Afternoon Tea at the Empress

In The Promised Plan, one of the highlights of the trip to Victoria, BC, is the afternoon tea the women enjoyed at the Empress.

Afternoon tea is something everyone should experience at least once. So, if it’s not on your bucket list, get out a pen and add it.

In April, my best friend and I enjoyed afternoon tea at the Empress.

As with my visit to The Butchart Gardens, I had a few details about the experience wrong in my book. No, I’m not going back to change them. My book is fiction. Yes, some readers will blast me in the reviews for not being completely accurate.


Even if I’ve been somewhere, I try not to pick apart an author’s description. For one thing, people pay attention to different details. Perspectives are different.

Krista experiences the Empress with wide-eyed wonder and her heart tuned to what her mother wanted for them.

I walked into the Lobby Lounge of the Empress that Sunday afternoon to soak in the atmosphere and sample every offering of food and drink. It wasn’t research or fact verification. This was Sharon living in the moment (and checking something off her bucket list).

The Setting

The Fairmont Empress, commonly referred to The Empress which was it’s name until 2001, is one of the oldest hotels on Vancouver Island. It was constructed between 1904 and 1908.

I wondered about it’s name. Queen Victoria, who the city is named to honor, also held the title of Empress of India. A quick Google search verifies the hotel was named after Queen Victoria. One point for drawing the correct conclusion.

The interior sparkles. While the Lobby Lounge didn’t have overwhelming wood paneling, I noticed a nearby room which used to be part of the lounge did have that. Which is exactly where I saw it when I researched the hotel nearly a decade ago.

Woodwork details are etched into the ceiling and pillars. Arches overhead add the impression of vastness.
Fireplaces bookend the large room. Tables with multiple types of chairs are liberally scattered over the marble floors. Rugs underfoot dampen the sounds, keeping the room from echoing like a cavernous church sanctuary.

Some settees are used around lower tables, especially in front of the fireplaces. Flames danced in the enormous marble and brick fireplaces, appearing real enough from a distance.

Male and female servers wore vests and slacks. Their voices were low and cultured.

My BFF and I having afternoon tea

The Food

The menu at this afternoon tea changes, so the items we enjoyed weren’t the same as those the women taste and comment on in The Promised Plan.

But that’s not all the was different. There were a few major discrepancies in my description:

  • Food is brought all at once rather than in courses
  • Tea is steeped in the pot using a large bag of looseleaf rather than individual strainers
  • All the timers are on a single frame and only the sand is a different color
  • No white clothes on the tabletops

Specialty raisin scones are The Empress’s tea staple. As someone who doesn’t prefer raisins cooked into baked items, I expected to be put off by this.

Wrong. Golden raisins seemed to add moisture to the fluffy scones. Yes, fluffy. Not crumbly like most of the scones I’ve eaten.

In fact, they appear almost like glistening buttermilk biscuits. Of course, in Great Britain, biscuits are cookies.

Delicious. Clotted cream is smooth and tasty. The strawberry jam seemed seedless and was perfect, not sweet or syrupy.
For me, the scones were the best part of the tea, and that surprised me.

The finger sandwiches were pretty, but the only one I loved was the cucumber sandwich. And who doesn’t think a cucumber sandwich is present at every afternoon tea in the movies?

Each dessert could have been a work of art. And while I loved the caramel praline tart, most of the others weren’t as delicious as I imagined.

However, I tried to set my expectations aside. I enjoyed every minute and savored every bite, regardless of my later reflection that I’ve eaten better sandwiches and desserts.

Tasty Tea

I mention in the afterward of my book that Krista’s character could be loosely based on myself. After all, isn’t there a little of the author in every character we write?

Krista and I aren’t fans of hot tea.

And while I’m still not planning to switch to tea, I now know that if I want to enjoy hot tea, I need to add sugar.

I chose Imperial English Breakfast Tea because I’m not a fan of flavored tea or coffee. Yes, there is a menu with nearly twenty tea options. They do provide one that has samples of the tea leaves so you can see and smell them before ordering.

Our food tray was delivered about thirty seconds before the five minutes of steeping expired. Since we asked the server to describe the food, both pots of tea were past the point of perfectly brewed.

I decided to try adding milk to my first cup of tea. It didn’t make it better, although it cooled it off quickly.

The second cup had milk and a few sprinkles of sugar. That was no better, and I was thankful I only made a small cup of that tea.

Speaking of the cups, the china used for the tea matched perfectly. The bottom of the plates and cups were stamped with “Empress” which means it was custom made for the hotel.

Teacups hold maybe four ounces of liquid. In the tea etiquette articles my friend read to prepare us for the event without faux pas, we were advised to fill the cup only 2/3 of the way if we were adding milk. And I didn’t add that much milk.

Also, spoons should not rattle against the inside of the cup when you stir. A few other diners didn’t know this, we smugly noted.

Finally, I had cups of tea with sugar. Not a lot. I sprinkled the packet of raw sugar and by the end of our meal, I still had 1/3 of that sugar left.

I still prefer it hot rather than tepid. Hot liquids should be hot, whether coffee, soup, or tea. And I’ll still claim that I like hot coffee and iced tea even though I have an appreciation for hot tea after my adventure in the tearoom

Have you ever had afternoon tea in a tearoom? How do you like your tea?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.