A Series of Afternoon Teas

I think it was because of Downton Abbey that I was obsessed with having proper tea. I used to call it high tea but a friend in Hong Kong who spent her childhood in the United Kingdom declared:”It’s not high tea! It’s just afternoon tea!”. And it turns out I’m quite partial to them as evidenced by my Facebook posts reproduced below:

Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong

This was originally posted on May 17, 2013.

The PenHigh Tea Set. My caption”Minsan sa buhay, may mga karanasan na dapat mong namnamin. Huwag mong isipin kung ano ang halaga o ano ang kapalit. Ang maranasan mo lang ito ang mahalaga. Bahala na ang bukas, mas mahalaga ang ngayon(Sometimes in life, there are experiences that you should relish. Don’t think about how much it costs or what you should give in return. The experience is the important thing. Don’t worry about tomorrow, today is more precious)” 

This was my first foray into five-star dining. I was told that afternoon tea at The Pen is a must for a visitor in Hong Kong. So instead of going sightseeing, I put on the clothes I brought for the occasion – a short-sleeved barong-inspired shirt and khaki pants with brown leather shoes, which I took the time to polish.

On entering the fabulous lobby with its checkered floor, I was told that the queue for the afternoon tea was behind the wall. To be precise, it snaked behind the wall and past the shops for Cartier, Ralph Lauren, and Louis Vuitton. The queue was long because it was a holiday, and apparently, families and friends meet up for afternoon tea on such days. My shirt received curious looks from the ladies.

After more than an hour, I was finally seated on a table good for four. Families and groups gave me cursory glances as I consumed the delicious pastries and chugged the tea.  Service was fantastic – it was like being served by ninjas. One time, I was concentrating on putting jam on my scone and when I looked up, the empty saucers and cups were gone and my water glass was refilled.

The Pen has been my standard ever since.

 

The Peninsula Hotel Manila

 

This was originally posted on January 16, 2016.

Pen Manila 2High Tea Set with Bourbon Vanilla Tea. My caption:  “Tsaa sa hapon kasama ang mga Tita ng Maynila(Afternoon tea with the Aunts of Manila) ”
It was an afternoon of catching up with friends whom I haven’t seen in a long time and both of them love tea and pastries. Okay, we like playing tea party.

 

Conrad Hotel Manila

This was originally posted on January 8, 2017

ConradMy caption:” Afternoon Tea Set: Unique(Sweet: Semolina cremeux with spiced oranges, Mango-white chocolate soup in a taste tube, Organic Felchlin chocolate, Walnut and green tea scones with clotted cream and jam. Savoury: Sustainable tuna “sisig style”, Ceviche of lapu-lapu, Mango-coriander dip, Watermelon and Serrano ham, Beetroot, blueberries and pistachio, Rolled finger sandwiches(filled with cheese and authentic prosciutto).

The tea chest, with drawers keeping the sandwiches and scones, makes being a host/ess very effortless.

All paired with Citron Green Tea.”

 

It was an afternoon with a friend. The skies were cloudy but we still decided to have our tea on the couches on the balcony of the hotel’s C Lounge. We just talked and ate through the set because we did not have lunch. After eating through the first set, we were still hungry so we ordered the Conrad 2The Traditional Afternoon Tea Set(or shall I say “Chest”). Sweet: Felchlin chocolate praline, Pavé espuma, Opera cake, Ube macaroon with paint, Eclair vanilla, Nuts tartelettes, Scones with clotted cream, lemon curd and jam. Savory: Finger sandwiches, cucumber, salmon, cream cheese, and Serrano ham. Paired with White Vanilla Grapefruit Tea

We had a hard time finishing the second set so we stayed on. We had time to kill. By the time we ate the last finger sandwich, the famed Manila Bay sunset was upon us. We decided to have cocktails and watch the skies turn to hues of purple and gold.

 

Shangri-la at The Fort, Manila

This was originally posted on July 10, 2016.

