High Tea in Jozi

October 2016 update: The old Westcliff Hotel, now the Four Seasons, reopened and briefly resumed its high tea offering, before stopping it again. What a bummer.

A few of you expressed surprise at my last post about the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra. Apparently y’all didn’t realize that I am a cultured young lady. (That’s right, I’m cultured. And young.)

If you were surprised to learn that I enjoy classical music, you’ll also be surprised that I love high tea. Ever since my first afternoon tea — with my mother at London’s Fortnum & Mason Department Store in 1994 — I’ve been enthralled by the ritual of drinking from delicate china cups, nibbling cucumber sandwiches, and gorging on fresh scones with clotted cream and bite-sized desserts.

Cucumber sandwich

The cucumber sandwich. So simple and yet so delicious.

I live around the corner from the Westcliff Hotel, which until a few weeks ago was the pre-eminant spot in Joburg for high tea. But alas, I never got around to going and now the Westcliff is closed for a nine-month renovation. (I did try to do the Westcliff tea a few times but it was always booked when I called, plus I kept putting it off for financial reasons.) The Westcliff will re-open as a Four Seasons Hotel in mid-2014.

Strangely, since the Westcliff closed I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy high tea at two other lovely Joburg spots: the Saxon Hotel and 54 on Bath. I may have missed my chance to have tea at the Westcliff, but at least I can tell you about the best places to have tea now that the Westcliff is closed.

A month or so ago, I was invited to the launch of the new high tea at the Saxon. The Saxon, in the northern suburb of Sandhurst, is the poshest boutique hotel in Joburg with one of the city’s most highly acclaimed restaurants. I had never been there before. (I may be cultured but wealthy I am not.)

Champagne

The Saxon’s grounds are stunning and I received complementary champagne upon arrival. I was also amused by the fleet of giant white BMWs that line up to ferry guests between the parking garage and the hotel entrance. The parking garage and the hotel are about 75 meters apart. 

High tea at the Saxon is a bit different from a traditional English high tea. Rather than a set meal that is brought to your table, the Saxon serves a high tea buffet with a huge selection of items. Tea is served in the Saxon’s Piano Lounge and costs R395 (about $40) per person.

Saxon spread

The Saxon high tea spread.

R395 is definitely expensive by Joburg standards. But I must say, the meal I had at the Saxon was spectacular. In addition to the amazing desserts and traditional tea sandwiches and scones, the buffet includes all kinds of non-traditional items, like sushi, cake pops, and tiny culinary creations that I couldn’t even identify.

Saxon plate

My savory selections.

Saxon dessert and tea

My second Saxon dessert plate. (The first one was jammed too full and didn’t make a pretty picture.)

Pallu

This is Peta Eggiert-Symes, who runs a Jozi clothing boutique called Pallu. Peta is fabulous. Had to include her.

The best thing about high tea at the Saxon is the tea itself. In addition to the food buffet there is an entire buffet of tea, presented by a local company called Yswara. All the tea is grown in Africa and is beautiful as well as delicious.

Saxon tea samples

Tea leaves that are almost too pretty to drink.

A couple of weeks before having tea at the Saxon, I won a voucher for a free high tea at 54 on Bath, a Tsogo Sun hotel in Rosebank. (Thanks to fellow blogger MzansiGirl for running such a cool contest.) The 54 on Bath high tea is a bit more traditional and a bit less grand than the Saxon high tea, but equally enjoyable in my opinion.

tea setup 54 on Bath

The 54 on Bath lobby, set for tea. Normally tea is served on the rooftop terrace but it was pouring rain the day I went. I’ll have to go back another time to check out the rooftop.

Scones

The scones at 54 on Bath are awesome.

54 on Bath serves high tea the old-fashioned way — on multi-level trays with sandwiches at the bottom, scones in the middle, and desserts on top. You can order seconds, and there is also a buffet with extra scones and additional items if the set tea isn’t enough for you (although that is unlikely).

54 tea

I wish I’d taken the time to get a better picture of the 54 on Bath tea presentation. But the light was very low and I was too focused on eating.

54 on Bath also offers a wide selection of teas, both traditional and exotic, and you can try as many as you want.

Tea bag cookie

I especially like the tea-bag-shaped cookies.

Traditional afternoon tea at 54 on Bath costs R165 (about $17) per person, or R245 ($25) if you want a glass of champagne with your tea. You can also have just tea and cake for R65 ($7). Definitely call several days in advance if you want to book on a weekend, as seats fill up quickly.

