Headline:

A Place Where People Happily Pay $600 for Afternoon Tea
New York’s most expensive tea service offers caviar and Champagne at the Baccarat hotel.

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[SOS so far withholds comment. But she wonders how, even with caviar and champagne, a tea service could cost six hundred dollars.]

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First Section:

Key Details: Focusing on caviar and champagne, Tsar Nicholas II is Baccarat hotel’s new, luxurious take on the classic afternoon tea.
Competitors: The Peninsula ($60–$72 for classic afternoon tea, $285–$395 for afternoon tea with caviar and champagne); Mandarin Oriental ($48 for classic afternoon tea); Ritz-Carlton Central Park ($56–$89 for classic afternoon tea)
Price: $400 paired with Lung Ching Imperial tea, or $600 paired with Krug Grande Cuvée NV 750ml
Why It’s Worth It: If you’re going out for Champagne and caviar — not afternoon tea — you’ll spend as much anywhere else. And the interiors at the Baccarat are like no other.

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[The article appears in Bloomberg, a business publication, so maybe the author figures the busy Wall Street people scanning this piece will expect it to look like a consultant’s report, extracting key details up front for a person in a hurry. Quite the ethos of the tea ceremony, yes? I wanna take high tea, and make it snappy… Figure I’d like to spend say six hundred dollars for the forty minutes I’ve got available for this. Is it worth it? … Peninsula’s got the same deal for $60. So… $60/$600… But there’s that ‘like no other’ hotel interior… What did it cost me last time I sat down inside the Baccarat? Oh yeah, nothing. OTOH, that Nevada Cuvée sounds intriguing…]

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Take the elevator to the second floor of the glitzy, year-old Baccarat hotel in Midtown Manhattan, and the doors will open in the Grand Salon, a bright and dazzling parlor with giant windows that overlook the Museum of Modern Art and Baccarat crystal dangling from every nook and cranny. Since the hotel’s opening, it’s been a place filled with women in fur coats and business meetings over $24 whiskey cocktails. Now it’s also home to the city’s most expensive afternoon tea service.

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[I like the murdered Tsar theme, and women in fur coats is also good. In a better world, I’d have bragging rights once I did the most expensive tea in the city, but what hedge fund guy gives a shit about anything that only costs six hundred?]

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At $600, the Baccarat’s Tsar Nicholas II menu is 10 to 20 times as expensive as those of most of its competitors. For comparison’s sake, you can spend just $30 to $70 and sip premium teas at the Peninsula, or nibble on dainty pastries from three-tiered trays at the Mandarin Oriental. The hotel is also outdoing its own self; it already offered two excellent tea services called the King Louis XV ($95) and the Prince of Whales ($110), both with artisanal-leaning offerings such as rose-scented madeleines and tomato-white cheddar brioche.

[Wow! Prince of Whales! That must be with caviar from the Beluga whale rather than the sturgeon. Far out. But shouldn’t that cost more than Tsar Nicholas?]

But as much as the Baccarat is playing in a crowded market—there’s an afternoon tea for every need, style, and mood in New York—it’s also reigniting a culinary tradition that can often feel neglected or worn. Its strategy? Make afternoon tea feel indulgent again.

[Yeah, those hundred dollar teas … You feel like you’re at a Walmart cafeteria…]

Whereas Baccarat’s other two services make for beautiful, light afternoon meals, the Tsar Nicholas II is primarily and unabashedly about two things: caviar and Champagne. And tea, if you’d like.

A third of that $600 price tag is allocated to Champagne. The service is meant to feed two, and comes with 750 milliliters of Krug Grande Cuvée NV. You can opt to skip the Champagne and stick to “just” tea for $400.

Another third of that price, roughly, goes to caviar: a generous 30 grams of Petrossian’s Tsar Imperial Ossetra, one of the higher grade caviar offerings from the brand. (The Petrossian shop a few blocks away sells this 30-gram tin of Tsar Imperial Ossetra for $170.) It comes with classic accoutrements of chives, egg yolks and whites, red onions, and crème fraîche, all presented on a tiered Baccarat crystal stand.

