In this era of Pokémon Go and Despacito, of sportswear for supper and “apps” for dating, of restaurants serving cornflakes and reality stars ruling the world, it is of no small comfort that there are still pockets around the world where decorum, class and simplicity are the order of the day.
One of these enclaves is Casa Gangotena: its Café Quiteño a case in point. An Ecuadorian take on the British high tea, the ceremony is performed each day at the hotel from 4 until 6.30 P.M., and consists of options of tea or coffee and a delightful selection of mini bites, both sweet and savoury. So far so Brit. But unlike its counterpart across the Atlantic, the Casa Gangotena version is elegant yet relaxed, special yet understated, traditional yet innovative.
In the light-bathed patio at the heart of the hotel, a cluster of tables are neatly set with white tablecloths and little side stands. Over the course of the ritual there’s only one significant choice you have to make: tea of coffee? If it’s coffee, it’s a fine Ecuadorian coffee, rich a bold and brewed to prize-winning standards. But if it’s tea: well, what kind of tea? Lemon verbena, lemon balm, chamomile or spearmint fresh from the garden, or Darjeeling, Princess of Wales or Earl Grey splashed with milk or dressed with lemon?
But once you’ve made that tortuous decision it’s plane-sailing as you’re brought a little bit of everything else. A double-decker silver platter is arranged with scones and pineapple jam and clotted cream, red velvet cake laced with beetroot and a dainty lemon tartlet. There’s black corn and pork bites, avocado-stuffed fritters and cheesy empanadas – a feast in miniature. The feel is distinctly Ecuadorian with a whiff of Britain.
As you sit there under the art-deco chandeliers and original 19th century ceiling panels, it is a moment to reflect on what is right with the world. It is also the perfect opportunity to gossip about your day, about fellow guests and about other members of high society, just as the original family living in the house would have done a century go.
Whatever you decide to talk about (and that is entirely your business) you’ll be able to so at leisure, as the ceremony proceeds at a dignified, unhurried pace.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing about the Café Quiteño, and about any afternoon tea worth its salt, is that when it ends you are left in the happy knowledge that dinner and the promise it brings is just around the corner.
British high tea etiquette
The dress code for the modern Afternoon Tea is ‘smart casual’ – for men jeans are acceptable but sportswear and sneakers are a no-no. Women may dress up to the nines should they wish.
Dunking biscuits into tea is NEVER acceptable in public – confine this to your own kitchen.
In the age old (and ongoing) conundrum of ‘clotted cream or jam first?’ on one’s scone, it depends on where you are taking your tea. If in Devon, you must spread the cream first and the jam on top. In Cornwall, you must slather jam on the base, and cover it with cream. In Quito, the debate rages on.
To stir your tea: place the spoon at a six o’clock position in the cup and manoeuvre the tea bag towards the 12 o’clock. Whatever you do, you must not, under any circumstance, clink the spoon on the cup or leave the spoon in its depths.
Stretching out one’s little finger, or pinkie, while taking a sip is a common faux. It is neither helpful for balance nor chic.