(New-School) Afternoon Tea at the Banff Springs


I know, this comes across as very Mothers’ Day-ish, doesn’t it? Mothers’ Day proper was bit of a bust around here, if you’re looking to hear how it went. Mike forgot, having stayed up late to watch Betty White on SNL (the MOTHER’S DAY SPECIAL), and when I told W it was Mothers’ Day his response was, “NOOO! I want it to be Daddy’s day!” (He’s in an I-don’t-love-you-I-only-love-Dad-because-he-plays-with-me-and-you-only-work-all-the-time phase, which DOESN’T HELP AT ALL.) It turns out I’m just not as gifted as Mike is at playing superheros/Star Wars/Scooby-doo. I try. I’m just not boy enough.

So yeah, no sleep-in, no coffee. Bah. I’m not a flowers and jewelry sort of mom, and I don’t even care about breakfast in bed. But I do look forward to not getting up at the break of W climbing all over my head, and then having someone go get me a coffee. When it finally kicked in he made a Tim Horton’s run, and Ben and Emily made me some pity pancakes.

But. We went for Afternoon Tea at the Banff Springs Hotel yesterday, so I can pretend that was orchestrated by Mike and W on my behalf, in honour of my most excellent motherness.

I’ve lived in Calgary since grade 2. We grew up making day trips to Banff – to ski, mostly, but in the summers to hike and for the occasional day trip. We often ate at Magpie & Stump or at the dark place with the salad bar at the top of the Sundance Mall, and always stopped at the Fudgery apres-ski to choose something for the car ride home. We stayed at the Banff Springs sometimes, which may be why I’ve developed such a strong affection for the place. (The first time we went, the story goes, my youngest sister walked through asking “where’s the king?”, because it so resembles a castle. When W was about two we went, and he nervously peeked into each room before going in, then flat-out refused to approach the wide stone spiral staircase, convinced that there was a dragon up there). I really really love the Banff Springs. Just being there makes me happy.

I’m rediscovering the fact that Banff is a little over an hour away, and enough of a change of scenery to make a regular weekend seem like a long weekend, even if you bring your blackberry and laptop with you. (Plus: you can get a lot of work done in the car if someone else is driving.) Friday afternoon we threw our stuff in the car and hightailed it out to Banff for a night at the Juniper – a newly renovated boutique hotel on the other side of the highway (turn right at the second turnoff instead of turning left into Banff) that I really liked.

The interior was modern, with wood and stone and chunks of tree turned into side tables. They had little stainless pots of Q-tips and cotton balls in the bathroom, and robes. They had nice beds with good, thick white sheets and down pillows and good blankets. And I was impressed to see so many local food products on the Bistro menu.

The highlight of breakfast was W’s stack of light yet grainy pancakes, which I recognized immediately as made from pancake mix from Highwood Crossing. They were topped with stewed apples and pure maple syrup, then dusted with icing sugar. I ate most while W wasn’t looking.

In the afternoon, we went to tea at the Fairmont Banff Springs. It was wonderful.

I’d never been. I knew they did it, but it became one of those things I had known about for so many years it just slipped by under my radar. Recently they’ve upped the experience a notch, modernizing high tea with a series of matcha tea mar(tea)nis. Apparently the infusion of matcha (powdered tea) with alcohol increases the polyphenol count considerably. Who knew? Here we are chugging quantities of green tea for its antioxidant benefits, and all we need to do is add a shot of vodka.

When you arrive for tea, the experience begins with white linens, real silverware and a stunning mountain view. Mike said as we sat down that he wished he traveled more (so do I) so that he could definitively say that this was his favourite place on earth. Not just Banff, but that particular spot – any window seat, really – in the Rundle Lounge at the Banff Springs.

