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I had

TEA at the Nellie

The Ultimate Guide to Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel in a way

The Mount Nelson Treasury

Andreas Augustin

I had Tea at the Nellie


I had Tea at the Nellie


One of the first postcards sent from the Nellie, 1900.



I had Tea at the Nellie

To give you a better sense of location: the main picture shows the (1925) monumental Mount Nelson main entrance, the inset explains the location of the hotel, against the backdrop of the Table Mountain.


I had Tea at the Nellie


I had Tea at the Nellie


I had Tea at the Nellie

Cape Town in 1884. The hotel which opened in 1899 is not on the map yet. However, we have highlighted the area in pink.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Superior communication facilities made Cape Town the logical revolving point of South African affairs.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Adderley Street was the heart of the city. Standard Bank moved from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town into their majestic building (left) in 1885.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Since 1989, this famous buffet is presented on the Windsor table.


Photograph: FC Lang

I had Tea at the Nellie

A warm South African welcome at the Mount Nelson!

I HAD TEA AT THE NELLIE The travelling aficionado’s world is full of places synonymous with certain ‘must-have-been-to’ and ‘must-have-seen’ rituals (you know: 1000 places ...before you die sort of travel stress). The tea-connoisseurs among us must have had a Sacher Torte in Vienna, a Singapore Sling at Raffles and one cannot return from Hong Kong without having attended Afternoon Tea at the lobby of The Peninsula. Tea at Reid’s Palace on Madeira is mandatory, and a visit to the Great Pyramid is basically worthless if you haven’t sipped mint tea at the Mena House. Well, and there’s tea at the ‘Nellie’. You must have been to the Mount Nelson Hotel, this legendary hotel of Cape Town, lovingly nicknamed ‘Nellie’. This little book is about one of its legendary institutions: the Afternoon Tea. Join the club and soon you will scribble these lines on a postcard: ‘I had tea at the Nellie’.

Yours tea-sincerely Andreas Augustin


I had Tea at the Nellie

Sweet temptations always need company.


I had Tea at the Nellie

The staff at Mount Nelson considers the hotel their second home, their colleagues are their family and their job is pure dedication, not a duty. Pianist Maggie Bent, for example, started playing at the Mount Nelson in 1972. You recognise her during tea time by her popular favourite ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’. On this page you see two members of the staff from the 1920s and, of course, Sidney Moonsamy, the man who served tea at the Nellie for more than three decades.


I had Tea at the Nellie


I had Tea at the Nellie

A Mount Nelson Macaroon: light and sweet like a kiss.

The Afternoon Tea buffet on the

WINDSOR TABLE is served daily since 1989; before it was served from the trolley. It contains some 100 items, including the all time favourites:

SAVOURIES Tomato tarts, beetroot and salmon roulades, smoked chicken rolls, lamb baguettes and the classic collection of finger sandwiches.

THE SWEET SIDE Scones, chocolate & hazelnut cake, petit fours, an Angel Food cake, eclairs, cup cakes, carrot cakes, a black forest inspired roulade and a baked cheese cake. Inventions and interpretations include Mount Nelson Hotel ‘Romany Creams’, a Sacher Torte Mount Nelson style, Orange Van der Hum Savarins, macaroons and a Chocolate and Banana creation. To the left a Morning Tea tray.


Š Malcom McDonald Collection

I had Tea at the Nellie

Tea pickers in Sri Lanka. Tea plantations offer work for a great number of people. Female labour was and still is exploited.


