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25th September 2012
The Tea Guild's team of inspectors has begun to seek out the best afternoon tea in Britain.
The summer is drawing to a close and the Tea Guild's team of highly-skilled, incognito judges are gearing up to begin their inspections of the nation's top tearooms and hotels in their quest to find the winners of The Tea Guild's Top Tea Place Award 2013 and Top City & Country Hotel Award 2013.
To receive an award from the Tea Guild is an accolade of the highest order and an internationally recognised endorsement. This year, Bettys Café Tea Rooms in Northallerton, North Yorkshire - a Georgian gem of a building where tea is taken in the Palm Room with its glorious domed glass roof, art deco mirrors, and three metre high Chusan palm - scooped the Top Tea Place Award 2012, for the second time in the tea room's life.
But what do the inspectors look for? Well, the list is thorough and extensive, ranging from how warmly guests are welcomed to whether or not the curtains are jaded. Are the toilets clean or is the chinaware chipped?
The devil is in the detail, and that's what the inspectors are there to uncover. Every aspect of the experience is judged. Glitches and hitches should never impose upon what is supposed to be a seamlessly enjoyable experience for the guest. Everything should be just so. And more.
To illustrate the point, there would be nothing worse than turning up for your highly anticipated afternoon tea to be confronted with a large delivery of toilet rolls stacked up in the doorway. It just wouldn't be right. The spell would be broken.
Unsurprisingly, the tea itself takes centre stage. The inspectors, all experts who work professionally as tea tasters or buyers, are well placed to judge whether or not the tea is of the best quality and presented properly - fresh cups and saucers should always be provided when a different variety of tea is served - and brewed correctly and to the customer's liking.
At the heart of the judges' decisions is the central tenet that the perfect cup of tea is a very individual preference. It's all about choice. Just as with red or white wine, some prefer a lighter blend, while others opt for a strong, full-bodied brew.
The judges will pay attention to how well staff are able to advise and help guests to make the right choice of tea from the menu, which should contain a rich but carefully considered selection of blends - each clearly described; much like a wine list.
For example, a good waiter will ascertain quickly if you prefer your tea on the weaker side, and will ask whether you'd like your tea poured slightly earlier than the optimum time. That's the measure of good, attentive service. That's what the judges look for.
Equally, because tea is so subjective, there should be no barriers to enjoyment. There should be no stigma in asking for milk with your oolong!
The inspectors have a total of 125 points to award, and the detailed notes are typed up and handed over to The Tea Guild for the final judging. What's more, the inspectors are given the opportunity to comment on what really sets each place apart, and the willingness of the staff and management to go that extra, award-winning, mile.
Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa was the recipient of the Top City & Country Hotel Award 2012, a relatively new award launched in 2010 to recognize the increasing number of venues that fall into the category. It has proved good news for tea lovers everywhere, who now don't have to go to London for afternoon tea in a top hotel.
Mr Krzyzstof Prokop, manager of The Ascot Lounge at Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa, is the man behind the hotel's success. With his team and pastry chef Denis Drame, he has worked tirelessly to achieve the same standard you'd expect in the very best London hotels, from introducing a fabulously cute Mini Me afternoon tea for children to redesigning the tableware so that everything matches, right down to the sweetener envelopes.
"It's a real team effort here and all our staff work tirelessly to create somewhere special, where the quality of food, relaxing atmosphere and the very best standards are paramount," says Mr Prokop. "Pennyhill Park Hotel & Spa is proud to be members of The Tea Guild and we place the highest value on the choice and quality of the tea we serve,” he says. "It's a fantastic honour for us to win this award and we are absolutely thrilled."
"My Director was speechless for thirty seconds when I told him we had won," he adds, smiling "It's not everyday you get to see your manager like that."
Results will be announced in April 2013.
Are you getting the most out of your tea at home? Take a look at our tips for making the perfect brew here. Or, why not take a tea masterclass, which are run by Tim Clifton, an international tea consultant and tea taster, together with Jane Pettigrew, author and one-time editor of Tea International, the journal to the tea trade.
Treat yourself or make a gift of this truly stimulating and enjoyable day.
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