A cup of Passion de Fleurs tea beside the beautifully carved metal teapots
Afternoon tea or low tea, typically a small meal eaten between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., began among the wealthy in England in the early 1840.
It has since spread to other regions and countries, including Vietnam.
Many Ho Chi Minh City hotels now offer afternoon tea – and also high tea which is usually had a little later in the evening.
One of them is the Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel which at its Park Lounge serves afternoon tea every day (VND890,000++ for two persons) from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and a tea buffet on Saturdays (VND570,000, 850,000 and 950,000 for one person, including a glass of Moet Rose or Brut champagne in the latter two).
I went on a Saturday afternoon and discovered that the Park Lounge remains true to the original ritual of serving only tea along with pastries.
But the tea is imported from France, and most of the pastries, created by the hotel’s French pastry chef, are French.
Upon arrival, guests are welcomed with mellifluous classical music played on a piano and a violin.
There are sofas and chairs around round wooden tables, offering guests comfortable seats.
And then came the tea.
It came in intricately carved, bronze-colored metal pots that looked Middle Eastern, reminding me for some reason of the lamp in the Walt Disney cartoon, “Aladdin and the magic lamp.” The brew was served in white porcelain cups.
The tea menu has a selection of 11 white, black, green, and oolong teas, some with herbal infusions.
The tea is just warm enough to be drunk right after it is poured, but one can still whiff its aroma. A large pot of hot water allows guests to refresh their pots when their teas get too strong.
Two of the specialties on the menu are the Passion de Fleurs and Earl Grey.
Passion de Fleurs, a light colored brew, is slightly bitter, smells subtly of rose and apricot, and has rose petals in it. Its amazing aromas made me wonder if it would be better to keep smelling instead of drinking it.
Earl Grey seemed to be one of the most popular flavored teas at the place. Darker and more bitter than the Passion de Fleurs, it is a combination of tea from rural southern China and bergamot orange, a fragrant fruit the size of an orange and similar to a lemon from Italy. While not smelling of flowers like the Passion de Fleurs, it had a distinct fragrance when mixed with milk.
But the best teas do not an afternoon tea make – it needs pastries.
In the middle of the lounge is a large round table on which an assortment of pastries is laid out. There are French pastries, fruit tarts, finger sandwiches, macaroons, chocolates, and cupcakes in various shapes and colors, making for an appealing and inviting sight.
There is also cinnamon apple tart which is very sour. It is made by laying thin slices of apple on top of each other to create a large round cake. The cake is then baked and served in small slices.
There are traditional English scones, flaky plain cakes with fleshy baked raisins inside. The scones taste best when broken into two, covered with clotted cream and strawberry jam, its two classic accompaniments, and eaten. It then tastes a bit sweet, a bit sour, and greasy.
Bertrand Sommereux, the pastry chef, said he has been trying to infuse Vietnamese ingredients and flavors into his French pastries.
One of his newest innovations for the buffet is an orange tart. It is served in a glass, and is yellow-orange on the surface, orange in the layer below, and white from milk and rice at the bottom.
The top is sour, the second level is sweet, and the bottom is a slightly sweet because of the thick milk, vanilla bean, and the rice.
Trying all the pastries along with a pot of tea is almost impossible for any normal person.
A satisfied guest told me if someone does manage to do it, they would be happy to skip dinner.
The Park Lounge
Park Hyatt Saigon Hotel
2 Lam Son Square , District 1, HCMC
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By Minh Nga, Thanh Nien News (the story can be found in the January 25th issue of our printed edition, Vietweek)