Once you’ve settled into your blissful spot, they bring out a tea cart and do a little talk, educating you about their various loose teas, letting you sniff and ask questions. For the kids there’s a bubble gum tea that actually has tiny gumballs nestled in the leaves in order to infuse them with flavour. (My friend Nik has this same tea, and she brings it to events at which kids will be present, like skating parties and school plays, as an alternative to hot chocolate. In summer she chills it and serves it instead of juice. It’s caffeine-free, brilliant pink and tastes like bubblegum. How completely awesome is that?)

After you make your tea selections they go steep it and bring tall martini glasses filled with fresh fruit as a palate cleanser. Then the tea arrives in silver pots, your first cup poured tableside through a silver strainer.

There is, of course, honey and milk and lemon on offer. And then comes the tower of food. I’m not sure what W was more ecstatic about – the fact that we were going to a real tea party in a castle or the three-tiered plate that arrived at our table laden with strawberries, wee sandwiches, and two-bite cakes and tarts.

There were mini flaky croissants stuffed with egg salad, soft baguette topped with smoked salmon, ham finger sandwiches with creamy/spicy dijon, and PB&J with the crusts cut off for W (we didn’t even have to ask – although he favoured the ham and dijon). One plate up there were small crème brûlées, tiny pots of strawberry jam and real clotted cream. On top: small chocolate cakes, cream puffs, whole strawberry tarts and tiny lemon tarts with torched meringue tops.

It was like the mother ship was calling me home.

And then they brought the scones – they had to arrive separately, because they were WARM.

Mike (who had never experienced scones with clotted cream): ohmigod, are you serious? You’re kidding me. YOU’RE KIDDING ME. This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.

Me: (Can’t talk, eating.)

Mike: If I’m ever on death row, this is what I’m choosing for my last meal. Do you have to be British?

W spent most of the time making faces in the reflective side of the teapot and mixing mad scientist potions out of his tea. Little Lord Fauntleroy, he was. Next time I’m forcing him to wear a sailor suit.

Lulled into food submission, we drove home in warm silence. W snored in the back seat, and I tried not to in the front. Best Mothers’ Day Eve ever.

And hey – I’m working on getting this scone recipe from the chef. Check back.


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42 comments on “(New-School) Afternoon Tea at the Banff Springs

  1. Lorraine
    May 9, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Wow…now I’m hungry for pancakes! (and tarts..and sandwiches…and….)

  2. Fiona
    May 10, 2010 at 12:09 am


  3. Nina
    May 10, 2010 at 1:09 am

    And the gumball tea, and the crème brulée, and the scones… Scones! I can almost taste them… Mmmmmm

  4. Jennifer Jo
    May 10, 2010 at 4:55 am

    I’d be just like W—not sure what was best, the real tea party in the castle or the food. What fun!

  5. anja
    May 10, 2010 at 5:17 am

    oh julie, this looks SO delicious.am really jealous now:)) your outing sounds wonderful. best from dreary, rainy, sconeless berlin:), anja

  6. PatW
    May 10, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Julie – Since we moved to Calgary 3 1/2 years ago we have always gone to tea at the BSH on Mother’s day. It’s one of my favorite traditions, and my little girls love it. We loved the upgrades yesterday, (especially the harpist) but it has always been awesome. Sorry we missed you! I think they do tea daily, so you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to have it.

  7. Jessica
    May 10, 2010 at 7:37 am

    That looks phenomenal. I had crossed that off the list of possible things to do because I thought it wouldn’t be kid friendly, but looks like W did fine! Thanks for the cyber-experience, and hope to try it in person soon. Happy Belated Mother’s Day!

  8. bellini valli
    May 10, 2010 at 7:58 am

    When I lived in Calgary we used to visit Banff quite often on a Sunday drive. Sometimes our nose would take us to Banff Springs hotel for their Sunday Brunch. I don’t know if they still have it but tea sounds relaxing. Mother’s Day is what we make of it sometimes I guess and yours sounded pretty special.

  9. Kathy
    May 10, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Have you done the High Tea @ the Empress in Victoria BC? Totally awesome, worth every calorie! We will have to do the Banff Springs one soon. The Lady MacDonald Inn in Canmore used to do one as well but I’m not sure if they still do.

