In Cape Town, high tea isn’t high tea unless it’s served by a garçon surrounded by the most luxurious decor that screams, “I have too much money!” I’ve had many high tea experiences in Cape Town, but I like to just cut to the chase. This is no top 10 list. It’s just the best. I present 12 Apostles.
12 Apostles is a luxury hotel specializing in afternoon tea. The servers are educated in tasting. Yes, they get a whole education in tasting––not only that, but specializing in tea.
Our waiter for the afternoon was named Byron, and he took me on a flavor journey with each tea he brought. Just like him, I want to take you through each brew. I’ll give it to you straight. What is each good for? Which tea had a pallet coating worth the price? Can’t forget the hors d’oeuvres! And wait until the end to learn how to find the best high tea lounge, regardless of your city.
Dragon Jasmine Tea is 12 Apostles’ Specialty
The Dragon Jasmine tea is the closest relative to the first tea ever crafted. It tastes like regular jasmine tea. That is, until you add the 12 Apostles specialty. Byron added locally sourced apple juice to the mixture. It’s a pleasant cut to the bitter-sour notes of the plain Dragon Jasmine.
I think jasmine teas are a great starting point for high tea. They bring you back to the inception of infusing flavors into water. Remember the old story of the Chinese emperor who was drinking hot water near his window, only to have a jasmine leaf blow right into his cup?
You may think drinking plain hot water is a weird thing to do. But jasmine tea’s notoriety for weight loss started from the ancient Chinese notion that simple hot water causes weight loss.
That whole Chinese emperor story may or may not be fiction, but it gets you thinking. How did this practice spread from there? “Oh, yes, let’s start putting random foliage into our water!” sounds like something the village dunce would say, not an emperor or any trendsetter for that matter. But it did. It spread indeed.
In the context of tea history, Cape Town seems like a cool place to be drinking tea. There have been so many filters put on this practice––first the Chinese, then the British and now their ex-colony. And all those mediums transformed high tea into this grandiose South African presentation I’m partaking in now.
The South Africa-Only Tea: Rooibos
It is with great sorrow that I inform you that one of the most delicious tea is only able to grow in South Africa. I truly lament to say this, my northern hemisphere brothers.
Rooibos tastes like Savannah, Georgia. Call me crazy, but when I think of Savannah, I just think of vanilla and spice. And that’s what I’m getting here––star anise, cinnamon and even caramel.
The rooibos at 12 Apostles is surprisingly strong. That may be caused by my luxurious surroundings adding to the high tea experience or the fact that the rooibos I had was probably grown in their backyard. Ah, the advantages of being in South Africa!
Actually, I thought of another reason why it tastes so good. Sir Byron! He treated the tea like his firstborn. So gentle and caring, but he still had to sell it off to make ends meet.
Byron knew how to sell his rooibos. With all his mastery and experience as a tea sommelier, he told us about taste particles and gin, surprisingly. Apparently, gin and tea are all part of the same beverage family, so he had to extensively study the process of gin making before becoming well-versed in tea.
Within Byron’s vast wisdom, he also knew a little something something about rooibos’s health benefits. If you’re dealing with acne or gastrointestinal distress, it’ll take care of all your problems.
Cranberry Tea Brings A Whole New Flavor to High Tea
Like the rooibos, the 12 Apostles’ cranberry tea had a strong, full flavor. Byron described it as cranberry juice without the sugar, and he couldn’t be more right. Perfectly infused once again. It’s that South African magic!
The cranberry tea had a present yet undetectable sweetness––no sugar high, but no blandness either. Its sweetness was like the apple juice jasmine tea as if it had some sugar. But there legitimately was none added.
Cranberry tea helps with urinary tract infections and skincare.
We’re 3 for 3 now for perfect infusions, so I had to ask Byron about his training process. He said you could see when the right amount of taste particles are infused. Byron not only was extensively taught this but now teaches it to potential high tea servers himself.
Byron proved his worth as a teacher by showing 12 Apostles how to make their own grain alcohol with vegetable waste. He won them a green footprint competition, so an invitation to teach was the least they could do. He’s not just a tea master, but a straight genius on top of that!
The Most Luxurious South African High Tea Isn’t Complete Without Hors D’Oeuvres
I’m not very fond of the way hors d’oeuvres is spelled. They’re a nice concept, though. Sometimes you just want some variety, especially while you’re traveling. And hors d’oeuvres offer that as a non-belly busting experience.
The tinyness of each piece even makes you feel so proper, so high class. I can feel the pretentious energy flowing through me with just a glance at the image above. It makes you want to make a boastful Instagram post like, “wow, everyone! Look at me in South Africa eating these luxurious high tea hors d’oeuvres. Did you know it was spelled that way? French is such a beautiful language!”
But seriously, 12 Apostles knows what they’re doing here. We asked them ahead of time if they could customize, which is a sign of quality food, as you’ll see soon. The chocolate tasted like real chocolate, sandwiches like actual sandwiches. There’s not much to complain about––they make them fresh.
Before you say these are low standards, just wait until you accidentally stop by an average high tea establishment and eat their plastic cuisine. It’s like the one episode of SpongeBob with the grey burgers––not fun! But that’s what my checklist below is for––avoiding this!
How to Find the Most Luxurious High Tea in Any City
Like I said before, I’ve been to many high tea ceremonies since coming to Cape Town. And through that, I’ve developed a baseline for a good high tea. You need good tea infusion, Hors D’Oeuvres and a nice view. I have yet to mention anything about views. But the point is, having afternoon tea at the bottom level of anywhere isn’t a great idea. It’s half the experience.
There’s a simple way to confirm each of these criteria. Call the establishment you’d like to go to and ask about:
- Dietary restrictions on hors d’oeuvres
- This tells you whether they make them in-house, which reflects quality and dedication.
- The view
- If you can’t get a straight answer, that’s a red flag. But google maps can give you an idea too.
- Who serves the tea
- If they can’t answer, it means they allow any old server to serve the tea. Experts, such as Byron, just make the tea infusion taste better.
Not only do you now know about the best high tea place in South Africa but so much more too. What each tea tastes like, their health benefits, what makes a good high tea and even some ways to find great high tea in your own local. Scheduling an impressionable meeting may not be as stressful anymore, and you can even go out and act like a high tea expert now.
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