You may not think of High Tea as particularly Canadian, but it is very Victorian, by which I mean Victoria, BC.
I went for High Tea as a child, as a teenager, even as a broke university student, and continue to go as an adult. It’s a beloved tradition in Victoria, which has the most English of names and tea houses spread throughout it. In fact, I found High Tea to be much more readily available in Victoria than in England, where I lived for a year.
For tourists, Victoria’s most sought-after tea experience is at the lavish Empress Hotel, where my sister and I had our first teas as small girls. Dressed in our finest and feeling incredibly civilized, I can still remember eating blueberries topped with fresh cream.
The Empress is lovely, but it’s also quite expensive, and most locals know to go to The White Heather.
Located on Oak Bay Avenue, the space is small but bright, painted a pale green and with quilts on the walls. It was started by Aggie, a Scottish woman with the most robust laugh I’ve ever heard. Several years ago she retired, sold the business, and the new owners (Ann and Richard) have upheld its quality, retaining many of the same staff and recipes. Much to my relief, I can still take friends to enjoy one of the finest High Teas around.
The White Heather serves lunch, desserts, and various options for High Tea; there’s The Wee Tea, The Not So Wee Tea, and the option I always go for - The Big Muckle. Designed for two, it arrives on a tiered stand and includes enough food to feed you for days. All for just $26 each! Between the four of us we ordered one Big Muckle and two Wee Teas, which are $17.75 per person.
At the bottom were several varieties of freshly–baked sweet scones, with cream, lemon curd, and jam.
On the second tier rested a variety of finely-made tea sandwiches, including egg salad, minced ham, chicken salad, and cream cheese with cucumber.
There were also cheddar scones filled with smoked salmon, warm asparagus quiche, and cheddar bites with chicken salad.
The top tier holds the sweets – usually pound cake, lemon tarts, slices, and triangles of shortbread.
Of course, all of this is served with tea, the menu for which you’re given at the beginning of the meal. I always ask for the Mad Hatter, a White Heather favourite.
Everything at The White Heather is impeccably prepared, and the atmosphere is so quaint. It doesn’t bother me that I’m usually the youngest person there by about thirty years; it’s old-fashioned, and that’s why I love it. I genuinely hope The White Heather continues until I’m 80, and I can continue to take friends there to drink the Mad Hatter and eat The Big Muckle.
So remember, you don’t have to go to England to find an incredible (and incredibly affordable) High Tea. Just get yourself to Victoria!