English Tea Time
I’m a tea snob. I don’t drink coffee, but I adore a good cup of tea. Unfortunately, a decent cup of tea seems even harder to find than a good cup of coffee. I enjoy loose tea leaves, but don’t discriminate against great tea in bags. I like a wide range of types, including green tea, chai and herbal varieties, and while many grocery stores now boast a large assortment to choose from, restaurants’ tea selections often still fall short. It’s fair to say I dislike the tea served at roughly 90% of the restaurants in Buffalo. Bigelow? Lipton? McCullagh? No, thanks. My biggest pet peeve is not that casual restaurants serve poor quality tea, but that fine dining restaurants serve some of the worst tea. What is that all about?
Recently I traveled to the land where tea time persists and tea options abound: London. I wondered before we left what I would find. Did their restaurants serve quality tea? Indeed, most everywhere we encountered did, and I was assured by as many spots to get a good cuppa as coffee shops. I’ve always been fascinated by English tea time. Growing up, if espresso and coffee weren’t served, we drank English tea with milk and a bit of sugar, yet as I got older, I gravitated toward tea that did not have milk, cream or sugar. Nevertheless, I stayed interested in traditional English tea, as I became intrigued by the trappings that go along with it — and not the cream and sugar. The mini sandwiches, the scones, pastries and dry cookies that come to life when dunked in tea, and all the lovely sweet and savory finger foods stacked artfully on a beautiful tiered serving dish. Clotted cream. Assorted jams. Dozens of teas from which to choose. Gorgeous china. It’s a production, elegantly presented and artfully prepared for the pleasure of the tradition. I was thrilled by what I experienced when I had afternoon tea in London.
I got a kick out of this quick read from Lisa Mirza Grotts, “The History and Etiquette of Afternoon Tea.” She explains the difference between high tea and afternoon tea, which are often mixed up, and she explains the ins and outs of how to not make a fool of yourself when partaking in tea time. Tea time certainly doesn’t need to be so serious, but it is a serious art form in its own way. For me, drinking tea has always been about relaxing or recharging, but it holds a dignified quality.
In London, I enjoyed tea at several fine establishments, but my favorites were Harrods: tea menu and Dean Street Townhouse: tea menu. Some others worth checking out: The Athenaeum: tea menu; Bistro One Ninety at The Gore: tea menu; Claridge’s: tea menu; and Sanderson: tea menu.
At Harrods, we indulged in an array of goodies, beginning with sandwiches: chicken salad with toasted almonds, Scottish smoked salmon and cream cheese, roast beef with greens and black truffle egg salad. Their scones and clotted cream were wonderful (especially thick clotted cream, I might add), although Dean Street Townhouse had yummy scones too (with slightly less perfect clotted cream). Of the desserts, or “fancies,” the sticky toffee pudding gâteaux, sour cream tart and the almond cherry cake were most memorable.
I loved enjoying tea with my husband at these amazing spots around London. I could hardly wait to sip my tea and get my hands on those lovely little bite-sized treats, and it was all I hoped for. The tradition of partaking in tea continues in our household after getting back, and it’s a lovely way to spend a bit of time, afternoon or otherwise!