  10. JulieVR
    May 10, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Kathy – no I haven’t done it at the Empress yet – also on my to-do list! I love the Empress too.

  11. June
    May 10, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Oh gee, ya’ made me homesick AGAIN! That looks absolutely spectacular!

  12. Donna
    May 10, 2010 at 8:52 am

    Happy belated Mothers’ Day, Julie and friends.
    The Banff Springs Hotel is awesome -I must try their high tea. The atmosphere at the Empress in Victoria can’t be beat, and they charge accordingly. More economical Teas in Victoria can be found at the White Heather Tea Room and the Blethering Place – just no castle.

  13. thepinkpeppercorn
    May 10, 2010 at 8:58 am

    Happy Mother’s Day Julie! Sounds like the out of town break was VERY well deserved with how busy you’ve been lately. Glad you enjoyed it!! W is so cute, and your tales of him make me giggle.

  14. Cathy D (Calgary)
    May 10, 2010 at 9:06 am

    LOL “Little Lord Fauntleroy” hehehehe.

  15. Rose in Ohio (@RoseMillsOhio)
    May 10, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Your account of high tea at the Banff Springs was so highly entertaining that I’d go today, if I could! Glad you had a good time.

  16. Lana in South Mountain (ON)
    May 10, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I have always wanted to take my girls (8 and 11) to the Chateau Laurier for afternoon tea. Now I am convinced that I HAVE to do it. Maybe for my own birthday in June, we will all take the day off and do it! Gorgeous photos- and lonesome again for Banff. It is SO time for a visit!

  17. erin
    May 10, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Yum! I think I had clotted cream once – on the morning after my wedding. We stayed in a fancy hotel and ordered room service for breakfast, and the croissants came with jam and some kind of spread that looked like cream cheese, but was much more delicious! This has reminded me to try it and see if that’s what it was… Can you buy clotted cream anywhere?

  18. erin
    May 10, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Oh, and of course, Happy Mother’s Day Julie!!

    (once again I let food take over my brain….)

  19. JulieVR
    May 10, 2010 at 10:15 am

    You can buy clotted cream at the Cookbook Company on 11th Ave SW, and I’ve found it at Sunterra markets!

  20. Sue (London, ON)
    May 10, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Wow Julie! Thank you for sharing that detailed account of your time in Banff. Delightful!
    I was only there once. It was just a pit stop on our way to Prince George, BC but man oh man, its so beautiful. How delightful to live that close. Thanks for sharing!

  21. rachel
    May 10, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Mmm, scones and clotted cream…

    My sister got married last year at the Hotel MacDonald in Edmonton, and she made them add their scones, cream and blueberry preserves to the dessert menu, even though they protested that they never do that. Unfortunately, no one really knew what to do with them, as they just piled them in a basket. They looked just like dinner rolls (she had asked that they be split, with the accoutrements clearly visible). But they were definitely the best part of the evening! Food-wise, of course.

  22. Natalie - GA
    May 10, 2010 at 10:56 am

    This looks AMAZING! My kids are on a daddy kick too….b/c of the reverse. They are with me all the time and are getting sick of me. “Mommy, GO!” So.. you can’t win either way. It is hard to hear, but don’t worry, he will soon be all over you again.

    I have been trying to think of titles for your cookbook. I am thinking of it in terms of people searching on amazon or google. I don’t think many are looking for beans… but they are for healthy living.
    So I thought something like this might work:
    “Living Healthy: Bringing Beans to Life.”

  23. Laurie in Burnaby
    May 10, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Oh, how heavenly!! Makes me homesick for real scones and clotted cream and berries. There’s something else we used to have for tea: pikelets with cream and preserves.

    Pikelets are like tiny sweet pancakes, served cold. They’re beter than that sounds :)

    I’m glad you had a good mother’s day after a rocky start.


