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Afternoon Tea in Honolulu

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Afternoon tea is a must-do activity when in Honolulu. There are three main afternoon tea spots in the city, and we'll take a look at the pros/cons of them all.

Many major cities may have more afternoon tea options, but no one does afternoon tea the way we do in Honolulu.

What makes afternoon tea in Honolulu special?

  • Location/setting. Afternoon tea in Honolulu is almost always served on a veranda (similar to a porch or lanai), a half-indoor, half-outdoor seating situation. There are tradewinds (light breezes), you get some sun but also cocooned safely under a roof.
  • Honolulu tea vibes captures an ideal combo of laidback and elegant.
  • Tea often comes with ocean views! Sometimes even oceanfront ^_^

Below, we'll take a look at the three main afternoon tea venues in Honolulu. They are all located within beautiful hotels. Here we go...

Halekulani Hotel

Read my full post (with individual food photos) on the Halekulani Hotel afternoon tea here. Halekulani is my current go-to afternoon tea spot in Honolulu. I like how there's always several tables having afternoon tea, but it's never too rushed or crowded. It's just the right degree of peaceful and quiet. It also happens to be (surprisingly) the most affordable afternoon tea spot.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: Serene, elegant, and calm in the heart of Waikiki. A great afternoon tea for one-on-one catch up with a friend. 
  • Cons: Savory items are reliable, but the tea sweets haven't been great lately. 

What Comes with the Standard Tea

  • Per person: choice of one tea (free refills), four tea sandwiches, three sweets, two scones (with clotted cream, strawberry jam, and lemon curd), and two financiers.

The Tea Itself

  • Halekulani has 12 teas on the menu. They present it to you in this little box (I used to think the whole box concept was cheesy, but now I see that it's actually very useful for many people). The box has the name of each tea along with the description and a little jar with a sniffing sample. 
  • Every major hotel has a "signature" tea blend and the one at Halekulani is called the 30th Anniversary Blend. It's an updated blend of the hotel's original 1983 blend. The 30th Anniversary Blend is made of Ceylon and Golden Assam, plus Ceylon Silver Tips and Assam Golden Tips.
  • Other teas on the menu: Indian blacks, Chinese blacks, Chinese Jasmine, Taiwanese Oolong, Japanese Sencha, rose-black blend, plain chamomile, and a rooibos blend.

Tips

  • Halekulani Hotel is often perceived to be the fanciest hotel in Honolulu...but they have the most affordable afternoon tea option. Afternoon tea starts at $36 per person (compared to $45 at Surfrider and $50 at The Kahala).
  • Make sure to request for the off-menu poha berry jam (to accompany your scones).
  • After you finish tea, head to House Without a Key next door for sunset mai tais, live music and dancing...it's another Honolulu must-do.
  • Free valet parking (four hours) with afternoon tea validation. Free self-parking (in garage across street from the hotel) is also available. Parking is difficult in Waikiki, so make use of the four free hours and explore other parts of Waikiki while you're there.

Know before you go

Moana Surfrider

Afternoon tea at Moana Surfrider Hotel is served at the Veranda at the Beachhouse restaurant, and it is always packed. The atmosphere is lively and energetic with the famous banyan tree and bar on one side and Waikiki beach on the other. This is the afternoon tea where you'll find the most visitors, and larger groups for baby and bridal showers.

Moana Surfrider also does many special/seasonal afternoon teas (like the keiki afternoon tea and the timeless afternoon tea), so look out for those. Complete post on their classic afternoon tea here.

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: The most lively of all the Hawaii afternoon teas. This the tea to book if you want to get dressed up with fancy hats or host a larger group (eg. for baby and bridal showers). Moana Surfrider serves afternoon tea during lunch hours (11:30am-2:30pm), which is ideal if you want your afternoon tea to double as lunch. 
  • Cons: Because this is the most busy of all the teas, it can get noisy and crowded, service can suffer as a result.

What Comes with the Standard Tea

  • Per person: choice of one tea (free refills), five tea sandwiches, four sweets, two scones (with clotted cream and lilikoi curd).

The Tea Itself

  • Moana Surfrider has eight teas on the menu, six of which you can see/sniff in the box they pass around.
  • Instead of one signature tea, they have a few custom tea blends.
  • Tea menu includes: coconut-black blend, mango-black blend, peach-white blend, POG-black blend, plain rooibos, Earl Grey, Indian Darjeeling, and a Chinese Jasmine tea.

Tips

  • Reserve in advance and ask for one of the few tables that front the beach/ocean. 
  • Pay a little extra to upgrade to an iced tea float (pictured above)
  • Free valet parking (four hours) with afternoon tea validation. No self-park option. Parking is difficult in Waikiki, so make use of the four free hours and explore other parts of Waikiki while you're there.

