I was beginning to lose hope. I was beginning to get jaded. I was beginning to believe that a truly authentic English afternoon tea just does not exist in Beijing. And just when I least expected it, I discovered China World Hotel’s Afternoon Tea Concert.
Over the past few months, I’ve been making my way through Beijing’s hotels, sipping and tasting my way through their afternoon tea menus on a mission to uncover the very best afternoon tea in Beijing. While some have definitely fared better than others, the overall afternoon tea spreads available at the Ritz-Carlton
, Park Hyatt
, Sofitel Beijing Hotel
and Kempinski Hotel Beijing Lufthansa Center
(in chronological order) have all been sub-par. None have been perfect, none have blown me away and that is exactly what I have been itching to find.
My ears perked up as soon as I heard the words “12 piece orchestra” and “afternoon tea” incorporated into the same sentence. A live classical music concert every Sunday afternoon in the lobby of China World Hotel
sounded like a trip worth making.
Although I had not previously heard of this Afternoon Tea Concert before, it’s apparently been a regular event since it first opened over 20 years ago as a part of the China World Trade Center (hotel, offices, apartments, exhibition halls and shopping center). Every Sunday, China World Hotel has invited students and young musicians to play a classical concert for its guests in the glamorous lobby of their hotel, a setting reminiscent of a Chinese imperial palace.
China World Hotel's Lobby Lounge
12-piece Classical Orchestra Performance
China World Hotel’s Lobby Lounge Manager Kimberley Tso is from London and knows exactly how afternoon tea should be
Entrance of China World Lobby Lounge
Music to my ears and joy leaping from my taste buds, China World Hotel Lobby Lounge’s Afternoon Tea Concert is a weekend treat that both Beijing residents and out-of-town visitors should make a point to enjoy at least once. I say “at least once” because every month they change the theme of their Afternoon Tea Concert to serve something fresh, something new while maintaining the same high-quality standards and upholding this treasured, time-honored English tradition.
On the Sunday afternoon I came to visit, the theme of the month was “Strawberries and Cream”. Diving into the summer heat, there is nothing more evocative of a British summer than strawberries and cream.
“As in China, tea is not just a mere drink in Great Britain and is more a way of life, so join our elegant tea party as we indulge in the tradition of afternoon tea with a range of delights from its very birthplace. British classics such as fresh strawberries and vanilla cream, apple crumble, fruit cake, scones, clotted cream and jam will grace the silverware at Lobby Lounge this May.”
- China World Hotel
The Afternoon Tea Concert set is priced at RMB298 +15% service charge and includes two teas or coffees from the Afternoon Tea menu. Tea selection is broken down into three categories with multiple options available in each selection: Classic Tea Selection (English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Darjeeling, Assam and Sencha), Chinese Tea Selection (Jasmine, Pu’er, Chrysanthemum) and Herbal Tea Selection (Peppermint and Chamomile). Coffee is available upon request and for those really looking to indulge, there is also a Champagne Afternoon Tea option available.
One of the few afternoon tea events in Beijing that requires a reservation to ensure a seat, I recommend that you call 6505-2266 ext. 37 in advance.
Four tasters strong, we ordered a variety (Darjeeling, Jasmine and Chrysanthemum) and we were each treated to our own tea pot set
Recommended by China World Hotel: Chrysanthemum Tea Set
Two Complete Afternoon Tea Sets Shared Between Four Tasters
Complete Set includes 3-Tiered Display and Sides of Savoury Sausage Roll & Basket of Scones
(From L to R): Ham and Cheddar Sandwich, Cucumber Sandwich, Smoked Salmon Sandwich, Egg and Chive Sandwich
What you might suspect as being the most boring part of the afternoon tea set was actually the most surprising because, for the very first time, we were served sandwiches with bread that is not dry and crusty. Hallelujah! Moist, freshly-cut mini sandwich rectangles perfected. Something so simple can still go terribly wrong, but even as harsh critics, we could find no faults here.
