By Hart Hagerty
August 20, 2014
Credit: Courtesy of the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund

Shanghai offers two wildly different experiences of afternoon tea. One end pays homage to China’s long love affair with the humble beauty and utter simplicity of just water and tea leaves. The other involves the clinking of porcelain cups, tinkling of piano ivories, and nibbling of treats from silver trays. The French Concession teashop and cafe Song Fang Maison De The is dedicated to the former. On the first floor, friendly English-speaking staff teach visitors about Chinese tea history and rituals. The lessons are then put to use upstairs in the rustic café serving dozens of different teas in a pared-down, zen ambience. On the contrary, Shanghai’s high rollers love to take their afternoon tea at five-star hotels on the Bund, who serve champagne and the most decadent small bites to China’s upper, upper crust who sport head-to-toe Chanel and (real) Birkin bags. For several hours of sugary bliss, $55—the average price for afternoon tea at an haute hotel—is a good value.

Song Fang Maison De The

Run by a Parisian woman passionate about Chinese culture, this lovely teahouse invites visitors to explore the finest teas in a funky setting with chic French touches. The first floor sells artfully designed tins of tea (perfect gifts), while the top floors hosts a relaxed, charming café overlooking a traditional Shanghainese lane.

Ginger by the Park

The real gem of Ginger is the spacious second-floor terrace shaded by the trees of the neighboring park. I like to come here on sunny afternoons after the bevvy of well heeled housewives finish their chardonnay-fueled lunches. One can easily spend hours at an outdoor bistro table, reading and grazing on healthy Asian-Mediterranean bites.

The Peninsula

Afternoon tea in the lobby of The Peninsula is several hours of a sugary, swanky indulgence. Picture yourself in the Art Deco splendor of immaculately restored heritage Bund building feasting on silver trays of mini cheesecakes and fresh raspberry macaroons. Before the sounds of live piano jazz lull you way into a reverie, elevate your sugar high even further with a Champagne upgrade.

Salon De Ville at Waldorf Astoria

The Waldorf Astoria presents an afternoon tea experience so opulent; it would make Marie Antoinette roll around in grave with jealousy. What sets it apart is the intimacy of Salon De Ville, an exclusive room swathed in red velvet and furnished in gilded baroque antiques. The edibles are as equally opulent as the decor. Every crumb of the mouthwatering morsels is homemade, from strawberry jam to custard tartlets.

Jasmine Lounge at the Peace Hotel

History buffs will love the Sunday afternoon tea in the historic Jasmine Lounge at Shanghai’s iconic Peace Hotel. The Peace Hotel’s Old Jazz band (many of whom have been rocking out for more than half a century) livens up the perfectly restored Art Deco room with classic jazz.