Ken and I having afternoon tea at The Empress, Victoria, BC

During our recent 50th Anniversary “celebration tour” to Western Canada, we treated ourselves to afternoon tea at four different Fairmont Hotels – Alberta Province’s Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, and Hotel Vancouver and Victoria’s Empress, in British Columbia. All were amazing, offering unique decor styles, setting ambiance, wonderful tea choices, and fantastic menus.

Fairmont Banff Springs

Our first afternoon tea was at Fairmont Banff Springs in the upper floor of the posh Rundle Bar. Although the rainy afternoon slightly blurred the mountain views from the dining area’s huge windows, it made for a perfect opportunity to spend time in the beautiful hotel. And you must have a proper tea while staying at a castle hotel, right?

Every morsel on the menu was fabulous.

We chose the 1907 Orange Pekoe Loose Tea and it was lovely. I should say right at the get-go that I am a black tea person all the way, so don’t roll your eyes when you see that’s all I ever select! While I typically lean toward a more foufou china pattern, the sleek white and silver tea ware was modern, complementing the free-form metal stand displaying all the treats. Quite a sophisticated tabletop!

A quick note about the Fairmont Hotel’s line of tea, Lot 35. I had read in my saved July/August 2017 issue of Teatime Magazine, the hotel chain had upgraded their tea selections across the board, choosing certified-organic and noncertified-organic teas, with excellent flavor as the standard. They launched 26 loose teas and six iced teas. Iindividual sachets are also available, and the bag material, string and tag are 100% biodegradable. Of course, I had to bring a box of the loose Orange Pekoe and several of the sachets home with me!

Our second afternoon tea was in the Fairview Bar & Restaurant at Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. After the host wished us a “Happy Anniversary!”, we were shown to a table with a wonderful view of Lake Louise. Stunning actually. And the menu was just as stunning. Adventurous even. The non-adventurous part was me having the Orange Pekoe tea again…

Activated charcoal profiterole

I enjoyed the tablesetting of mix-and-match blue and white china and tiered tray of treats for a traditional vibe. I’m probably showing my Midwestern roots, but I thought the finger sandwiches were quite artistic and a bit exotic. Definitley delicious. Wild boar pate` (Ken’s fave), activated charcoal profiterole with dill cream & trout roe, Vadouvan curried lamb loin with minted yoghurt & pickeld shallot, lobster roll with northern caviar, and brie & carmelized pear croque monsieur! Whoa.

View of Lac Beauvert from Jasper Park Lodge

I had hoped to enjoy afternoon tea at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, but alas, it wasn’t offered on a weekday. I can only imagine that the fare was excellent. The setting certainly was!

We shifted from majestic mountain settings to an urban scene when we reached Vancouver. Afternoon tea at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was set in a section of their Notch 8 restaurant decorated in a bold black and white checkerboard pattern adorned with 3-D chess pieces. I really enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit mini-series, and I also enjoyed the Griffin’s Gambit themed tea!

I was surprised to see the Fairmont Empress china pattern here, but it made a lovely contrast with the bold black & white table top. A glass of prosecco seemed a good match to the ambiance! The Aged Cheddar Scones were a nice change, and the salmon and crab finger sandwiches were outstanding. And yes, I went for black tea, but this time chose the Imperial Breakfast Black Tea.

Our final Fairmont Hotel afternoon tea was at The Empress in Victoria, BC. Another of the Canadian Pacific Railway Hotels (like Banff Springs and Chateau Lake Louise), the hotel was absolutely grand, and the harbor view was gorgeous. An incredible property, beautiful by day and night!

Tea at The Empress is a big deal, happening all afternoon, every afternoon. Tables in the Lobby Lounge are filled with hotel guests, families, anyone and everyone who’s looking for a very special occasion – a tradition to continue or a one time beautiful memory. And it’s big business. The palm-lined large dining room facing the harbor only does afternoon tea, no other regular dining service. The wait staff is polished and professional, making sure you have everything you need. A pianist performs at a baby grand piano, conversation is lively, and the tinkling of glasses, plates and utensils completes the convivial atmosphere.

At the Empress, not only do you select your tea from the list of available Lot 35 selections, you’re brought a “book” of tea samples with descriptions of the various options and samples of the teas themselves. It’s interesting to see the small flowers of various colors mixed into several varieties. This time I opted for the Kenya Kamba Black Tea! Once you’ve chosen your tea, pots are filled and placed on your table above a warming stand with a small tea light. Nice touch.

The menu was lovely – as all have been – but we especially enjoyed the Empress Raisin Scones with golden sultanas, house-made clotted cream and strawberry-vanilla preserves.

Back to the big business. The Empress gift shop specializes in a variety of tea ware, and I doubt many leave a tea empty handed. I certainly didn’t! In addition to my box of tea, I was happy to find a small embroidered hot pad for the teapot handle. I know what you’re thinking… “Really, Sally?” But I have a lovely silver pot which gets a very hot handle! Here’s a pic of my new toy. An excellent remembrance, I would say!

We had a wonderful “celetbration tour” through Western Canada with its magnificent mountains, castle hotels, terrific museums and gorgeous gardens, but I must say that the four afternoon teas we shared at the Fairmont Hotels will be some of the best memories of our trip.

If you find yourself in British Columbia…

I would aslo recommend a stop at Murchie’s while in the Vancouver/Victoria area. We stopped in the their charming tea and coffee shop on Government Street in Victoria one afternoon for an iced tea and treats after a good walk of the downtown harbor district. Very nice. And look – they had an Anniversary Tea!

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One thing that makes my journey unique is that all of my interests are driven by a joyful and genuine curiosity. I delight in finding less expensive ways to make something or creative ways to enjoy something longer. Finding and creating joy - and sharing it - is core to who I am.