For Christmas, last year (i.e. 2017) it was once again time for a little British tradition in Beijing. As we had done the year before, the idea was to spend a lovely afternoon enjoying that most British of activities, the afternoon tea. Capital M had forever closed its doors – a terrible blow to the scone-scoffing Beijing community, as their scones were as fluffy as cushions and about as big as your head; and all that for the very reasonable price of 128 RMB without alcohol.
Where to next, then? The vast interwebs was on this occasion able to provide a little insight, but not as much nor as up-to-date as one might hope. In 2012, City Weekend was raving about China World Hotel’s afternoon tea in terms of service, orchestra and quality, ranking it the winner out of all of Beijing’s High Teas. We decided to put it to the test – it was a fun and delicious, but also slightly confusing afternoon.
1. Finding the bleeding place
Any of you who have ever been to the China World Mall know it’s a labyrinth; one that has only become more confusing as the New China World Mall and Hotel Jen has opened. This means that in this complex there three different hotels that all have confusingly similar names
中国大饭店 The China World Hotel
北京国贸大酒店 The China World Summit Wing
新国贸饭店 Hotel Jen
I kept getting mixed up between the World Hotel and the Summit Wing (that’s the one that has Atmosphere, the highest bar in Beijing). Naturally, I started off by showing up much too late at the wrong place. The hotel kindly called to confirm that we were still going to attend – even half an hour late. But upon showing the very unfriendly concierge at the Summit Wing where I wanted to go, I finally realized it was the one at the other end of the complex. Hasty jogging and much sweating ensued; exactly the kind of image of grace you want to convey for afternoon tea at a five-star hotel. Anyway, found it in the end, first hurdle of the day mastered.
2. Mathematical Mysteries involving Scones
We seemed to remember that there was an option to add on extra scones to an afternoon tea, rather than having to order too full portions. As there were three of us, and the afternoon tea on offer was for two people, we thought this would be a great option. Rather than simply saying this is not a service we offer, our server then went into a long explanation of how it would be impossible to just add on two scones onto the tea set since they make an exact number of scones every day, and they cannot exceed that number. No matter that we had originally booked for four people and so by that logic, there would mathematically be at least two unclaimed scones floating about. It was simply impossible insisted our server. I don’t think I am a person with incredibly high expectations, but I do feel that a five-star hotel should really be able to offer a simple extra wish such as add-on scones.
3. Small-ish Scones
Here comes the big one – the scones. Taste was indeed delicious, though interestingly the tea came with a serving of regular, and then chocolate chip scones, rather than sultanas. That was unexpected. Size-wise they were on the slightly smaller side, but still big enough as not to illicit any swearing. The accompanying jams were delicious, and the staff were very good at bringing more cream and jam when asked. The tea was also good, there were the classic English options, Earl Grey, Peppermint etc. and some distinguished Chinese flushes.
4. Confusing Christmas Theme
What we hadn’t anticipated before our visit was of course the fact that the afternoon tea would be Christmas themed. And that this was the only choice. In the end, it ran up to around 330 RMB for a two person Christmas set plus service charge. There was no option for just scones and tea to the disappointment of my fellow slurpers. It was certainly fun to have the Christmas theme, and the sani selection had some very delicious options of salmon and paté. There was a bit of confusion around what we thought were Santa shaped biscuits. After attempting to take a bite and almost losing a tooth, it seemed they were made of icing on a very hard base of plastic or clay or some mysterious item. So that was a bit strange. Overall there was a lot of decorative items made from very hard icing, that would have been a welcome addition to any Christmas cake. As such we were debating smuggling them home, but the need to look like ladies prevailed (well, as much as it could after us gnawing desperately at a clay biscuit).
5. The Orchestra
The review in City Weekend had raved on and on about the live orchestra, so I was looking forward to that part in particular. As it were, we ended up sitting behind a column far, far, faaaar away from the orchestra. While we did hear them playing, the music very much disappeared into the background, as we didn’t have the visual access that would have made it all more special.
We had a fun afternoon at the China World Hotel – they kindly didn’t kick us out although we tried to eat the decorations and stayed a good 5 hours. The savoury part of the tea was really great, the scones weren’t bad, the orchestra was lovely if a bit invisible. Mostly, the weird insistence on staggering the scone output left a bit of a disappointing taste, as did the mysterious clay-cardboard cookie. You can probably give the regular afternoon tea a try; reckon it’s fair to say it won’t be a Christmas theme all year round.
Price for Christmas Special: 331 RMB + service charge/ 2ppl
Address: 北京市朝阳区建国门外大街一号 Jianguomen Wai Dajie No.1
Phone: +86 10 6505 2266