Michelle Milton is the founder and editor of High Tea Society, a website for lovers of high tea. The website features reviews of high tea venues, a directory of over 80 Australian high tea venues, stories on of tea ware design and high tea themed competitions.
After spending 15 years working in the digital media industry in Australia and the UK Michelle decided to start her own blog about something she loved – high tea.
What is it about high tea that appeals to you?
For me it's about the event, it's the opportunity to dress up in your best dress and spend hours indulging in gorgeous little treats served on a cake stand, with tea served in fine china and hours spent catching up with girlfriends.
I also love hosting high tea parties at home as it offers the opportunity to use the gorgeous fine china I’ve been collecting.
Why did you decide to start writing about it?
It started as hobby a year ago, but the interest in the blog was staggering - it has now turned in to a popular online community with a website, Facebook fan page, Twitter profile and monthly email newsletter. In total there’s an audience of 4000 subscribers.
Has there been a resurgence in high tea?
Yes absolutely – in the past year high tea has grown in popularity and has seen a number of new venues introduce high tea to their menus. In particular there are many wine bars and cafés hosting high tea. There is a mixed range in the quality so it's important you do your research as not all venues deliver good quality.
It's not just girly get-togethers, family gatherings, hen's parties or wedding showers as a reason for hosting a high tea party, but corporate meetings are running with a high tea theme to the catering.
Why is high tea relevant today?
It’s the perfect cross generational afternoon activity. If you're looking to do something special for your mother or grandmother this is an outing they are sure to enjoy.
What do you remember about your first high tea?
The occasion was my birthday and I went to the Savoy Hotel in London, it was a very stylish affair. The people attending had gone to the effort to get dressed for the occasion, and the afternoon included a jazz band and people danced on the wooden dance floor. From this experience I was hooked - and have been looking for more opportunities to go for high tea ever since.
How many high teas have you sampled?
In researching High Tea Society I've taken high tea at over 25 Australian venues.
How often do you rendevous for high tea?
At least three a month.
Describe the most decadent high tea you've experienced.
After all the high teas I have had since my first, the most decadent was the Savoy Hotel in London.
Who does the best high tea in Australia?
The best classic high tea offered by a hotel would be Hotel Windsor in Melbourne, for the style and grace of the venue and amazing food.
The Strangers Corridor at Parliament House in Melbourne opens its doors to the public on the days that parliament is not sitting – this venue takes you back in time and is a very traditional experience.
The Peninsula Tea Gardens in the grounds of the historic Tranby House in Perth, is a lovely afternoon as you sit under white umbrellas over looking the Swan River while taking high tea.
Madame Brussels in Melbourne hosts a seasonal garden party on the roof terrace over looking Bourke Street.
What is your favourite tea variety?
I go for the traditional English Breakfast.
What is the most interesting thing you've learned about this age-old tradition?
Back in the 1860s ladies met and discussed 'tea business', the female equivalent of men discussing politics, thereby giving women a social outlet to discuss topics such as politics which were deemed unsuitable for women to discuss in mixed company. Today high tea is still an opportunity for women to gather and discuss important business.
What is the difference between afternoon tea and high tea? Which term do you prefer to use, and why?
The term is open to interpretation, typically in Australia the term high tea means it is a special afternoon tea event and with cakes served on a cake stand. I have found that in the UK the term high tea is not used, but it is still afternoon tea.
What food do you enjoy eating that may surprise your fellow high tea lovers?
The sandwiches are my favourite.
How easy is it to recreate high tea at home?
There are some lovely high tea cookbooks around at the moment and wonderful fine bone china from the likes of Wedgwood and Royal Albert.
The beauty of hosting your own high tea party at home is that it’s an opportunity to express your own style. Be glamorous with your invitation and teaware, offering a stunning menu and make sure you invite a range of interesting people to attend - as it's all about the good conversation.
What are the five staples of a high tea menu?
The menu should include:
- tea served in a fine bone china
- sandwiches with the crusts cut off
- scones with jam and cream
- petit fours served on a cake stand
- lamingtons for some Australian style
What high tea dish would you suggest people make:
Swan shaped profiteroles.
For an easy snack?
What is your favourite food event in Australia?
A few years ago I went to the Slow Food event at the Abbotsford Convent. It was a wonderful day and perfect location for such an event.
What is your favourite cookbook?
There are some wonderful high tea cookbooks available, but the best would be High Tea at the Victoria Room by Jill Jones-Evans and Joe Gambacorta.
What trends in high tea are happening overseas?
High tea is all the rage, with modern takes on the theme. In LA the Royal/T Café is an eclectic mix of retail, contemporary art and a Japanese-style café which serves high tea.
Any other foodie secrets you would like to share?
I will soon be offering a mail order High Tea Party Hamper. It will be available from highteasociety.com.au and will be all you need to host a high tea party at home. The hamper will include: a cookbook, tea samples, chocolates, cupcake wrappers and stylish aprons.
Please tell us what you think of SBS's vanilla slice recipe.
A twist on the traditional vanilla slice. I found it difficult to find quark cheese in an inner city supermarket, so substituted it for ricotta cheese. The result was absolutely stunning – we ate the vanilla slice while still warm. The caramel sauce poured over the top and then baked for a further 5 minutes enriched the vanilla slice with flavour. This is a perfect warm treat for a winter high tea. Here's the final result: