Tea Total English breakfast 8: Consistently good, and just what I need.
Setting 8: The Mount’s changed a bit since I was last there, about three decades ago. Everything is bigger, faster, brighter, and the Narnia shop, with its crushed velvet shirts and incense that was a magnet for girls of a certain age, has disappeared without a trace.
But the fundamentals – the mountain, the beach – are still the same, and the Sidetrack is strategically placed for both. And the food – poached eggs and an industrial-style salad, is good.
High tea in Rotorua … in which I breach Norwegian table etiquette.
Bars and barricades around Rotorua’s Old Bath House shatter our plan for tea on the terrace.
It is a blow; we’ve been focused on tea and scones (properly served) since we left Taupo more than an hour ago.
Ever-intrepid though, we set off on foot across the Government Gardens in search of a new teahouse. The Art Deco Blue Baths building is a likely contender, and early indicators (a bar, with coffee machine, in the foyer) lift our hopes.
The ticket-seller woman confirms that they do, indeed, serve tea in the first-floor tearoom overlooking the baths. But not in winter.
We deflate. The chances of a town having three proper teahouses seem remote. We look along the lakefront, but our hunt is desultory. My travelling companion is as wedded as I am to the proper tea experience, and we are not in the mood for the clatter and clunky cups of the modern cafe.
“Let’s try that old hotel on the corner,” Rebecca suggests.
I agree; it’s a long-shot, but worth a punt.
The 75-room Prince’s Gate Hotel was built in Waihi in 1897, and carried to Rotorua by bullock train and steam engine in 1917, where it was reassembled near the entrance to the Government Gardens.
Miraculously, it has retained its character, we note approvingly as we walk across the
High tea at The Prince’s Gate is all about tradition.
wooden verandah and into the charming reception (stained-glass windows, leather chairs, huge bevelled mirrors). There’s no-one behind the counter, so we venture further. Rebecca spots a large sign offering High Teas.
In the bar, a couple of businessmen (their conversation suggests they’re in advertising) are ordering port. I ask the barman if high tea is still available. Recent experience has damaged our confidence.
“Of course,” he says, and ushers us through to one of the dining rooms, where a waitress lays a table by the fire for us.
We opt for the traditional high tea – no cocktails, no champagne, but plenty of salmon and cucumber sandwiches (crusts off), fresh scones (there will be a short wait while they are baked) and a mountain of little pastries.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 8: Proper fine china cup and saucer, rose-patterned. As soon as the waitress disappears, I turn the saucer over, as I always do, to see the maker’s mark. (Harbro fine porcelain, Wakbrzych, Poland). Rebecca is amused. She’s half Norwegian, and starts explaining the complicated tea-party rules of her mother’s country (different cups for mornings and afternoons, a strict ratio of cakes-to-guests etc). “And you must never, ever, look at the mark on the plates or the cutlery,” she says. “It is a huge insult to the hostess.”
TEA 9: Dilmah English breakfast for me, a herbal infusion for Rebecca. Made in pots and poured by the waitress!
High tea by the fire is an elegant affair. Although we should be in floral dresses.
SETTING 10: So good that we book rooms for the night (they’re surprisingly cheap) and wish we’d brought suitable dresses.
*Rotorua”s Old Bath House, which housed the town’s museum, is closed because it was damaged in the Kaikoura Earthquake in November 2016. It is not known when it will reopen.
The cup at Piccolo Cafe in Taupo yesterday was so discombobulating that we had to go back today.
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t really a cup. And not a glass either. More of a perspex tumbler. Instinct said I should hate it, but I tried to keep an open mind.
My marks out of 10?
CUP 7: Scoring this new tea-drinking experience was tricky. This was not a coffee cup, but neither was it a teacup. It wasn’t fine bone china, but neither was it heavy crockery. What to do? Fall back on my basic criteria and see where it gets me. The “cup” (strictly speaking, I don’t think you can really call a drinking vessel without a handle a cup) is a good shape; it keeps tea hot. It’s also nice and light (incredibly so), both points in its favour. On the down side, the aesthetics aren’t great, and the rim feels a little clunky in your mouth.
TEA 9: NZ Live. This is good leaf tea, made in a pot, and with its own tea-timer to tell you when it’s ready. I’d never heard of NZ Live, so I asked the waiter about it and he brought me a tea menu. A four-page menu just for tea, with brews like Kowhai Ceylon, Ruapehu Rooibus and Kakariki Green. I was drinking Morning Kick Assam, “strong, full-bodied, rich, malty and brisk. A real pressed leaf, great for breakfast tea and takes milk well”. It was good, but a little on the weak side (despite me leaving it in the pot longer than the three minutes stipulated on the tea-timer). The waiter told me that the tea comes with its own measuring spoon, and strict instructions from the makers about much to use. “But now I know you, if you come tomorrow I will make it stronger for you,” he said. I did, and he did, and it was very good, full of complex teay flavours and with a great pick-me-up zest.
But who was this NZ Live tea producer? The answer was on the back of the tea menu: The Bell Tea and Coffee Company, 305 East Tamaki Rd, Auckland. Mum, I’m sorry, you were right, Bell can make good tea.
SETTING 8: Classy cafe a street or two back from the lake in Taupo, with staff who go the extra distance to lift your visit to a little above the ordinary.