High Tea at Oruawharo Homestead
I am here at Oruawharo primarily for the tea experience though I do also like to poke about historic homesteads whenever the rare opportunity presents itself. As it so happens, at Oruawharo, I can have my cake and eat it too because the present day owner, Peter Harris, is also a tea enthusiast and we have been lured to Oruawharo by the promise of High Tea.
I have to say I am a bit over the High Tea thing, over not averse, mainly because the cakes and grandiose table settings tend to out-do the tea. It’s like being at a wedding where the bridesmaids out-dress the bride. Still, my motto is: ‘You’ll never know until you’ve tried it’. And this is an exceptional setting in which to take tea.
Oruawharo was left behind, by its original owners, on the plains of Central Hawkes Bay, when the last family member moved back to England in the 1950’s. Peter Harris purchased the estate in the year 2000 but the homestead was almost derelict by then. To say Peter is passionate about the restoration of Oruawharo is an understatement. It is a work forever in progress – seventeen years so far. Our High Tea is served by Dianne Harris in a renovated church on the property. I would have preferred to take the tour of the homestead before tea but for some reason we do it the other way round.
First off, I am thrilled to find a tea menu that goes beyond English Breakfast and Earl Grey. I order a pot of Assam Flowery Orange Pekoe to go with our tiered plate of cake and sandwiches. The baking is delicious by the way and so is the tea – loose leaf brewed in a real teapot and it has been made in the proper way. I wish for another pot because that one hardly touches the sides and I would have liked to try more than the one type of tea … anyway …
Before Peter, our host, gives a short lecture to the group of twenty or so people, including ourselves, all of whom have turned up to view the house, I get Peter onto the subject of tea. He readily agrees that the tea served in New Zealand cafes is still bloody awful. Peter is not a man to mince his words either. He tells me he sources his tea from Germany because this eases dealings with New Zealand’s import authorities. The Germans do it all correctly. Then Peter brings out three milk churn sized cans filled with tea for me to view. The Orange Blossom tea is heady, drily pungent and the Marsala Chai is generous with spice – just as it should be. Other blends on the menu include black tea with lemon and ginger; Russian Caravan, a blend of Lapsang Souchang and Assam; and a green tea, Sophia’s, a “precious China Mao Feng with the seductively exotic taste of passion fruit amongst a selection of tender blossoms.” I’m in my element until soon I get the feeling I need to hurry along with my tea because the tour of the homestead is about to start.
Naturally the tea things I find scattered about the grand house demand all my attention. Meanwhile Peter explains the camber of the floor upstairs, various timber and ceiling features and shows off the school room – the house goes on and on, one gigantic room opening to another and another. It’s all about the house.
There are volumes, perhaps a whole library of stories about Oruawharo. Yet much of Oruawharo’s past has already been told in letters penned home to England and in newspaper articles about the events and important personalities associated with the homestead. Stories that include humour, romance and tragedy, a lot of hard work, accidents, picnics and dances and restorations – many, if not all, shared over a pot of tea.