I had Tea at the Nellie

THE MAGIC MOMENTS A COMMERCIAL AND SOCIAL HISTORY OF TEA, THE CAPE AND THE MOUNT NELSON HOTEL The world consumption of tea almost equals that of all other manufactured drinks put together. Its history goes back over 4000 years. In 2737 BC, according to Chinese legend, the virtues of tea (pronounced tĂŠ in Amoy dialect) were discovered by the mythical emperor Shen Nung, to whom most agricultural and medicinal knowledge is traced. One day, legend has it, Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water, when some leaves from the tree blew into the water. Shen Nung decided to try the drink. The tree was a Camellia sinensis. Today we call this drink tea. 879: The earliest record of tea in an occidental context is said to be found in the statement of an Arabian traveller, describing the main sources of revenue in Canton as duties on salt and tea. 1210: From China the knowledge of tea was carried into Japan. Tea cultivation also spread into Tonkin and Cochin China. 1285: Marco Polo recorded the deposition of a Chinese minister of finance in 1285 for his arbitrary augmentation of the tea taxes. 1488: The first European to reach the Cape was the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Dias named it the ‘Cape of Storms’ (Cabo das Tormentas). The Cape was later renamed by John II of Portugal as ‘Cape of Good Hope’ (Cabo da Boa Esperança) because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East. 1557: Portugal established a trading port in Macau, from where the Chinese drink spread quickly. Portuguese ships carried tea back to Europe. We have first records of tea drinking in Western countries from that period. Travellers like Giovanni Batista Ramusio, L Almeida and Taxiera mentioned tea. By the way: the Portuguese are the only people in the Western world who call tea ‘chá’, from the Chinese ‘chai’. 1600: Portugal, England and Holland controlled most European trade with India and the Far East (an area known then as the Indies). Queen Elizabeth I gave a royal charter to a new trading company, the British East India Company, which had a monopoly over all British trade with the Indies. 1610: A Dutch East India Company ship brought the first green tea leaves from China to Amsterdam. 1618: Tea was first offered by China as a gift to Czar Michael I, but the Russian ambassador who tried the drink, did not care for it and rejected the offer. From 1689, tea was regularly imported from China to Russia via a caravan of hundreds of camels travelling the year-long journey, making it a precious commodity at the time. 1630s: Tea enjoyed a brief period of popularity in Paris. Around that time, Madame de Sévigné,


I had Tea at the Nellie

Madame de Sévigné remembered Mr Landgrave drinking 40 cups every morning.

who chronicled the actions of the Sun King in a famous series of letters, noted: ‘Considering the Princess of Taranto ... who takes 12 cups of tea every day ... which, she said, heals all its evils. She assured me that Mr Landgrave was drinking 40 cups every morning. He was to be dying, and the tea brought him back to life before our eyes.’ A certain Marquise de la Sablière launched the custom of adding milk to tea. ‘Madame de la Sablière took her tea with milk, as she told me the other day, because it is to her liking,’ noted Madame de Sévigné. 1652: The first Dutch settled at the Cape. 1657: Tea was appearing in German apothecaries and was sold by the gramme. It never gained much esteem except in coastal areas such as Ostfriesland. Liselotte von der Pfalz said it tasted like boiled hay. Lessing couldn’t live without it. Goethe loved tea. 1662: We all still associate England with the habit of taking tea at all occasions. Here’s why: England’s


I had Tea at the Nellie


I had Tea at the Nellie

1806, shortly after Lord Nelson’s fleet had smashed the combined French and Spanish naval squadrons, William Mauldin, the owner of the land where the hotel stands today, called his estate Mount Nelson. The name appeared for the first time on 1 August 1806. It was here that regular auctions were held, among the ‘items’ sold were ‘150 fine strong slaves from the coast of Guinea, being part of a cargo of a detained American ship’, or a pair of ‘beautiful Arabian stallions’. To the left, the hotel’s bust of Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar, carved in oak from the flagship HMS Victory.


I had Tea at the Nellie


‘Hope you are well ...’ postcard sent from the new hotel (1903).