I like the Saxon buffet concept, but I also like having my high tea the old-fashioned way. It was nice to experience both. I would definitely go back to both places, although I’m more likely to return to 54 on Bath since it’s closer to my price range. The Saxon tea is totally worth the price for those who can afford it though.

Quick side note: A few months ago, while researching the northern suburb of Rivonia for the SandtonPlaces book I’m working on, I discovered a place called the Contessa Tea Connoisseur. Contessa does not serve a traditional high tea, but it has the widest selection of teas that I’ve found anywhere in Joburg. Also, the food is phenomenal. If you’re a serious tea drinker (or you just like good food), I would highly recommend a Contessa tea pilgrimage.

Rivonia - Contessa cake

Oolong tea and lemon cake from the Contessa Tea Connoisseur. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

I cannot believe I’ve written 1,000 words about high tea. If you’re still with me, I imagine you’re hungry. I know I am.

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32 Comments

  • Reply mzansigirl October 30, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Impressed you wrote 1000 words about tea too! I love tea, especially herbal ones. Definitely up for the Contessa pilgrimage, and hope to check out the Saxon High tea sometime 🙂

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      Not sure how impressive it is – maybe more verbose. There is a lot to say though!

      We should definitely meet up at Contessa sometime. I really love it there.

  • Reply Tim van Rooyen October 30, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Do any of these places serve Teavana? Desperate for a cup of Teavana Chocolate Chilli tea.

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      Sorry Timmee, I don’t remember seeing that anywhere. Although if it may be at Contessa – their tea menu is like a book. Sounds delicious.

  • Reply Kathryn McCullough October 30, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Who knew? Looks lovely, Heather. Now I need to go make myself another cup of tea–have another piece of cake!

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      I could definitely use a piece of that lemon cake right about now.

  • Reply Cristina Botef October 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    thanks for the tips! still want to do the Saxon high tea one day but the price is a bit obscene by local standards. you must also try the Lindt high tea (weekends only and under R200) at the Michelangelo Hotel in Mandela Sq. their milkshakes are to die for too. you didnt miss out on much at the Westcliff: although it’s been such a Joburg landmark for years the food standards had definitely dropped (i had high tea and a lunch there in the last 2 years and both meals were disappointing). cant beat the Westcliff’s view though: i cannot wait to see what the revamped venue has in store.

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Ooh, the Michelangelo tea sounds very intriguing – will have to check that out for sure. Thanks!

  • Reply Fiver Löcker October 30, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    How sweet, you wrote a story just for Stuart 🙂 I am sure he doesn’t think writing 1000 words on tea is a problem…

    I loved the high tea at the Westcliff this year, very classy. But I can’t wait to get back to sample these new ones. Afternoon tea is also one of my favourite events. I have never do n the Fortnum and Mason one, I imagine it is divine. Since I am in the vicinity, I might give it a go.

    And yes, going to make a cuppa now.

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Ha! Yes, Stuart would love all these places, especially the Contessa. And when are you coming?!

  • Reply addercatter October 30, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    Starving!!! I’m going to go make tea now. Luckily I am stocked up and have Oolong in my selection!

    • Reply 2summers October 30, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      You are very lucky then!

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish October 30, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    This made me rush to brew a pot of jasmine. There’s just something about tea — even reading an Agatha Christie makes me dig out my best pot! I’ve only had high tea once in my long life, and that was in London — a bit far to commute.

    @Tim, I get my favorite jasmine from Teavana. The shop’s a ways down the highway, so when they didn’t have jasmine, I looked them up online. You have to pay shipping, of course, but it’s that or the gas to get to town!

    • Reply 2summers October 31, 2013 at 7:40 am

      I actually hardly ever drink tea — I’m really a coffee drinker. But high tea is an exception. And a good cup of tea definitely has its time and place.

  • Reply Eugenia A Parrish October 30, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Hey, does anyone know a good place to buy true British tea cups (that aren’t TOO expensive)? You know, delicate, beautiful design, with a little foot. Apparently Americans only believe in mugs now.

    • Reply 2summers October 31, 2013 at 7:41 am

      Sorry, I have no idea. (But you probably knew that already.)

