We’re thrilled to announce that The Royal Horseguards Hotel has won an Award of Excellence from The Tea Guild (the tea industry equivalent of an Oscar) for the second year running.
And the lady responsible for our award winning pastries and teas? That would be ‘Queen of Tea’ Joanne Todd, our pastry chef who is hugely passionate about the tradition of afternoon tea, but isn’t afraid to push the boundaries either.
This week on the Guoman blog, Joanne is answering your questions on everything from the controversial ‘milk in first or after’ debate to what she thinks a good afternoon tea should consist of.
1. Why do we love afternoon tea so much?
I think it’s both nostalgic and elegant as well as being something truly indulgent. You never take tea because you are simply hungry.
It is a full social experience, one you can relax over and take your time on, while being served the most delightful treats and premium blends of tea. Personally, I find it such a pampering experience and one which feels very intimate and unique. It’s one of those treats that never seem to go out of fashion.
2. Are you pleased about getting an Award of Excellence for the second year in a row?
We are absolutely delighted. I was literally jumping for joy when I got the news. I had a celebratory drink with the pastry team that night.
Afternoon tea has been my pet project since coming to the Royal Horseguards Hotel and is something my entire team takes a lot of pride in. The award was a fantastic achievement and a great reward for all the hard work and attention to detail we put in, not to mention the constant innovation and refinement.
I started by improving our tea selection and training our team to brew the perfect pot, having bespoke china designed, introducing a stand-alone afternoon tea menu and perfecting the recipes and presentation.
I’ve seen the number of afternoon covers grow from zero to 600 in the first year, then mushroom to 6,000 in the second year. We now expect to do 13,000 covers by the end of this year. Thankfully, my team has adapted really well to cope with demand.
3. What would you say to traditionalists who bemoan continental afternoon tea ‘interlopers’ like macaroons and éclairs?
There’s enough room for all styles. Some places specialise in keeping it so traditional and people love the heritage of something that never changes. Equally others provide something truly original and sometimes even wacky which makes a nice change.
I’m certainly not afraid to innovate and feel really blessed at The Royal Horseguards to have such a free reign in design and experiment.
Our signature afternoon tea is heavily steered towards the classic, while our monthly limited editions let us introduce people to trends and allow us to play around with new techniques and designs.
4. Milk in the tea cup first, or always after?
Answering this question, (as well as commenting on the jam/clotted cream first debate) may start a war in some circles.
There are scientific arguments about stabilising milk proteins and the shocking of the bone china to support the ‘milk first’ camp, but I personally want to look at the clarity of the tea, the strength of the brew and the colour of the blend and ensure there are minimal leaves being let through the strainer before I add milk.
My current favourite is a new addition to our menu, our Oolong Fleur d’Orient —which is so light and creamy you really do not need milk. I work really closely with our tea guru and supplier and I’m lucky enough to sample some of the world’s best grades before sharing them with our guests.
5. You’ve helped inform the design for the hotel’s crockery range. Do you think the right crockery enhances the experience?
Definitely. We get so many compliments on our China and I think it really helps set the elegant tone, as do our silver teapots and stands. Due to popular demand, we have just started to retail small gift sets for people to enjoy their afternoon tea in fine bone china at home.
I am so inspired by Royal Horseguards Hotel’s rich history and it’s what influenced the design of the range, which Heritage China kindly helped us bring to life. When I saw our Lounge, I was reminded of a manor house drawing room, bright, airy and classic, with a modern edge.
6. What’s the secret to a good afternoon tea (and what’s your favourite part)?
Firstly attentive, friendly and intimate service, closely followed by a well selected premium leaf tea menu. Tea should be brewed correctly and served with fresh wholesome sandwiches. Pastries should be delicate and never sickly sweet. And you should never ever be rushed — afternoon tea should be something to linger over.
My favourite part? It would always be the scones. No competition!
7. You’ve created several exciting, themed afternoon teas for The Royal Horseguards Hotel. Which one is your favourite?
Probably the Mini Tea which was so popular it made it on to our permanent menu. I love making the cakes in the style of what I loved as a child like gingerbread men and hundreds and thousands cupcakes. It makes me and my team so happy to create these unpretentious, colourful and nostalgic treats, we are like big kids sometimes.
I also have a soft spot for the Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea I created for my best friend Louise, as I knew she was having her hen party with us and would love the theme.
8. How did you become a pastry chef?
Like most teenagers I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do. I loved baking, but was clueless about how I could make a living from it. By sheer chance my sister mentioned my love of baking to a regular client at her barber shop, who she knew was a chef. He was a regular on the TV show Ready, Steady, Cook and offered to give me some advice and even offered me an apprenticeship at his restaurant in Reigate.
A few years later I moved to London to work for Gordon Ramsay Holdings and the rest is a blur of cake and sugar.
But my memory of how difficult it seemed trying to find career information and a break into the industry has inspired me to do something to support budding chefs. In my role as a Springboard ambassador, I help promote the industry and go into schools and colleges to share my experiences.
9. What’s it like working in a male-dominated environment?
When I started out it certainly was totally male dominated, but that’s changing and its inspiring to see great female professionals such as Anne Sophie Pic (3 Michelin star, France) Angela Hartnett, Claire Clark, Nadia Santini and many others who have made it to the highest levels in this industry.
I personally find working with men really enjoyable. There’s a lot of kitchen banter and you have to have a thick skin in the beginning. But coming from a military background I certainly was not a wallflower, and I can give as good as I get!
10. Britain’s gone mad for baking recently. Why do you think that is?
Vintage fashion is hugely popular, and most fashions find their way into the food world too. As people began to hold vintage tea parties and raid their granny’s wardrobes, they also discovered their recipe books which had been forgotten until recently.
I think there’s a connection with the credit crunch too: instead of forking out money for mediocre shop-bought cakes, people are discovering how much more delicious homemade cakes can be.
I get really sad when I hear about a bakery or hotel buying in pastries from a factory to cut costs because we don’t have enough professional bakers out there.
Afternoon Tea at The Royal Horseguards Hotel
Why not treat yourself to a truly special afternoon tea set in the magnificent surroundings of The Royal Horseguards Hotel, right by the River Thames in central London?
Choose from our extensive tea menu and sample one of Joanne’s creations while listening to our harpist playing in the background. It’s an experience not to be missed for true tea lovers.
What’s the hallmark of a top quality teatime experience? If you like to tell us your thoughts, or wade into the ‘milk first or after’ debate, just leave a comment for Joanne below.