I had Tea at the Nellie

1894: The Union Line opened the luxurious Grand Hotel in Cape Town. It was considered the most sumptuous hotel South of the equator, with a French chef, lifts and electric light – luxury unseen before at the Cape. 1897: Cape Land Company, the owner of the Mount Nelson estate, transferred the property to its hotel subsidiary African Lands and Hotel Limited. The Mount Nelson Hotel was built. Designed by London architects Dunn and Watson, the new Mount Nelson Hotel was filled with rich and comfortable furnishings from Europe. Herbert Baker was involved, but the only building the ‘architect of South Africa’ built at the Mount Nelson was a laundry department. 1899: On 1 March 1899, the Mount Nelson Hotel opened for business. ‘London, the capital of the world, would not be able to produce anything superior.’ The Cape Times, 3 March 1899

1899: Only a few months after its opening the hotel became the inofficial headquarters of the Second Boer War, which broke out in October 1899. On 17 January 1900, Lord Kitchener and Field Marshall Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts made the Mount Nelson their base. 1900: The Union Line and Castle Shipping Line merged, creating the Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company Ltd, with a well accorded timetable and interchangeable tickets.


I had Tea at the Nellie


I had Tea at the Nellie

First hand coloured postcard, sent in 1905.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Christmas Dinner in 1900, no sign of the Boer War. By that time, tea at the Nellie was already a fashionable thing to have. A ‘Mount Nelson Trio’ (violin, cello and piano) entertained in the afternoons and during dinner time.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Winston Churchill, Sarah Wilson, Conan Doyle

1900-1902: During the Boer War, the Mount Nelson Hotel served as the headquarters of the ‘imperial war machine’, as Elaine Hurford wrote. Lady Jennie Churchill remembered ‘eating strawberries and walking in the pretty garden’, while her son Winston wrote his reports for the Morning Post in the seclusion of his luxury suite after his spectacular escape from Pretoria’s Prisoner of War Camp. He said about the hotel: ‘It is the most excellent and well-appointed establishment which may be thoroughly appreciated after a sea voyage’. Officers only were allowed at the hotel at the time, but a growing group of journalists, sightseers, adventurers, wives, sweethearts and all sorts of camp followers roamed the grounds of the hotel. Sarah Wilson, the youngest daughter of John SpencerChurchill, 7th Duke of Marlborough and the world’s first female war correspondent, employed by the Daily Mail, enjoyed her peaceful suite after dreadful days and endless nights in the field. Cecil Rhodes entertained here, H G Wells arrived and so did Arthur Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes fame, who volunteered to join the army. Kitchener had to turn the offer of the 40-years old author down: he was too old. Finally Doyle served in a field hospital. He again put up at the Mount Nelson before returning to England. Here he started writing his books on the Boer War.


I had Tea at the Nellie

As well as the legendary tea buffets, the Mount Nelson boasts a rich history of generations of great chefs. Currently, executive chef Rudi Liebenberg is in charge. He will go down in history as the chef of Planets (which is truly ‘out of this world’), the gourmet restaurant of the Mount Nelson. With Vicky Gurovich, Liebenberg has one of the most creative pastry chefs in his team (‘If she had one regret, it would be that dinner doesn’t start with dessert,’ Rudi says about her).

Xavier Lablaude is the general manager of the Mount Nelson. With French style and a sense for perfection he has added largely to the high level of quality in services at the Nellie. Needless to say, he enjoys the occasional tea at ‘La Nellie’.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Since 1989, the daily Afternoon Tea buffet is served on the Windsor table.

1996: The ‘Cape Colony Restaurant’ opened, decorated in colonial style with handsome murals by artist Simon Brady, serving Afro-fusion food. 2000s: Leading executive chefs like Garth Stroebel, followed by Rudi Liebenberg, earn the hotel the reputation of being a gourmet’s temple. The new ‘Planet’ restaurant is featured among the best restaurants in the world, a recognition for its creative cooking. The Mount Nelson Bar has been renamed Planet Bar and moved to its new location, now including parts of the terrace, a change most welcome by young Capetonians. 2014: Orient-Express Hotels, which owns and operates 45 luxury hotels, trains, river cruises and New York’s City’s 21 restaurant, rebranded all its holdings except the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express. The new group name is Belmond.


I had Tea at the Nellie

‘You must observe the dance of the tea leaves,’ says Sidney, the Indian South African, who was serving tea in the lobby for the past three decades.


I had Tea at the Nellie

THE TEAS AT MOUNT NELSON The connoisseur can choose from a wide range of teas. Here we list the most common teas and infusions and try to explain how they taste and what food goes well with them.

