If Australia has a queen of high tea, then that queen is High Tea Society founder Michelle Milton.
For almost 10 years, Michelle has been at the helm of High Tea Society, the wildly popular online hub featuring high tea reviews and over 550 venue listings from around Australia and the world. Never has high tea been so easy to find. Or so tasty. (Want proof? Just take a look at the Instagram.)
We spoke to the high tea queen to find out what it’s like working in an industry where tea and macarons, never macaroons, are the name of the game.
Do you remember your first high tea?
I celebrated my birthday at the Savoy Hotel in London – and from that moment I was hooked.
How did you make a career in tea and cake?
I started High Tea Society back in 2008. I loved going for high tea when I lived in London, and when I moved to Melbourne I was on the search for good high tea experiences. (I should mention that in the United Kingdom it’s named afternoon tea, but outside of the UK high tea is more commonly used.)
I started a blog to document my search for great high tea experiences. The blog quickly gained a following, so I upgraded to a full website and expanded the content to include a High Tea Venue Directory and sponsored competitions.
Soon after starting the blog I had a chance meeting with the Editor of the SBS Food website at a digital media industry conference. As a result I was featured on the SBS Food website as a Featured Foodie – this article really was the launch of the website.
Today the website features high tea reviews from around the world, a comprehensive High Tea Venue Directory and a huge social following. Brands also work with High Tea Society by sponsoring competitions, directory listings or email offers. We have worked with brands such as Sony Universal Home Entertainment (their Downton Abbey campaign), Twinings, KitchenAid, Wedgwood, Sydney Opera House, Virgin Atlantic, Sofitel Hotels, InterContinental Hotels, Langham Hotels, InterContinental Hotels, Hyatt Hotels and Westin Hotels.
High Tea Society is a place where people can share their high tea experience – it’s not just my opinion or my contributors’. People often go for high tea and tag in #highteasociety on Instagram and Facebook. I love this and I share these for the whole audience to see.
Was it difficult to break into the international high tea scene?
This happened organically. I was seeing a bit of website traffic from the United States and the UK, so I started featuring reviews of high tea venues from those locations. I now have twenty contributors in total in Australia, New Zealand, US, UK and Asia.
Any big learning curves along the way?
I’ve worked in media and digital for most of my career, so High Tea Society was a creative project where I could put all of these skills to good use. I’ve used it to test new trends in digital and social media marketing, which I use as a case study in the digital communications consulting work I do.
What is a typical working week like? How many high teas do you typically attend a month (and do you still enjoy them)?
The week is all about planning out stories for the month and arranging for my contributors to visit high tea venues. I also edit content, update the website, schedule and monitor social media as well as negotiating with sponsors and advertisers.
I only go for high tea myself once a month and yes, I still enjoy it.
What’s your favourite high tea snack?
Chicken finger sandwiches.
Are all the reviews independent, or do you publish sponsored posts?
When I visit for high tea I’m the photographer and I take a contributor along to write the story, so there’s an independent voice. This gives a separation between the editorial and the advertising side of the business, which I look after. I don’t do sponsored posts or sponsored reviews.
Have you noticed a resurgence or change in interest around high tea recently?
Yes, most five-star hotels now offer high tea; you also see restaurants, cafes and tourism businesses offer it as an experience. High tea is a marketing strategy all on its own.
Who are the biggest fans – are they mostly women, or has there been a shift?
Women of all ages enjoy high tea. Children also love the tea party, teens love creating their own high tea experience at home, and it’s also popular for special occasions, such as birthdays, hen parties, baby showers and Mother’s Day.
What should no high tea be without?
Scones should always be part of high tea menu. A cupcake should never be part of a high tea.
What has been your most decadent experience?
There have been so many amazing experiences. Some of the London venues I’ve visited have been my favourites; these include The Ritz, The Savoy and Fortnum & Mason. The elegant table settings, the fine bone china, the delicate menu items and the quality service make London an absolute destination if you enjoy high tea.
Are there any trends you’re noticing, both in Australia and abroad?
In the UK high tea is referred to as afternoon tea, but outside of the UK both afternoon tea and high tea are used. Essentially they’re the same, but in the UK it’s mostly a traditional experience, while in Australia there are a lot more modern and themed high tea menus. Few venues offer the traditional experience, which would typically include fine bone china, table linen, finger sandwiches and scones.
The modern high tea is about champagne, deconstructed sandwiches, using local produce and theming the menu with a major event.
Who makes a great high tea in Australia?
There are so many. Some favourites include the modern high tea at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, high tea with a view across Sydney Harbour at the Park Hyatt Sydney, and Strangers Corridor at the Parliament of Victoria.
High tea has been around since the mid-1800s. What keeps people coming back for more?
What’s old is new again. We live busy lives and don’t often have time to put the phone down and just spend time with friends.
People also love the opportunity to dress up.
Discover high tea reviews, recipes, history, interviews and venues at the High Tea Society.