links. It’s 4.30pm on Saturday arvo and I’m still in my PJs!) More photos of the Ritz can be found in my other post. Please feel free to leave a comment!