BLENDED BLACK TEAS MOUNT NELSON HOTEL BLEND The contemporary classic of the house. It is an exclusive global blend of six international teas from Africa and Asia, flavoured with buds and petals of Mount Nelson pink roses*. The tea symbolises the importance of Cape Town as a cornerstone of the tea evolution. Using six teas from different regions creates a superb blend of earthy, floral, sweet, woody and lingering taste and flavour for tea lovers. To be enjoyed with or without milk. Caffeine: moderate Its smooth taste goes well with light cream pastries, scones, light sandwiches. Taken with milk it also tastes fine with muffins. ENGLISH BREAKFAST A full-bodied, aromatic tea with sweet, fruity notes, wonderful to start the day. It is blended from teas originated in Kenya, Sri Lanka and Assam. Caffeine: Strong Earthy taste with woodiness; great with milk; goes well with the taste of creamy pastries and pastas with cream. * Maybe you should have a look at page 103.


I had Tea at the Nellie

White tea

HERBAL INFUSIONS Herbal infusions, like fruit infusions, are actually not tea, but rather a herb or a mix of herbs and one wonders what they have lost here in this honourable listing. Only in German language and in the United States these herbal mixtures are called tea. They are usually referred to as an infusion or tisane. None of them has any caffeine!

PURE CHAMOMILE A mild infusion from Egypt, known for its sleepinducing and stomach calming properties and its sunshine yellow colour. Of course, chamomile has no caffeine. HERBAL SWEET DREAM A relaxing international combination of lemon balm, peppermint, chamomile, berry leaves, lavender, orange blossoms, lemon grass and heather.


I had Tea at the Nellie

HIBISCUS FLOWER Made popular in Egypt and North Africa, this infusion from Turkey can be enjoyed hot or cold, with or without sugar. It has a tart, fruity tang and a striking crimson colour. PEPPERMINT LEAVES Pure peppermint leaves. Excellent refreshing and aromatic properties. Perfect tea before you retire to bed, after any meal and before a kiss.

FRUIT INFUSIONS LEMON This international non-caffeine-containing energising combination of hibiscus, apple, rose hip, lemon grass and lemon is a refreshing drink. FOREST BERRIES An intensely fruity pink infusion of elderberries, bilberries, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries, the perfect choice if you are uncertain what to drink today.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Teapot, a teapot warmer and strainer. Boiling water is for many inseparable linked to the whistle of a kettle. Of course, today we boil our water in stylish Russell Hobbs accessories, a Siemens Porsche kettle with automatic switch off or any other high performance boilers. But the good old classic kettle, like the porcelain enameled Le Creuset steel tea kettle, for example, with a whistle alerting you when the water has begun to boil, still has a nostalgic touch.


I had Tea at the Nellie

THE ETIQUETTE OF TEA Maybe you harbour legitimate doubts about an institution that isn’t quite sure if it is the tea or the milk that is poured first or whether one ought to have one’s pinkie up or down when holding the cup? A lot of people have put a lot of thought into drinking tea. Some call it rules, others etiquette. So to start with, one doesn’t merely drink tea: one takes tea. When it comes to adding milk to tea or, respectively tea to milk, we encounter first social gaps. The English have coined the term ‘a milk-in-first’ for a lower class person. At certain parties, you are best advised to put the milk in last. I know, this hasn’t answered the question as how to drink it though – or indeed whether to crook your little finger or not (no! – you do not crook your little finger as you have given up blowing your nose with your ring finger and your little finger (pinkie) a long time ago, which was the reason why you would not touch food, cutlery or cups with them). You see, surrounded by these pressing issues, we should simply agree to establish a basic etiquette of taking tea. HIGH - OR LOW TEA In principle it is all about creating a happy environment for conversation. So let’s sit down first. Now we decide if we are having high or low tea, as these terms refer to the height of seating (don’t think of high tea as an event for the ‘high class’). Low tea stands for lower tables in the sitting room (sofas, fauteuils, ...) served between 3 pm and 5 pm. Think of it as afternoon tea: scones, cookies and finger food.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Halcyon moments on the Mount Nelson’s terrace. Sitting here overlooking the lush gardens, you might ask yourself: which plants are growing here?


