Slow steam rises as a floral-scented tea flows into my cup. This experience is replicated 500,000 times a year as tea gently streams from a china teapot into ornate royal teacups. It is the sound that symbolizes the beginning of another afternoon tea at the majestic Fairmont Empress.
Walking up to the entrance of the stately stone and brick building, it’s hard not to be awestruck by the magnificent presence of the iconic hotel towering over Victoria’s Inner Harbour. A renowned international landmark, the hotel has housed guests from all walks of life and different parts of the world. Even having visited before, the grandeur of the Empress never fails to enchant and leave me breathless.
Striking, classical columns that look as though they have been plucked from a historic Roman building immediately catch my eye as I enter the spacious Lobby Lounge. My eyes are drawn to the elegant tables set with the Empress’ iconic tea service. The room’s accent colors riff off the shine of the china helping create a beautiful and bright space
While the Empress has been serving tea since 1908, the hotel’s remodel has magically transformed the look and feel of the entire space, creating a sophisticated, luminous atmosphere that still manages to retain the original architecture of the building. In short, the best of both worlds where English tradition meets modern decor.
I settle into a cozy rattan-backed chair, and am greeted by the Lounge’s welcoming team of servers who present me with a tea menu unlike any other I have encountered. I crack open the beautiful and weighty wooden menu and am greeted by 21 tiny glass “window panes” allowing for a peek at the fine loose leaf teas available for my sipping pleasure.
The diverse array of offerings run the gamut from hand-rolled oolongs to flower-filled herbal blends. With so many options, I have a tough time choosing just one tea to satiate my curiosity. After hemming and hawing for a few minutes, I turn to my expert tea server for advice.
One of their top picks is the Empress Blend, which is created exclusively for Fairmont Empress by the Metropolitan Tea Company and is referred to as one of the finest blends in the world. If you prefer your tea on the sweeter side, the Organic Kea Lani, with its orange notes and velvety sweet pineapple highlights, is one of the most popular teas among visitors. Blue Suede Shoes is another crowd-pleaser because of its color and smooth sweetness.
I land on the Organic Kea Lani, and the tea soon arrives in a china teapot carefully placed upon a candle-lit warmer and accompanied by a handy timer to ensure steeping perfection. The timer is comprised of three hour-glass shaped vials, each filled with a different color of sand, corresponding to each type of tea. As every tea expert knows, timing is everything.
Like any tea experience, the treats accompanying the tea are a key ingredient to the service. By the time that the last taupe grains of sand trickle through my timer, a sleek three-tiered platter arrives at my table, brimming with a slate of goodies fit for a queen (after all, the Empress is the only place in town that has played host to Queen Elizabeth II herself), each more delicious than the last.
There are even finger-sized bites such as PB&J sandwiches and vanilla rainbow cupcakes for the kiddos on the Prince and Princess Tea menu (A little insider tip: this is the perfect opportunity to dress your little prince or princess up in their finest duds, tiaras optional, and give them the chance to live like royalty for the afternoon. Grandparents love it and it also makes for a great photo op!).
The phenomenal, mouth-watering eats, range from hand-peeled local shrimp sandwiches to passion fruit strawberry pavlova, and are produced in-house using fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. Creating these magnificent treats is no small feat. My server explains creating the house-made clotted cream, alone is a 12-step process. As such, the Empress’ pastry kitchen works around the clock to make sure everything is up to standard.
Presented with such an impressive array of goodies, part of me just wants to dive right in and try everything at once (which, is totally acceptable in case you are wondering). In keeping with tradition, my tea server suggests working from the bottom to the top of the platter and eating these tantalizing treats in the following order: sandwiches, scones and pastries. While I intend to follow the plan, I quickly realize the scones are warm and fresh – straight from the oven. Game changer. I can’t help myself and immediately dive in on the heavenly treat.
If the smell of this freshly-baked goodness doesn’t make your mouth water, the strawberry jam will certainly do the trick. A delicious combination of sweet and floral, the preserves are made in-house from local berries and lavender grown in the hotel’s little-known, rooftop garden. As I slice into a scone, topping each half with a little cream and a dollop of strawberry jam, I’m transported to foodie heaven, savoring each warm, gooey bite. Perfection.
Tasting the superb tea and savory and sweet eats from the famous Lobby Lounge for the first time is a rite of passage here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m already planning a return trip to repeat this memorable event, only next time maybe I’ll add some bubbly.
- In the evening, the Lobby Lounge transforms into a vibrant and sophisticated cocktail lounge. Stop by this fantastic social hub to soak in live music seven nights a week.
- Bonus points for popping down to the bold, brand-new Q Bar after your meal and capping your day off with one of their specialty cocktails (hello, North West Collins!).