  24. beth
    May 10, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Your afternoon tea reminded me of my grammie Vi and mum’s shortbread crust mini tarts (tartlets) filled with delicious lemon butter and a dollop of piped whipped cream. Yum! I might have to try with a flamed merringue. ~bmg.

  25. Vivian
    May 10, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    Splendid post Julie. Your photos are gorgeous and I adore all that silver..you can even see your faces in the pouring teapot, you with the camera! I’d forgotten just how decadent high tea can be…it’s been so many years! We once partook of it at Windsor Court in New Orleans…and yes, wow, to the clotted cream. Any way to make that oneself? (Better yet, don’t tell me if there is…it would be my undoing!)

  26. Robyn in Mountain (Ontario that is)
    May 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Julie, so glad you celebrated Mother’s Day in style. You deserve it!

  27. Robyn in Mountain (Ontario that is)
    May 10, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    Oops, forgot to ask, is clotted cream like creme freche?

  28. JulieVR
    May 10, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Not quite – creme fraiche is a bit tangier, and not typically as thick (although it can be!) here’s a more in depth explanation – http://whatscookingamerica.net/Q-A/CremeFraiche2.htm

  29. Beverley M
    May 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Oh now you’ve gone and made me hungry and Banff is quite a long ways from Victoria. But I hear they Do Tea here and there around my town, too :)

  30. Erica B.
    May 10, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Looks like the Tea you had was an upgrade from the usual. Teas we’ve been to have had the same food but they just asked us which tea we’d like and brought us pots (one for the adults one for the kids) there was no showing us the teas tableside.

    T neglected to make reservations for brunch one Mother’s Day. Hasn’t made that mistake since. Not that I need to go out for brunch but if THAT’S the plan, you need reservations or you’re not getting in anywhere but Humpty’s 😉

  31. marsbars
    May 10, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    I think that’s the best mother’s day celebrations ever. You described everything so amazingly and the photos were great, too. I really enjoyed this read….looking for the scone recipe.

  32. JulieVR
    May 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Erica – hmmm.. they must have changed it from when you were there – the tea talk is (now, at least) the usual drill – they had fancy carts set up and were doing it at all the tables. The only upgrade was for marteanis-extra dineros for those, of course!

  33. KC
    May 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    I think I have to start a foodie “bucket list” instead of making a mental “memo to self” and living vicariously through you each time you have a fabulous foodie experience! On my list:

    Death by Chocolate at the Palliser
    Christmas in November (thanks to you!)
    and now, Afternoon Tea at Banff Springs!

    And that’s just locally…the worldwide list would be huge!

  34. Avery
    May 10, 2010 at 10:21 pm

    OMG, I’ve loved the Banff Springs for all of the same reasons as you, since I was a child (ditto lunch at Magpie & Stump, although we would stop at the Candy Store afterwards instead for Blue Whales and Sponge Toffee). Every time I go it makes me smile. I’ve also adored clotted cream since I took a trip to England and had my first real “Tea” with my sister when I was 18. Is Devonshire cream close?

  35. Erica B.
    May 10, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    JulieVR – Ah I thought it might have been something they were doing for Mother’s Day weekend. It’s been just over a year since we’ve been to Tea – looking forward to checking out the changes this summer. (we go when MIL is in town which is July this time).

    I had and lost that scone recipe(missing since the move) I do hope you can get ahold of it =)

  36. Elizabeth
    May 11, 2010 at 9:14 am

    That bubblegum tea looks AMAZING. It’s funny, whenever we go to a Fairmont hotel, my kids always think they’re in a castle too. Can’t afford Disneyland? Drive up to the Hotel Mac in Edmonton for a night and they’re almost as happy.

  37. Su-Lin
    May 11, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I never knew you could infuse tea with bubblegum! Makes me wonder what else you could flavour tea with…

  38. Debra
    May 11, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Safeway has clotted cream in a glass jar and goes by the name thick devon cream. It’s pretty much the real thing. Just remember to put the cream on the scone before the jam otherwise the cream wont stick on top of the jam.

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