First of all, ladies & gentlemen, let's get this cleared up. It's Afternoon Tea, not High Tea. High tea is an early evening meal, like supper, and usually includes a hot dish. Regardless of what you call it, though, it's part of Victoria's heritage and charm; tearooms of all styles abound.
What they serve in the century-old Tea Lobby of the grandiose Fairmont Empress is the old colonial custom of Afternoon Tea. Dainty pastries, daity sandwiches, dainty china. Hefty pricetag: $44 to $55, depending on the season. Starts at noon, seatings every hour. Very popular with day-trippers on package tours, not to mention guests staying in the hotel's 477 rooms.
There was an upgrade last year, for the hotel's centennial, a $100 "Royal" tea, with champagne; there's even an $18 tea for the kiddies (Princes & Princesses, sorry). Never too young to start learning elegance.
The china pattern by Royal Doulton is exclusive to the Empress, for sale in the gift shop. Used to be, the tea itself was a house blend as well (assam and Kenya). Now they've added another half-dozen blends and morphed Afternoon Tea into a whole ceremony, a "Tea Experience" if you will. Servers are drilled in the exotica of tea, the sorts of minutiae that my colleague and traveling companion Hedonista chronicles on her blog. Cornichon, duly impressed by everyone's teaophlia expertise, goes straight for the sandwiches: smoked salmon pinwheels, mango & curried chicken, carrot & ginger cream cheese, and that old standby, cucumber. Followed by a raisin scone with strawberry jam and Devonshire cream, just to be polite.
A few steps away, just past the Houses of Parliament, stands the Grand Pacific, named the best hotel in Canada by readers of Condé Nast Traveler, which has also begun offering a tea experience. West Coast Afternoon Tea, they call it here, and it's rather more like lunch. Cornichon's favorite: a tomato tartlet with goat cheese from Salt Spring Island. (This being Victoria, there's a whole back-story, a virtual goat cheese odyssey.)
A dozen or so loose leaf teas are available, some quite exotic.The price is $38 (still seems like a lot), but drops to $14 if all you want is tea and scones. The exec chef is an imposing gent named Michael Minshull, dead-set serious about keeping his food sources local. He heads the local chefs collaborative, and runs a kitchen that feeds the hotel's seafood restaurant, The Pacific, and its gourmet restaurant, The Mark.