The Egg and Chive Sandwich was very neat (it could have been doused with too much mayo and a sloppy mess at worst), the Ham & Cheddar Sandwich included a slice of real Cheddar cheese (not the processed kind) with a touch of mustard and pickle (to add sophistication to an otherwise basic Ham & Cheddar combo), the Cucumber Sandwich was served cold (there’s nothing worse than warm cucumber) with a layer soft and creamy cream cheese, and the Smoked Salmon Sandwich was rich and smoky served on a soft and fluffy whole grain bread base (not the dense pumpernickel bread it’s been served on elsewhere).
Middle Tier Display of Pastries
The lovely chocolate butterfly delicately perched on top of the Chocolate Éclair was almost too nice to eat, the Strawberry Cheesecake Tart was thick with a strong cheesy flavor on top of a soft, crumbly shortbread biscuit base and the White Chocolate Lemon Tart tasted like a light lemon meringue pie decorated with white chocolate disks and lime jelly cubes, a combination best described as a “zesty interlude” (a phrase coined by fellow taster Sarah Keenlyside).
Strawberry Cheesecake / Chocolate Eclair / White Chocolate Lemon Tart
Top Tier Display of Desserts
Among the entire three tiered display of delights, the only item I didn’t personally like was the English Fruit Cake. I can’t say I like fruit cake in general, but this one was especially dense, nutty and sticky. Dried fruits were mixed throughout the cake and although it is quite a traditional English pastry, it’s a bit too stodgy for my liking. The Apple Crumble was lovely, but we all agreed that fresh apples (rather than candied apples) would have been preferred.
Saving the top tier for last, we also saved the Fresh Strawberry with Vanilla Cream for the final taste of our impressive 3-tiered display of delights. A perfect ending, the mini fresh strawberries were sweet and juicy, floating on a cloud of light and fluffy vanilla cream. The only thing that could have made this dessert any better would be to provide an extra side of strawberries as the proportion of cream outnumbered the handful of fresh strawberries.
English Fruit Cake / Apple Crumble / Fresh Strawberries with Vanilla Cream
So the big question lies in what to do with the remaining vanilla cream once the strawberries disappeared. You can’t possibly eat the cream with the elegant cocktail stick you used to eat the strawberries (we tried and failed). Creative solution by fellow American taster Veronica Wong – dip a scone in the vanilla cream or you can also do what fellow British taster Tom Pattinson instinctually did – stick your finger in it and lick it with no hints of shame.
Side of Savoury Sausage Rolls / Basket of Scones with Clotted Cream, Organic Honey and Berry Preserve
Sausage Roll Close-Up
The only thing that made us more excited than the Fresh Strawberries and Vanilla Cream dessert were the Savoury Sausage Rolls served on the side in its own separate basket. Topped with a layer of sesame seeds, this reminded us of Jamie Oliver’s signature style of adding contemporary twists on traditional recipes. The flaky sausage roll was exactly how it ought to be (expertise confirmed by two fellow Brits). Excellent value as it’s generously portioned and big enough to share, this was a big hit among an already impressive afternoon tea set spread.
Loaded Sultana Scone with Clotted Cream and Jam
Now that is a good looking scone. A side basket filled with plain and Sultana scones come with a side of trio spreads: Clotted Cream, Organic Honey and Berry Preserve (aka jam). While we stacked our scones high with oozing Clotted Cream and Jam, I still think the best scone I’ve tasted was the first afternoon tea I tried at the Ritz-Carlton Beijing which was much bigger and fluffier with a flaky exterior shell and a soft, chewy inside.
Although last month’s “Strawberry and Cream” theme is now past, this month’s bejeweled theme should be just as impressive and although it is yet to be confirmed, China World Hotel’s Lobby Lounge Manager Kimberley Tso gives us hints that “Tropical Fruits” and “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” are possible themes in the upcoming months ahead.
“Against a stunning Chinese imperial palace-inspired backdrop, with the sweet sound of live music filling the air, the Lobby Lounge’s Bijou Afternoon Tea features delectable sandwich delights, enticing precious trinkets themed pastries and miniature scones, savor highlights such as Chocolate Opera Cake and Berry Macaroon Tart.”
- Kimberley Tso on June 2012's Afternoon Tea Concert Theme
First-Class Service at China World Hotel's Lobby Lounge Afternoon Tea Concert
To see more reviews by LumDimSum, head over to her original blog.