Know before you go

The Kahala Hotel & Resort

The location, secluded from the crowds of Waikiki, is a dream. It's close to Kahala Mall so you can run errands, etc and get to The Kahala within minutes. You'll see equal parts locals and visitors at this hotel. It's got a very calm, laidback but reserved vibe. With regards to atmosphere and the beautiful setting (love the super tall ceilings), there is little to complain about. 

Pros and Cons

  • Pros: The Kahala is the most secluded/private of all the hotels. Locals love this location because you don't have to drive into the busy traffic of Waikiki. Visitors love it because it feels like you've discovered some place hidden and exclusive. 
  • Cons: Food here can be a hit or miss. Service can sometimes be rough. When it's good, it's real good. But if not...

What Comes with the Standard Tea

  • Per person: choice of one tea (free refills), four tea sandwiches, four sweets, two scones (with clotted cream and preserves).

The Tea Itself

  • Kahala has 11 tea offerings, including the "Kahala Signature Blend." This tea features: black tea blended with lemon peel, lemon myrtle, dried fruit, hibiscus, and marigold petals. Kahala used to have a tea sniffing box (similar to Halekulani at Moana Surfrider), but I haven't seen it in a few years. 
  • Other teas include: Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Breakfast, jasmine pearls, Taiwanese Oolong, Japanese Sencha, white tea-rose blend, chamomile-spearmint blend, vanilla-rooibos blend, and plain chamomile

Tips

  • You can opt to sit on the balcony part for better ocean views...but be careful of the birds. I prefer the inside seating. 
  • Kahala launched a new happy hour (Monday-Friday, 5:30-7:30pm)...if you have a late afternoon tea, it could roll right into happy hour (complete with live music).
  • Free valet parking (four hours) with afternoon tea validation. Free self-parking is also available, look for the parking garage on your right (easy to miss) right before you enter the hotel roundabout. 

Know before you go

  • Prices: $50-$80 per person
  • Hours: Monday-Saturday: 2-5:30pm; Sunday: 3-5:30pm 
  • 5000 Kahala Avenue, Honolulu, Hawaii 96816 | (808) 739-8760
  • Click here for the Kahala afternoon tea menu

Bonus Spots

Mariposa at Neiman Marcus Ala Moana recently started a new afternoon tea service (they offered an afternoon tea service many years ago and recently brought it back). It's $35 a person, served daily from 2-4pm, 24-hour advance reservations required. We'll check in on this afternoon tea service soon and update if necessary. 

Tea at 1024 is a longtime local afternoon tea spot. It's located in Chinatown, and has a rustic, homey vibe. Afternoon tea is $24.95 per person and you can see the menu here.

Afternoon Tea FAQ

  • People always ask about leftovers. YES you can take home tea leftovers. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Also random but the bag they put the leftovers in at the Kahala and Halekulani are actually super nice, reusable bags. It's like you almost want to have leftovers just to get the bag.
  • All these hotels have a nice sized tea menu. Don't be intimidated by it. Ask all the tea questions, and you can also taste/smell the teas. If you're feeling overwhelmed, order the hotel's signature tea blend. 
  • Tea versus Blend versus Tisane:
    • Tea: in order for something to be correctly called tea, it must come from the Camellia sinensis plant. If it is not of the Camellia sinensis, it cannot be called tea. Mint is not tea. Rose is not tea. Chamomile is not tea. 
    • Blend: when a single tea is blended with a) other teas, and/or b) other non-tea items like tisanes
    • Tisane: anything you brew that's not a tea. Eg. mint, chamomile, rooibos, lemon-verbena, rose, etc
  • Milk or tea first? 80% of the time, I drink tea without any milk or sugar. The only time I drink tea with milk or sugar is at Boba Guys or during afternoon tea. Once you have the teacup in front of you, do you add the tea or the milk first?
    • Most afternoon tea places will pour the first cup of tea for you, at the table. So by default the tea goes in first. And then you can add milk (and sugar, if desired). But what if you're left to pour the tea yourself? So! There's a lot of history/controversy that goes along with this.
    • Whether you put tea or milk first use to be a sign of social standing. You were considered if fancier if you put tea first and milk second. And not-so-fancy if you put milk first and tea second. Why? Cheaper porcelain use to break if shocked with a hot liquid. So you temper cheaper porcelain first with milk, and then add the hot tea. Interesting, right?
    • BUT there is also the belief that because tea stains porcelain, you should always put milk first to mitigate the potential staining. Honestly, I don't see a right or wrong. Just do what you like. 
  • Regarding scones. Cream or jam first? Depends on which tradition speaks most to you.
    • Devon tradition is cream first, jam second.
    • Cornish tradition is jam first, cream second.
    • I personally like cream first because I like the look of a colorful jam atop a white cream background. I also go through a LOT of cream, don't hesitate to ask for more.

Hope this is helpful ^_^

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Mahalo for Reading!

Kate

Monday 15th of July 2019

I’m milk first if tea has been brewed in a pot (I prefer the flavour of the tea having scalded the milk) but if I’m having tea made just in a mug, milk goes in second.