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Israel keeps British teatime tradition alive, with a spoonful of local flavor

The perfect antidote to winter weather? A cuppa with a side of scones and cream cakes

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Pouring tea at Jerusalem's Waldorf Astoria, where tea is served every afternoon (Courtesy: Waldorf Astoria)
Pouring tea at Jerusalem's Waldorf Astoria, where tea is served every afternoon (Courtesy: Waldorf Astoria)

This is a time for drinking copious quantities of tea during cold winter days, attempting to stay cozy in Israeli houses that many find woefully underheated.

But how about settling yourself into an overstuffed chair and tucking into a full afternoon tea, that well-loved British tradition of a 4 p.m. cuppa, crustless sandwiches, scones and cake?

Done.

Afternoon tea can be taken at several locations in Jerusalem, from high-end versions at Jerusalem’s Waldorf Astoria and King David hotels to a cozier option at Kumkum in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood.

Kumkum, the Hebrew term for a kettle, serves a classic British afternoon tea at all times of day, with excellent scones, whipped cream and jam, dainty crustless sandwiches of cream cheese and salmon, egg salad, and cucumber and a homemade Scandinavian spread, along with pastries, fresh fruit and a small tea cup filled with finely chopped salad — the Israeli touch — served on a tiered tower.

Customers choose from a selection of white, green, black, oolong, jasmine and herbal teas sourced locally from Kibbutz Beit Alfa. There’s a daily soup as well, for those who need something to fill out this light meal.

The tiered tower of scones, cream, fruit and cakes at Kumkum, a tearoom in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood that opened in July 2021 (Courtesy: Kumkum)

Elisheva Levy, the chef at Kumkum, is a British-born Israeli who studied pastry-making. She partnered with Michal Wosner, an attorney who dreamed of opening a teahouse and who owned the perfect space beneath her home on Bethlehem Road.

“She just had this dream that she would be able to come down in the morning and have a cup of tea,” said Levy, “although she very rarely does.”

The two partners opened Kumkum in July, and Levy has been serving afternoon tea to native Sabras, British- and American-born Israelis and what Levy calls the maternity-leave crowd, who come in the morning.

They host speakers several times a month as well, which fills the (very) small space as well as the outside garden.

“Israelis come for the experience, and Brits and Americans come for the memory,” said Levy.

They’re still tweaking certain items on the menu, such as a BBC-sourced recipe for scones, and moving from sour cream to whipped cream, with hopes to make clotted cream — a three-day process — in the near future.

The NIS 140 ($44) tea tower for two is also available for delivery, not including tea or soup.

The menu is similar at the Waldorf Astoria’s King’s Court lounge, where a rectangular three-tiered tower overflows with squat scones, both with and without raisins, and a delectable selection of tiny, creamy pastries, including Ferrero Rocher mille-feuilles, salted caramel mini eclairs, lemon and honey madeleines, chocolate ricotta brownies and delicate pistachio and berry lemon cakes, all elegantly served on porcelain china.

“I always start my tea with the scones,” said Waldorf pastry chef Idan Hadad, who loves working with the fine chocolates and creams used to create afternoon tea. “When it’s warm from the oven, you get the real taste of it. That, followed by a good sandwich, something sweet and close it all with a hot cup of tea.”

The Waldorf waiters set timers at the table to let guests know when exactly to pour their tea, which they select from a menu of strong black and green teas and lighter white and herbal ones.

Otherwise, you’re happily on your own with a NIS 255 ($80) tower for two, served daily from 3:30 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.

Afternoon tea at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel includes a shot of Turkish coffee and baklava as a postscript (Courtesy: Sivan Farag)

Cross the street to the King David for its “High Tea,” (although it’s technically afternoon tea), served in the historic lobby Sunday through Friday, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., where the NIS 120 ($37) tea service can also include a glass of champagne, for an extra 10 shekels ($3).

Teatime at the King David includes bite-size, crustless sandwiches made with smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese, and Camembert and onion jam, along with scones, tiny fruit pies and a particularly lemony mascarpone confection.

Unlike the teas at Kumkum and the Waldorf which are loose and served with a strainer, the King David teas are selected from a box of teabags from Palais des Thes, a French tea company. A small cover keeps the teacup warm while the tea is steeping.

For a local touch, guests are served a shot of Turkish coffee along with sweet, sticky baklava and a square of Turkish delight after their tea.

If you’d rather take your afternoon tea at home, we’ve got you covered.

Kumkum sells bags of the Beit Alfa teas, and you can make a stop at Betea House at 18 Shlomtzion Hamalka Street in downtown Jerusalem, a vintage store specializing in tea sets, to buy a teapot and cups.

The aforementioned Palais des Thes has two outlets in Tel Aviv, one in Sarona Market and the other at 131 Dizengoff Street, with a wide selection of teas and an expert staff along with a website and an app.

Pink Luk and Nadi Biran of Ho Yum Tea, a Tel Aviv teahouse focused on tea tastings and experiences (Courtesy: Ho Yum Tea)

For those who don’t feel knowledgeable enough to make informed tea choices, there’s Ho Yum Tea, a tearoom in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood run by Nadi Biran and Pink Luk — he’s Israeli, she’s Chinese — who aim to connect to local tea lovers and expose others to Chinese culture.

“The tearoom just happened,” said Biran. “We needed to focus on why we drink certain teas and how to drink it.”

The couple offers weekly tastings and events about Chinese culture, and have an online shop with teas from China, and soon from India as well, always aiming to “go more hardcore in tea,” said Biran, with traditional and ancient types of tea.

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