Best Afternoon Tea in Honolulu
For Mother’s Day, special occasions and all the days in between.
Afternoon tea at the Halekulani: the spread (left), the section of teas (right).
Photo: Courtesy Halekulani; Tea: Martha Cheng
Afternoon tea conjures up images of Victorian lace and frou frou accompaniments, ladies in lavish hats and dresses, pinkies up and drinking strong black tea with sugar and a splash of milk. But it can be much more. It’s a frivolous escape with friends or a quiet respite for one (or two). Honolulu skips the cosmopolitan feel of tea in New York City, bypasses the tradition of London, and the showiness of tea in Asia. It’s not like tea in any other city.
Honolulu keeps afternoon tea modern and fresh with a distinct local touch, and (almost) always, a stunning ocean view.
Halekulani sets Honolulu’s most elegant tea spread, offering the same service at the Veranda and Orchids. Head to Orchids for open-air seating and ocean views (stay late and catch some live music from House Without a Key), and the Veranda for an elegant, secluded space (also perfect for a solo afternoon tea). Halekulani is the only afternoon tea in town that offers more single-estate teas than blends—try Silver Needle for something out of the ordinary. Sweet highlights include crêpes wrapped around Halekulani’s signature coconut cake and cream, and housemade Kula strawberry preserves and lemon curd to pair with currant scones.
$32, 2199 Kalia Road, 923-2311, halekulani.com.
High ceilings, a light breeze and dramatic curtains give tea at the Kāhala an extra posh touch. And in 2014, the hotel is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a special Golden Jubilee Celebrations Tea. Instead of the desserts that appear on the regular menu, the kitchen is going all-out with Curaçao-laced Blue Hawai‘i macarons and Mai Tai tarts with pineapples and a heady finish of dark rum. Tea sandwiches are grouped into four categories: Island Inspired, Asian Flair, European Elegance and Heartier Selection. Select any four from the menu—we love the tobiko-topped roast beef and buttery Hamakua-mushroom turnover.
$28, 5000 Kahala Ave., 739-8888, kahalaresort.com.
If you care about presentation as much as food, put Moana Surfrider’s at the top of your list. Seating is in the open-air Veranda (ask for the table closest to the water, it’s the best in the house). The Tea Chest makes custom blends for the Surfrider, and we favor Veranda Breeze, an Indian black tea with vanilla and smoky caramel. Our favorite part of tea comes at the end—a tiny scoop of lemongrass-green-tea sorbet. Surprisingly potent, it’s a Surfrider classic that’s been on the menu since day one. And if you are extra hungry, add on chocolate pot de creme or berries coupled with creme fraiche and brown sugar.
$34, 2365 Kalakaua Ave., 922-3111, moana-surfrider.com.
Tea at 1024
We may have outgrown dolls long ago, but sometimes even the most adult of us need to play dress-up over a pot of tea. Tea at 1024 offers hats and feather boas to don in its cozy tea room of floral-print everything and mismatched teacups and saucers. The tea sandwiches are simple affairs on sliced bread, with homemade fillings of chicken curry, tomato and cheddar, crab and olive, and pesto-smoked salmon. Scones and sweets are outsourced from a local bakery—no-fuss brownies and lemon bars.
$20.95, 1024 Nuuanu Ave., 521-9596, teaat1024.net.
For non-traditionalists, Sheraton Waikiki’s Spiked Afternoon Tea boasts a distinct savory and boozy edge; if there were ever a “manly” tea, this would be it. Instead of dainty sandwiches, there are meaty sliders filled with tender braised short ribs and shrimp marinated in black bean sauce. Portions are generous. And instead of tea pots, you get tea cocktails infused with double-strength black tea and cold, roasted oolong. So, without hot tea and finger sandwiches, is it really afternoon tea? We say yes, only because there are scones, tender and warm, dotted with cream cheese and cranberries. Drink up and soak in the view of the infinity pool leading straight into the ocean.
$20, 2255 Kalakaua Ave., 922-4422, sheraton-waikiki.com.