Early this year I had a very special experience at The Lanesborough Hotel. I was invited by Karl Kessab, the UK first Tea Sommelier, to the Afternoon Tea at the Hotel. The Lanesborough has been awarded five times with the “Award of excellence” by the UK Tea Council and two times with the “Top afternoon tea” by the Tea Guild among other achievements, and it has been Mr. Kessab who, with his expertise and experience, has made this possible over the years.
It was a cold Friday of January. I arrived at 4:00pm as agreed. Karl kindly greeted me and took me to Apsley’s, the Hotel’s restaurant where the Afternoon Tea is served daily. He accompanied me to the table and then he said: “I want you to see everything from here, I will come back later to join you” and I was left in the hands of his team. I was immediately handed the menu and asked to choose the champagne I would like. The waiter told me I was free to choose any afternoon tea and also offered me to try all the tea selection on their menu. I chose the Belgravia Tea, a full selection of finger sandwiches, pastries, toasted cakes and homemade scones served with strawberry and cream and complemented by a glass of champagne. For my tea I chose the “White Rose” a blend of white, green and oolong tea blended with whole rose buds.
As I have mentioned before, I suffer from food allergies which includes white flour, fish and seafood and so I warned the waiter not to worry about my food and that I would only have the strawberries and cream, the champagne and my tea as I wouldn’t be able to eat any of the pastries. He immediately called another colleague who kindly asked me about the things I could eat instead and took notes about it in order to find something suitable for me. (Please note that for anyone with food concerns, The Lanesborough does offer a gluten and dairy free afternoon tea that you have to request in advance.
As soon as they brought the champagne they also brought the strawberries and my evening had officially started. The piano music and the sophisticated atmosphere were delightful. The waiters (surprisingly all men) moved around the table as if they were dancing or ice skating. It was the perfect choreography, at least the one I had invented!
After some time enjoying my drink, watching the scene and watching my unique dance piece, Karl came to join me. He sat down with me and ordered…. a Cappuccino! It was so unexpected but so understandable! We laughed about it and it was the beginning of a nice conversation. We talked a lot and I felt as if I knew him from long ago. We talked about personal plans, ambitions in life, about his career and mine, and I could see how much he had worked to be in the position he is now. He told me about how many possibilities there are for a Tea Sommelier in London and the way to capitalize on it. He was very confident but very humble at the same time and open to share knowledge, experiences and to give personal advice.
The food suddenly arrived and I couldn’t believe it! Two trays filled with beautiful food: chocolate and raspberry mousse, gluten free scones, finger sandwiches, cakes and everything I could ask for. I tried everything and it was simply delicious. By Karl’s suggestions I tried the scones with the Hotel’s signature lemon curd with strawberry preserve and cream altogether and it was superb!. The conversation went on and on, and we had a lovely evening that I will remember forever.
The tea service in general really impressed me. Everything seemed effortless and smooth. The waiters were highly trained and it was shown in every aspect of the service. The atmosphere was perfect: the music, the setting of the table, the crockery, the cutlery, the food. Regarding the tea itself, it was very light and delicate as I expected but I liked the fact that none of the three teas in it were spoiling the other. The blend of white, green and oolong tea worked out perfectly well in density and blended well together to my surprise. The rose buds were very delicate and added a subtle flowery aroma that made it very pleasant. The people in the room seemed content and so was I.
I haven’t seen Karl since then and he is no longer at the Lanesborough. I hope he shares with us some news about his new adventures soon. I will always be grateful for this and I wish him lots of success in this new stage of his career!
For more info about the Afternoon Tea at the Lanesborough: http://www.lanesborough.com/en/london-afternoon-tea