The FortMy caption: “Glass of Blood(Havana Club 7 years rum, Massenez blackberry liqueur, Dolin rouge vermouth, cranberry, cherry bitters) – one of the many signature drinks of the newly opened High Street Lounge, Shangri-la at The Fort. In the background is the High Tea Selection, featuring scrambled eggs with caviar.”

I had just attended a christening in which I was a godfather of the baby. After the reception, I decided to drop by the latest Shangri-La hotel in the Philippines(three in Manila, one in Boracay, and one in Cebu – all five are included in the top ten hotels in the country). I hitched a short ride in a co-worker’s car with four other people.

As they were dropping me off, all of them decided to have a look as well and make inquiries about accommodations. While I was taking note of the understated and zen-inspired interiors of the lobby, my companions caught up with me and started following me around. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be going somewhere else?” I asked as I headed towards the High Street Lounge. “Nah, we’ll just have a look around as well”.

At the lounge, they decided to sit with me as I ordered my cocktail. My original plan was to have a drink by myself. The food attendant informed us that they were having a promotional rate for their afternoon tea selections. My companions decided to order a set. I ended up drinking alcohol and having tea at the same time.

 

The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest

This was originally posted on March 16, 2017.

Ritz Carlton“Afternoon Tea Selection of the Ritz-Carlton(Royal Ocoa Chocolate Cake, Framboise Cake, Hungarian Poppy Seed Macaroon, Apricot Macaroon, Caramel Cupcake, Lemon Merengue Tart, Smoked Salmon Croissant, Cucumber Cream Cheese, Foie Gras Mousse and Dry Fruit Chutney) plus an assorted selection of Chinese tea, of which the experts in the tea party greatly approve.”

My classmates in a master’s program I was taking at the time , well the ladies – two Chinese, one German, and an American, decided to have afternoon tea as a means to bond and hang-out. We invited the guys but they declined. One said to me it was too girly. The conversation was mostly about how hard it is to be a woman working in a lawfirm. I mostly kept mum and sipped my tea.

The lobby lounge was fabulous and the guy serving us, whom the girls thought was very cute, was very knowledgeable about the tea. The Chinese girls were impressed. There was a lot of giggling and we did not care because we were the only ones there.

The Ritz Madrid

This was originally posted on January 3, 2018.

Afternoon Tea SetRitz Madrid with Strawberry Preserves and (proper) Clotted Cream paired with Golden Ritz 50 years Pu-Erh Red Tea

Yes, I am having tea at the Ritz Madrid at the moment. Of course, I’m bragging about it! Also, in hommage to Mariah Carey, I’ve got to have a sip of tea otherwise it would be a disaster.

I brought a coat, dress pants, a long-sleeved shirt, leather shoes, and a tie for this purpose. I was a tad overdressed (later on took off the tie) but I did get very fast and attentive service even though I had no reservation. The locals also dressed for their tea and the tourists stood out in their casual wear. I made the effort to dress appropriately as a sign of respect for one of the three “real” Ritz Hotels in the world.

“We’ll, set up a table for you right away!” exclaimed the maitre’d. There is indeed power in appropriate dressing.

I also channeled my inner Meryl Streep to act very casually in an elegant setting. Show a hint of hesitation or a flicker of fear and the facade is broken. Strain too much and you’ll be revealed as coarse.

As a practiced social climber, I did not ask how much everything was but drew my confidence from the knowledge that my two credit cards will answer for everything. It also helped me give my order with conviction. Live in the now, it has been said.

Service is very efficient and unintrusive. One flicker of your hand and a member of the staff will appear beside you. Even if you are just staring into space, any one of them will check if you’re alright or need anything.

Someone’s playing on the piano, so I’ll just soak in the ambiance for a while.

Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon

This was originally posted on January 8, 2018.

Lisbon TeaLisbon Afternoon Tea Set(Macaron with Spices, Pastel de Nata(Portuguese egg custard tart), Queljada de Sintra(fresh cheese and almond Tartelette), Pastel de Feijäo(Bean Tartelette), Almond and Blueberry Tartelette, with Strawberry Jam and Mascarpone with Lime on the side.