  • Reply Justcallmegertie October 30, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Looks fabulous! I took my girls to high tea at the Westcliff a couple of years ago, and we loved it, but it was pretty pricey…not your average Sunday afternoon outing. 54 of Bath looks very reasonable though. Must definitely give it a shot. Have been there for lunch before and it is lovely

    • Reply 2summers October 31, 2013 at 7:41 am

      Yes, it’s a great venue and very convenient.

  • Reply eremophila October 31, 2013 at 12:43 am

    Love it! High tea is fabulous. How about a post on tea cups? Good tea simply MUST be drunk from the correct cup!

    • Reply 2summers October 31, 2013 at 7:42 am

      Being a coffee fiend who normally drinks from a giant mug, I find it frustrating how little tea will fit into a traditional tea cup. At the same time, I think they are lovely.

      • Reply Yasmin October 31, 2013 at 10:03 am

        I’m also a coffee fiend, and while I would never do this at a high tea, when I’m at home I drink tea in a huge mug and leave the dainty cups for visitors. 🙂

        • Reply 2summers October 31, 2013 at 10:12 am

          Haha, I promise not to tell anyone.

  • Reply Yasmin October 31, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Awesome post! I’ve only ever had high tea with my husband’s family and not at a hotel. It looks lekker.

  • Reply Lyle Hendricks - Marketing Director @ Basilur Tea SA October 31, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Wow, what an amazing blog post regarding a 5000 year old traditional Beverage. The Basilur Team are super excited about this revolutionary turn around in the interest in Tea. Traditionally High Tea’s were reserved for the Super Wealthy, however places like the Contessa Tea Shop in Rivonia has made this luxury event possible for the everyday working person. We are proud to be associated with the Contessa Tea store who are stocking our products. If you have not heard about Basilur Tea, prepare to be amazed. We encourage each of you to visit our FB page or Website (www.basilurtea.co.za) for amazing presentations of tea.

    Welcome to Basilur Tea South Africa – Pure Ceylon Tea
    Served straight from the lush mountain peaks of Sri Lanka, where the finest tea leaves eagerly waits to be yours… BASILUR TEA is a synonym to the expression of pure Ceylon tea, which redefines the essence of quality, associated with the logo “Ceylon tea”. We serve nothing but the best, tantalizing your taste buds with our collection.

    The goal of Basilur Tea, was to fill the gap of a niche tea market, with an exclusive tea product, offering both innovation and uniqueness in packaging & tea. Moving a step further by proving the world’s finest tea in unique and extraordinary packaging, Basilur Tea Export has earned a name for its innovative and exceptional quality tea products supplied directly from right where the tea is grown, Ceylon. Custom-made shapes, special materials & printing methods, author’s photographs have transformed BASILUR into only a one of its kind. The finest quality tea is blended with a stunning variety of flavours, natural fruits and herbs, to provide a delightful and refreshing tea drinking experience

    Be a part of our Tea-volution by visiting Contessa or Tea and coffee emporium to taste our products.

    • Reply 2summers October 31, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      I approved this comment because I think it could have some benefit for people in Joburg. But I’m not a big fan of people posting ads in my comment section.

  • Reply horsesofthesun October 31, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Ah I LOVE high tea! 😀 Ive only been to the one at Michaelangelo Hotel, but I’m gonna try your suggestions

  • Reply Brian Unsted November 4, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Great to meet you last week Heather and great read on high-teas in Jozi!

    • Reply 2summers November 5, 2013 at 7:55 am

      Thanks Brian, great meeting you too!

  • Reply amelie88 November 5, 2013 at 3:36 am

    I think your post just enlightened me to something I just randomly remembered! There is a tea salon chain in NYC called Alice’s Tea Cup which of course is Alice in Wonderland themed. I went once with a friend and we ordered something that was served the exact way the 54 on Bath picture of the sandwiches, scones, and desserts are laid out. Is that considered high tea presentation? Needless to say, we did not finish all of it as it was way too much. I think I waddled out of the place when we were done!

    • Reply 2summers November 5, 2013 at 7:52 am

      Yep, that’s high tea. It’s the best.

  • Reply Lesley November 30, 2014 at 7:50 am

    Excuse my ignorance, but what does one wear to a high tea?

    • Reply 2summers November 30, 2014 at 9:38 am

      Hi Lesley, I don’t think it’s necessary to get super dressed up for high tea in Joburg. I wouldn’t wear jeans or casual shorts though. Nice slacks or a sundress or skirt would be good. But it also depends on where you’re going — some places are fancier than others. If you’re unsure, maybe call the place you’re going and ask?

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