I had Tea at the Nellie

THE PLANTS OF THE GARDEN Canary Island Date Palms, phoenix canariensis, 80 pieces, some over 100 years old. Norfolk Island Pines, araucaria heterophylla, also called star pine (although it is not a true pine), South Pacific. Red flowering gum, eucalyptus or corymbia ficifolia, comes from Western Australia. Jacaranda, mimosifolia, a sub-tropical tree native to South America, widely planted globally. Beautiful long-lasting blue flowers. Includes 49 species of flowering plants, found in Asia (Nepal), Central and South America, tropical and subtropical regions. Magnolia, named after the french botanist Pierre Magnol, a genus of about 210 flowering plant species, dating back 100 million years. Widely spread in South America and Asia. Paperbark Tree, melaleuca quinquenervia, it is a broad leaved tree with his trunk covered by beige, white and grey thick paper bark. Other names: tea tree in Australia, punk tree in USA. Real Yellowwood, over 100 million years old tree of the conifer family, podocarpus latifolius, the Real Yellowwood is the protected national tree of South Africa. Afrikaans: Opregte-geelhout. Stinkwood, ocotella bullata (Cape walnut, Cape laurel), family of the lauraceae (avocado family), flowering tree native to South Africa. Afrikaans: stinkhout, after a strong smell when it is fresh felled. Perfect for making furniture.


I had Tea at the Nellie

‘There was a cheer­ful rat­tle and clink of chi­na. Nor­mal­ity returned. Tea! Blessed or­di­ nary everyday af­ter­noon tea! Philip Lom­bard made a cheery re­mark. Blore re­spond­ed. Dr Arm­strong told a hu­mor­ous sto­ry. Mr Jus­tice War­grave, who or­di­nar­ily hat­ed tea, sipped ap­prov­ing­ly.’ Agatha Christie, guest of the Mount Nelson in 1922, from: And Then There Were None.

Wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn’t drink tea? Noël Coward In 1944, the English playwright and actor had spent nineteen days in Cape Town at the Mount Nelson. His mission was to entertain the troops. During his stay he performed three times at the Alhambra and gave about 35 camp and hospital shows.

Fsf There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea. Bernard-Paul Heroux


I had Tea at the Nellie

If two women should pour from the same pot, one of them will have a baby within a year. Two teaspoons accidentally placed together on a saucer, points to a wedding or a pregnancy. Chinese tea superstitions Fsf Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage. Catherine Douzel Fsf My dear, if you could give me a cup of tea to clear my muddle of a head I should better understand your affairs. Charles Dickens Fsf There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea. Ralph W. Emerson, ‘Letters and Social Aims’ Fsf Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary. Chinese Proverb Fsf The perfect temperature for tea is two degrees hotter than just right. Terri Guillemets Fsf If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty. Japanese Proverb


I had Tea at the Nellie

TEA-OFF TOPICS TO TEA-OFF IN STYLE u Of course, you know by now that tea is the common name of the shrub Camellia sinensis. The word tea came into the English language from the Chinese word for tea. The British English slang word ‘char’ for tea arose from its Mandarin Chinese pronunciation ‘cha’. u The four basic types of true tea are black tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea. u The Earl Grey blend is named after the 2nd Earl Grey, British Prime Minister in the 1830s. It is a tea flavoured with bergamot oil, taken from bergamot, a citrus fruit. u Tea’s world consumption equals all other manufactured drinks (second only to water) – including coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, and alcohol – put together. u In contrast to the large-scale industrial production there are many small ‘gardens’, sometimes minuscule plantations, that produce highly sought-after teas prized by gourmets. These teas are both rare and expensive, and can be compared to some of the most expensive wines in this respect. u Tea leaves contain more than 700 chemicals, among which the compounds closely related to human health are flavonoids, amino acids, vitamins (C, E and K), caffeine and polysaccharide. Moreover, tea drinking has recently proven to be associated with the cell-mediated immune function of the human body.


