at Cove Cafe
In the last decade or so the popularity of High Tea has shown no signs of waning. Quite the opposite, with many establishments offering their version of what still has vaguely chintzy (and very English) overtones, conjuring images of rose patterned china, delicate sandwiches, scones and cake.
The term “high tea”, as we use it in Australia, is something of a misnomer. The word “tea”, when used to refer to a meal, can lead to all sorts of confusion. High tea originally referred to the evening meal and consisted of meats and pies, breads and ale, and of course a pot of tea. Hearty fare for factory workers. Many people still refer to their evening meal as “tea” today.
In England, “afternoon tea” is the time to bring out the fine china and cucumber sandwiches, whereas in Australia the term can refer to something as simple as the handful of bikkies the kids grab after dumping their school bags. So we’ve appropriated the term “high tea” for the three tiers of indulgence, bottomless tea cup and glass of champagne that we’re now familiar with.
Given that High Tea is an Australianism for an English institution I really can’t think of a better place to partake than Cove Café, nestled in The Haven at Terrigal.
Cove has always delivered more than your average seaside café so my expectations for High Tea were fairly, well … high. The gorgeous view over the beach, on this particular day bathed in early summer sunshine, got things off to a great start. Staff are friendly and attentive here, but it’s quite hard to transfer your attention from the view to the menu! Another plus of High Tea – you’re free to chat or enjoy the scenery, confident that all is taken care of. No food choices involved except whether to vary from the standard order of bottom to top, from savoury to sweet.
Cove Café have ditched the chintz and china vibe in favour of a cool, stylish setting. Lots of crisp white table linen sets off the striking black slate of the tiered tea stand and matching coasters, sourced from Scotland. It’s a smart choice for seaside dining as the dense black soaks up the sun and highlights the colour and delicacy of the morsels served. And it looks great.
If you’re a tea lover, you’re in for an extra treat. Cove collaborate with locals Montea Cristo, located in Erina Fair, to provide a wonderful selection of loose leaf teas. Montea Cristo specialise in sourcing the highest quality leaf teas from China, Sri Lanka, India, Taiwan, Japan and Australia.
Cove currently have 23 varieties to choose from, ranging from traditional black teas, white, rooibos and green teas, and herbal blends. I chose one called ‘Inner Calmness’, just to hammer home the overall effect of this serene seaside setting. A blend of cinnamon, rosehip, cocoa, lemon peel, ginger, cardamom, fennel, hibiscus, chamomile, raspberry leaf, linden flowers, alfalfa, liquorice root, cloves and black pepper … Someone had done a lot of blending to supply me with an incredibly scented little pot of calm.
Having ordered it, I was already perusing the tea menu to see what else I’d like to try. Whether you go with a traditional High Tea, or one of the options with a cocktail or glass of champagne thrown in, it includes endless tea and you’re welcome to try any of them. A bottomless, and breadthless, pot!
We had chosen the Champagne option, and as I sipped my tea my glass of Piper Heidsieck Brut arrived. I was a little worried that after a very busy year and a pot of Inner Calmness the champagne might finish me off, but luckily the tea stand followed swiftly and the beauty of all those little treats revived me.
The menu for High Tea changes regularly at Cove, both to include seasonal ingredients and to ensure that each return visit is a little novel. The tiered tea stand keeps to the tradition of savouries, including sandwiches and mini quiches, at the bottom, freshly baked scones and muffins on the middle tier and delicate sweets and pasties at the top, but there is a delicious inventiveness to Cove’s offering.
I like to be orderly and start at the bottom. Here I found delicately creamy egg sandwiches along with delightful and different prosciutto, bocconcini and basil sandwiches. They were the sort of sandwiches that remind you just how good two pieces of bread and filling can be. Thank you Lord Sandwich!
Alongside these were beautiful little ham, cheese and relish croissants, mini quiche Lorraine that were deliciously fresh and creamy, crostini with caramelised onion and goats cheese and a spinach and feta roll. All perfect with the champagne.
As we took our time over the bottom tier’s offering I realised that this sort of meal is ideal for summer. I think I had previously thought of High Tea as a cosy treat for cooler weather, simply because of the association with tea. But the tea stand is basically a little degustation meal with nothing too large or too filling, nothing too rich. And it invites you to linger and partake slowly, picking and choosing as you sample teas and enjoy your surroundings. A perfect, relaxed yet indulgent summer meal.
I ordered a more robust tea to enjoy with my baked treats, ‘Mexican Mango Chilli’. This is a black tea with cactus blossoms, amaranth, mango, pomegranate blossoms and chilli. It’s divinely rich but also thirst quenching, the perfect companion for the scrumptiously moist white chocolate and macadamia mini muffins and the scones … Oh my … Freshly baked honey and cinnamon scones with housemade jam and vanilla bean cream. High Tea Heaven!
We took a long time over these baked goodies – hunger satiated by the savouries, we could linger over every morsel. I’m a bit of a scone fan and these were gorgeous. With a little bit of crunch on the outside and wonderfully fluffy inside, the honey and cinnamon added a lovely subtle flavour.
It was time to refill the pot before attempting the top tier. I’d been eyeing ‘Ocean Breeze’, thinking it would be a nice counterbalance to the sweetness. It’s a blend of Pai Mu Tan, a white tea with a subtle peony fragrance, lemongrass, cornflower, raspberry, sour cherry, strawberry, rhubarb, lemon, pear and pineapple. Delicious, and the aroma was incredible.
I have to make a confession here … I’d really enjoyed everything up to this point. Perhaps a little too much. Those first two tiers of the tea stand just needed a dust off, there wasn’t a crumb left. By the time I got to the top I was struggling slightly. Despite looking pretty and delicate there’s certainly enough food to fill hungry tummies.
I did get through the raspberry and ricotta tart and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was delicious with the berry notes of the tea. I could’ve offered the strawberry macaron, chocolate brownie bite and lemon curd tart to someone else in my group, but luckily the staff at Cove will happily bundle up anything you don’t finish so you can take it home! So I was able to have these three for dessert that night (okay, I had them for dinner …) and they were well worth denying my friends.
Summer holidays is the perfect time to spend a couple of hours having a High Tea experience at Cove Café. Whether for an occasion such as a birthday, bridal tea or baby shower, or just to celebrate summer and drink in that stunning view.