The tea is Gorreana Orange Pekoe Black Tea, a Portuguese tea(one of the best teas in the world according to the very attentive maitre’d)

As expected, service was excellent and I got the best couch in the lounge with a view! The maitre’d was particularly pleased that I enjoyed myself and made the effort of checking on me every once in a while.

Belated Happy Birthday to me. Today is the first day of my nth year on this planet.

 

EDSA Shangri-la Manila

 

This was originally posted on July 14, 2018.

ShangrilaMy caption: “Afternoon Tea Set(A selection of warm scones served with coconut jam, clotted cream, and fresh butter. Ham and cheese mini-sandwiches. Grilled chicken satay skewers. Dark forest cream in a goblet, walnut cake with cream cheese icing, dark chocolate tart with a splash of gold, thin dark and white chocolate sandwich with dark chocolate filling, white chocolate eclair. Almond and lychee tea)

I can’t decide if this is a very late lunch or very early dinner.”

 

Before swallowing these, I had been rolling in the ball pit at Kidzoona while attending a kid’s birthday party. I also managed to knee a toddler or two. After eating, I wandered around Shangri-La Mall for an hour before using my spa voucher to avail of the villa facilities at The Spa. I rarely go to the Ortigas area so I plotted my schedule and finances a couple of weeks before the date.

More afternoon teas here:

A Series of Afternoon Teas – Raffles Grand Hotel D’ Angkor and Majestic Hotel Edition

 

The City of Eternal Recurrence

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It was Milan Kundera who convinced me to visit Prague if I had the time. When I was a very pretentious twenty-something(I am still pretentious but I’ve mellowed), I carried Milan’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” to restaurants, coffee shops, and on public transportation. I was posing as Someone Who Reads Literature. It was through Milan(note my casually calling him by his first name) that I encountered Friedrich Nietzsche’s Theory of Eternal Recurrence.

Eternal recurrence is a concept that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. Basically, we have already done and said before what we are saying and doing now and will repeat them in the future an infinite number of times.

In his novel, Milan made a counter-argument that there can be a definite resolution of things. He first made his characters go through a cycle of getting together and breaking up, getting together and breaking up, and getting together and breaking up. Finally, the characters exercise choice to commit to a particular person. They were no longer subject of circumstances and coincidences. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.

Right here in Prague, I had the opportunity to experience eternal recurrence.
Prague is a beautiful city, in an austere way. The Gothic architecture of buildings, festooned with crosses and statues of saints, can make you suddenly remember all your sins. It gives me the feeling that God is watching out if I commit more sins. It has been raining for the two days that I’ve been here, and there’s a certain gloom over the city. The atmosphere makes me want to hide in dark alleys, pounce on unsuspecting passers-by, and sink my fangs into their necks.

The city’s layout is not for the direction-challenged. The few times I’ve asked for directions, the very friendly and helpful Prague residents would scratch their heads and begin their sentences with “It is difficult…”. Why not use a navigation app, you ask? Notice a smirk forming on the right side of my mouth. Maps will not be of much help either as attested to by the bewildered looks of scores of tourists I’ve passed by.

There is no concept of a block here. A “block” is a an irregularly-shaped plot of land with an assortment of Gothic buildings clustered together. The cobble streets are winding and somewhat circular although they give you an impression that you are walking straightforward when you are trudging on them. If you go around a “block” do not expect to end up at the exact spot where you first started. Instead, you will be transported to a different neighborhood. If you make a wrong turn, there is a likelihood that you’ll never be able to go back where you came from. Also, the buildings – very gorgeous – tend to look alike.

On my first day, I took Tram 9 to Wenceslas Square. I missed the stop because, despite my best efforts to listen to the automated voice announcements, I did not hear the name correctly. There is no relation between the pronunciation of Czech words and their spelling. I got off somewhere and started to wander. I knew that the square is nearby considering the high concentration of people scurrying about.