I had Tea at the Nellie

TEA IN POP CULTURE Tea for Two was a 1925 popular song by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar, introduced in the musical No, No, Nanette. Tea for Two became a 1950 movie starring Doris Day, which reintroduced the song. Fictional characters who prefer Earl Grey tea include Bobby Simone of NYPD Blue, Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Bruce Wayne in the comic book series Batman, Dr Eleanor Ann ‘Ellie’ Arroway in Contact, Frasier Crane of Frasier, Artemis Fowl of the Eoin Colfer books, Dr Donald ‘Ducky’ Mallard of NCIS. PG Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster preferred Darjeeling at breakfast, while Earl Grey was the preference of characters like Sir Leigh Teabing from The Da Vinci Code, Trent from Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking and L and Watari from the animation movie Death Note. Mario Santos, from the Argentinian TV series Los Simuladores, always enjoyed Earl Grey tea. In the alternative history novel The Two Georges, by Richard Dreyfuss and Harry Turtledove, the protagonist, Colonel Thomas Bushell, had a preference for Irish Breakfast tea. The main character from Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore frequently drinks Earl Grey. Michael Franks produced an album called The Art of Tea. ‘Picture you upon my knee Just tea for two And two for tea Just me for you And you for me ... alone.’

Tea for Two by Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar


I had Tea at the Nellie

A Mount Nelson scone


I had Tea at the Nellie

MOUNT NELSON RECIPES The food served should be light, neatly prepared and – above all – easy to eat.

THE MOUNT NELSON SCONES 1 egg 70 g castor sugar 70 g canola oil 25 g baking powder 2.5 g salt 475 g flour 250 g milk • Sieve dry ingredients together. • Whisk egg and castor sugar until light and fluffy. • Add oil in a slow steady stream while still whisking. • Remove whisk attachment and attack paddle/ beater. • On slow speed incorporate dry ingredients and milk just until dough comes together; do not over mix! • Pull dough onto floured counter give a very light knead by hand to bring together. • Roll out with a rolling pin to approximately three cm thick. • Cut with a floured cutter, place on lined baking tray, brush tops with whisked egg and bake at 200 C for 20 min until golden and cooked through.


I had Tea at the Nellie

Rudi Liebenberg is preparing the daily ‘piece of art’ called ‘Afternoon Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel’. Over the years, the buffet – although it doesn’t show – has become lighter, less sugar, less cream, some gluten-free food. The morning teatime – for example – is different from the afternoon. The two-storey tray served at morning tea is carefully balanced to resemble a smart mixture of an extended English breakfast, starting with fruits and sweet pastries, and ending in eggs and salmon.


I had Tea at the Nellie

THE SMALL PRINT First of all the author and his team wish to thank Sandro Fabris who encouraged this little book in the first place. Xavier Lablaude, general manager of the Mount Nelson Hotel, supported the project, his team with Julie Rose, Joey Michel, Louise Pheiffer, Gabrielle Palmer, Rudi Liebenberg and his kitchen crew, the lounge tea team with Sidney, Paul and their team were of invaluable help. Special thanks go to the teamaster of the hotel, Mingwai Tsai, who helped us to compile the teas served at the Mount Nelson and the food to go with. Historical Photographs: Western Cape Archives and Records Service, Malcolm McDonald Collection, famoushotels collection. Photographs: FC Lang, Orient Express picture library, Joplin Sinclair and Michelle Chaplow. All rights in this publication are reserved. This book and no part of it may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronically, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the copyright owner.

Š 2014: Andreas Augustin Your highly appreciated comments and suggestions are best mailed to the

ISBN: 978-3-900692-38-4


I had Tea at the Nellie

I had Tea at the Nellie Date: ..................................... In the Company of: ..................................... Notes




‘I had Tea at the Nellie’ is your faithful companion to tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel. Andreas Augustin introduces the history of tea and th...