[Two hundred bucks for caviar that sells down the street for $170. But that doesn’t take into account the setting and service and crystal plus the whole thing of jamming 30 grams of caviar down your throat at one sitting… What? Are you gonna ask them to put it in a doggie bag? Fuhgeddaboudit! You are not asking for a doggie bag at the Baccarat!]

Pay attention to the warm blinis on the second tier. See that light, reddish tint? The blini batter is infused with Ruschka, a Mariage Frères tea blend with citrus and Silver Needle, a rare white tea made from only the top buds of the tea plant. The infusion is one of the many small touches that differentiate the service and make it memorable. Others include appropriately knowledgeable but not obtrusive servers and sharp attention to details — like not overfilling each tea cup and offering perfectly polished silverware and glassware. It’s the little things that make a big difference in an affair so delicate as afternoon tea.

[The people pouring your tea know how to do it so it doesn’t slop over the sides. Plus the cutlery’s clean.]

Aside from caviar and accoutrements, the Tsar Nicholas II comes with a few additional courses, including an amuse-bouche of pickled sable with fingerling potatoes, sweets of Stoli Kvass sorbet infused with rooibos, and a pair of bonbons filled with Earl Grey caramel. Notably absent are the traditional trappings of savories, scones, and sweets. In their place, however, are exemplary lavender shortbreads, which were flaky and delicate — so good in fact, that Baccarat should consider offering them as a standalone item on the menu.

[Yeah, me neither. Turns out to be a teeny bite-sized bit of food usually offered for free at a restaurant. Literally, a mouth-amuser.]

As for the tea itself? The suggested pairing for this service is Lung Ching Impérial, also by the acclaimed Parisian tea-maker Mariage Frères. It’s made up of prized green Dragon Well and Long Jing leaves from China’s Zhejiang province, signaling a sophisticated (and welcome) departure from the tried-and-true Japanese teas so popular in New York and beyond. These tea leaves are pan-roasted and flat-pressed, rather than balled-up or twisted into little tea pellets as most green teas are.

[I’d pay a lot to avoid the vulgar balling and pelleting you see in most green tea preparation… Flat-pressing is incredibly labor-intensive, as in this advertisement for tea:

Crafting this tea is done entirely by hand, pressing all the leaves flat over hours for each tiny three to four pound batch.]

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Final paragraph:

Save for the Baccarat Blend, any of the dozen teas offered in the Grand Salon (including the Lung Ching Impérial) can be easily purchased online. So: Is Tsar Nicholas II worth it? If you approach the service not as a traditional afternoon tea service but as an over-the-top, multi-course caviar service, then the answer is yes. The Grand Salon is expansive and luxe, transporting and celebratory in its mood. You come for the food and service as much as the dazzling ambiance (which certainly factors into the price). But don’t expect an afternoon tea that will satisfy like a proper meal. Tsar Nicholas II is purely about pleasure.


[It’s worth it if you don’t want a proper meal, and if you think gorging on thirty grams of caviar is pleasurable.]

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2 Responses to “Scathing Online Schoolmarm on the Six Hundred Dollar Afternoon Tea.”

  1. Greg Says:

    For me this is high-end, splurge, tea in Paris, in the Marais, for about one-seventh the cost:

    http://www.mariagefreres.com/FR/menus_salon_de_the_marais.html

    Gotta love the near-homophonal (sp?) “whales.” If that were right it would change a major coat of arms so that it resembled a sort of clothing pattern ubiquitous in Nantucket.

  2. Margaret Soltan Says:

    Greg: On first reading, I totally overlooked whales, which you rightly select as the best part of the thing. One of the treats of doing a scathe is that I almost always discover some morsel I’d missed the first time.

    One of the reasons mistakes like that are so tasty is that this is high-end-snob writing, so trailer-park-level fuckups are much, much more fun.

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