I ambled into a park and saw a man walking his dog. I asked for directions to the square.
“Hmmmnnn… It is difficult to give directions” he said while scratching his head. “Okay, follow me. Sorry, my dog does not like the rain. He wants to go home”. After a few seconds of brisk walking, he said “You see that street? Just go through that street and follow the tram tracks. You will be there in three minutes”.

I initially followed his directions. Then I asked myself why I should stick to the tram tracks. Why not take that small street over there? It seems to lead to the same direction. I took the small street and promptly got lost. I decided to move forward, since that was the most sensible way, until I found a small square with shops catering to tourists.

“Turistiké informace” read a sign. Tourist information! I asked for a map and directions to Wenceslas Square, which turned out to be a few steps away around the corner. One glance at the map and I immediately knew it was of no use to me.

I decided to just wing it and entrust myself to the universe.

So began the endless cycle of getting lost and regaining my bearings. I just meandered through the streets and suddenly found myself at various points of touristy interest without meaning to. I would strike out aimlessly and eventually find myself in a place I’ve been to before. Afterwards, I’d get lost again and so on and so forth. One time, I wanted to go the bridge leading to the oldest part of Prague. I did not want to walk beside the river and opted to walk through streets that I presumed were parallel to the river. After twists and turns, I found myself at one part of the river that allowed me to admire, from afar, the whole length of the bridge that I wanted to cross.

So, to experience Prague you must lose yourself in its universe in infinite number of times. It is the only way to know the charm of a city that somehow manages to retain an air of mystery in these modern times.

Sleepless in Paris

 

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Hotel de Ville

It was around 2 am when I stepped out of the brasserie. My companions were in a hurry to catch their respective night buses to their destinations while I had resigned myself to my fate of riding a taxi home. I would lose three good meals because of this, I thought.

I struck out on my own to flag a cab down. All had their red lights on, indicating that they were full, and all whooshed past me. Other people were also flailing about in the cold night and got ignored as well. I walked on Rue de Rivoli and saw a taxi stand. A guy was sitting on a bench with his backpack on his lap.”While you are getting another shot, I am waiting for a cab” he said miserably into his phone.

The €6.20 bottle of Coca Cola I drank with a twist of lemon had passed through my kidneys and found its way into my bladder. It wanted to get out. I lifted my nose and caught a stench. I walked away from the taxi stand and followed the stench to its source – a dark corner of a building. I did what the Parisians had done before me.

I decided to go to Hotel de Ville to see if I could catch cabs there. I waved at them and they flashed their red lights back at me. Great, I thought. I might as well wait for the Metro to open. Three and a half hours to go. I turned my attention to the fountains and the lights. If it had rained, the streets would have shone like silver. If I had gone to the Seine, the lights could have been misty in the river. I was ready to burst into song about being on my own, when a teenage boy suddenly fell flat on his face. His two companions picked him up, laughing. Under a lamp post, two lovers were conversing while staring into each others’ eyes. A man was walking past me when he realized that he dropped something from his back pocket and he ran back across the square, leaving his two companions behind.

As I walked, a man approached me, made eye contact, and addressed me in French. He was wearing one of those large pink and blue earphones. For some reason, I leapt aside like a cat and my legs positioned themselves in a way that would make it easy for me to pounce at him. My body did this instinctively. Maybe it was the way he approached me, the empty bottle of water which he offered for me to drink from, the fact that he could hear me perfectly while he had his earphones on, or the way he smiled, or the way he asked me in French and English where I was from and if I had children. With high fives, fist bumps, clasps, and chest to shoulder bumps, he told me it was alright and Paris is safe. I was ready to push him at any moment and kick his face.

“You are not that interesting and no one will have this keen interest in you if he does not want something”. Thank you my dear inner voice for the vote of confidence. I was thinking of a way to gracefully get away when three teenagers converged on us. “Excuse me” one of them said to me and the man turned his attention to them. They conversed with him and I slunk away. After I got away, they ceased their conversation.

