The World’s Best High Tea

The Museum Art Hotel recently won the Dilmah High Tea Challenge in Sri Lanka and in August they recreated the menu in Wellington. Anne Else went to find what makes the world’s best high tea.  I’ve been happily drinking Dilmah ever since they chose New Zealand as the test market for their tea 28 years ago. To raise the profile of fine tea, they came up with the High Tea Global Challenge: reinventing the traditional high tea for the 21st century.

In 2013 Wellington’s Museum Art Hotel won the first New Zealand round. This July Sri Lanka hosted the grand final for 21 teams (710 people) from 15 countries. Two days to prepare, half an hour to set up, and just 35 minutes to serve the entire menu to the four judges (including our own Simon Gault).

Leading the Museum Art Hotel team were Hippopotamus head chef Laurent Loudeac and maitre d’ Camille Furminieux. “When we won in 2013 the final seemed a long way off”, said Camille, “and this March the chef got married – so we started working on our entry in April!”

On the day their execution was flawless – when I asked Laurent if there were any crises, he frowned slightly and said no, of course not. But watching the spectacular effects some other teams came up with, they thought they had no hope of winning. They were wrong.

Their clearly focused theme of the five senses (all involved in tea tasting) was shown off to perfection by their elegant French degustation-inspired menu of three savoury and three sweet courses. Created from fine New Zealand ingredients with tea-derived enhancements and paired throughout with stunning teas or tea-based drinks, it won them the supreme award. (You can see the menu here and see the recipes here.)

On 18 August they recreated their winning entry for 50 lucky people at Hippopotamus. From the duck tortellini in Ceylon ginger, honey and mint tea broth to the crêpes Suzette with mulled Meda Watte tea, it was the most exquisite food and drink I’ve ever experienced.

My favourite course? Clevedon buffalo milk feta espuma (beautifully airy but rich, created with a siphon), set off by tiny shards of crunchy macadamia nougatine and fresh cucumber, paired with the Vivid Gentle Green Lady cocktail – Lighthouse gin, Gentle Minty Green tea, fresh mint leaves, cucumber and a dash of Ch’i water. Tea will never be the same.

Proceeds from the Wellington event went to the new culinary training school for young underprivileged Sri Lankans, funded by Dilmah’s MTF Foundation.