As a woman of mostly British heritage, drinking tea has been part of my life since I was a little girl.
My mom never strayed too far from Red Rose, and it was more often an after dinner drink than a mid-afternoon refreshment. But as I grew up, I experienced a wide variety of teas at different times in different places- the Empress Hotel, in Victoria, BC; the MacDonald Hotel, in Edmonton, Alberta; with my friend Claire, in and around Hebden Bridge, UK; and last summer, with a tea ceremony master in Wakayama, Japan.
So, when I found out that my Montevideo hotel, Cala di Volpe, offered a tea saloon (I assumed an “o” had snuck in during the English translation), I was happy to give it a try. High tea fits right in with the Uruguayan tradition of noshing in the late afternoon because dinner won’t be until around 10. So ten minutes after its 5:00 start, I went downstairs to find a table.
The dining room was already alive with the energy of women’s voices and laughter. The dining room host pointed out two tables for two where I could sit – having tea here, like most activities, is clearly a collective experience.
The waiter quickly arrived at my table. “Would you like orange juice and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich to start?”
“Coffee or tea?”
He brandished a glass coffee pot in which the tea had already been brewed- no personal pot or choice of teas in a fancy box.
” Help yourself to the buffet as you wish.”
I ate my toasted sandwich while the cheese was still hot, then browsed what else was on offer: Egg salad on white, salmon and cream cheese on brown mini torpedoes , salami on rosemary buns.
But it’s clear who the stars of this tea service were. While the little sandwiches occupied a small corner of the buffet, the desserts took up both ends and the entire other side.
I helped myself to one slice of a chocolate and dulce con leche (caramel) mousse but my fellow tea service participants were not so shy: women were returning to their tables with three and four desserts at a time. One server was kept hopping just to ensure the plates of sweets were always replenished.
I had a couple more cups of tea, but I was done in for sweets when I finished my mousse. As I looked around the room, I noticed the other women were not only finishing their desserts but going back for more.
I wonder if there’s such a thing as a dessert consumption boot camp in Montevideo for those of us interested in, er, punching above our weight class. If so, I’ll be the first in line.