I walked to a street corner. A man in a shirt and pajamas looked at me quizzically. “Ca va?” He asked. “Bonsoir!” I smiled broadly at him. He followed me with a puzzled look as I trudged around his neighborhood. I sat on a bicycle parking slot and watched people go on their way. I heard shouting from a couple of blocks away and instinct told me to sit on a bench at the bus stop across the street. As I made my way to the bus stop, three teenagers at 10-second-intervals successively ran past the spot where I had just sat. It was unclear who was doing the chasing and who was being chased. Three people made their way to the middle of the street and danced to music from a device one of them was carrying.

A block away, I saw green flashing lights. It came from a parked van amidst metal barricades shaped into a rough square. I decided to go see what it was. The van with the green lights was a police van and it was parked beside a DOFRAISE truck. The truck had apparently figured into an accident. As I approached, a policewoman asked me if everything was alright. “I’m waiting for the Metro to open”. She nodded. Her four male companions ignored me.

I leaned on a lamp post right next to the scene of the accident. A police officer was looking intently at my lamp post, crouching down and taking notes. There was a bicycle in the middle of the barricade. If people made the mistake of walking through the barricade, they were sternly shooed away. A teenage boy walked past the barricade and was immediately asked by the police “Ca va?”. He gruffly replied that everything was fine and for no reason glowered at me.

A bicycle went by with a man sitting on the handles while another man rode it. The two of them were talking and laughing very loudly. A black man and a white man brushed past me with the black man muttering about taxis. The cabs they chased flashed red lights.

A dressed-up girl and an older man stood in front of me. The older man was holding up his mobile phone as if it were a boombox while trance music played. The girl looked at me intently with her glazed eyes while trying to maintain her balance. “Is the music good? Do you like it?” she asked. “Yes” I replied. “Give me five!”. I gave her five. “Give me another five!” I gave another. “Give me ten!” I obliged. “You are good!” She smiled, touched both sides of my body, and she and her companion walked away.

“Police stop him! Stop him!” cried the black man from out of nowhere. He was asking the police to stop a cab with the green light on it. Someone got to the cab he wanted first.”Nnnooo!” he cried and abruptly shut up when another green-lighted cab appeared. “Get in” he hissed to his companion. A man in a suit came up to me and stood beside me. He smiled at me benignly while I inhaled the scent of strong alcohol from his body. He looked at the van and the truck, began to sing under his breath, and ambled away.Two men went inside the truck and took out some plastic trays. The police were wrapping up their investigation. A while later, both the van and the truck came to life and pulled out of the barricade. I was all alone again.

I walked to a bus stop on Rue de Rivoli and sat on a bench. I looked at my watch, it was 4:45 am. I still had a lot of time to kill. Lest another lost soul would think of me as an appropriate companion, I left the bus stop and walked on the sidewalk. I stopped in front of a small patisserie and read the menu written on a blackboard. “Chocolat chaud” caught my eye. A nice cup of hot chocolate would do me good. I went in, gave my order, and seated myself on a table near the door. People trickled in. Some were in their very rumpled office clothes, bleary eyed from a long night. Others in t-shirts were resting their heads on the wall, napping before the food arrived. My hot chocolate came in a small metal pitcher paired with a small white cup. I poured the thick liquid into the cup and took a sip – strong cocoa taste offset by very sweet milk.

I looked at my watch. It was already 5:30, thank God! I poured some more hot chocolate into my cup. Maybe I could stay for ten more minutes, I thought while clasping the small warmth in both my hands. No need to rush.

When I stepped out, the street lights were already turned off. Faint light was creeping up into the sky. The trees from afar seemed bare and the strangers in the street were just strangers. The phantoms had retreated. The night was over. As the light grew stronger, my steps went faster. I wanted to escape from the light and slumber in a dark room, to be at peace. I hurried down to the metro, another phantom running away from the light.