Destination Tea: Russian Tea Room

Where:  Midtown, New York City
Style:  Russian Wonderland
Tea Selection:  6 bagged teas by Harney & Sons
Teatimes:  Daily 2-4:30
Reservations: 24-hour notice;
*For parties of 7 or more, 48-hour notice with a non-refundable $50 per-person deposit
Contact: Online or 212-581-7100
Cost:  $115 Royal Afternoon Tea with Champagne; $90 Royal Afternoon Tea; $35 Children’s Tea
Destination Tea Tips:  Dress is business casual and bring cash for tips if you plan to check a coat. 

Destination Tea Notes:  By 1927 — when members of the Russian Imperial Ballet founded the Russian Tea Room (RTR) — the tea room craze was in full swing in Manhattan, home to hundreds of tea rooms by the late ’20s. One step inside the Russian Tea Room explains instantly how it has outlasted many of its contemporaries and held its iconic status well into the 21st century. If your first glimpse of the sumptuously saturated greens, reds and curling booths of the main dining room does not sufficiently impress you, the Bear Lounge where afternoon tea is served should do the trick. You are in a fairyland with colored mirrors, a golden tree that grows glowing glass eggs and a circus bear who is more than what he seems, slowly twirling as he juggles. While we enjoyed the fare, which features some Russian specialties, the true star of this experience is the tea room itself.

Main dining room
The giant bear who confirms your arrival in the Bear Lounge is actually a slowly rotating aquarium.
Magical forest
Dazzling mirrored walls
Our table awaits.

Tea Service

The traditional Russian samovar (urn for serving tea) graces the menu cover.
From a small range of well-known teas, we chose Mint Verbena and Formosa Oolong and enjoyed their delicate flavors.
A tray of sweeteners invites you to try “cherry varenya” (whole cherries soaked in simple syrup) in the Russian style. For the non-adventurous, a variety of sugar cubes, packets and rock sugar is also provided.
Individual pots of our steeping teas are delivered. Reminder to remove your tea bag after a minute or two to prevent a bitter brew, unless you order an herbal tisane.
Aside from a Lotus Green tea, the children have a caffeine-free tea selection of Raspberry Zinger, Mint Verbena, Rooibos Chai, Ginger Tea or Chamomile. Two of the kids could not resist the alternative: The Russian Tea Room’s Signature Hot Chocolate served with whipped cream and marshmallows.

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

The top tier of the Royal Afternoon Tea tray features Caviars on Blinis (mini pancakes): Siberian Osetra, Russian Osetra, Hackleback and Paddlefish.
While the tea sandwich fillings are creative, their flavors are a bit diminished by hearty bread slices. Sandwich selection includes curried chicken salad with raisins and pecans, shrimp salad with rémoulade, smoked Scottish salmon with chive cream cheese, artichoke with red pepper and a sun-dried tomato goat cheese, turkey with truffle croque monsieur, N.Y. smoked sturgeon with dill and sour cream, Roquefort bleu cheese and apples with walnuts.
The Children’s Tea’s “carousel” includes PB&J on Blini, Grilled Trio of Cheeses, Little Pig-in-a-Blanket, Miniature BLT, Cucumber with Chive Cream Cheese, Classic Tuna Fish and Chopped Egg Salad.
Here the cupcakes and chocolate chip scones are just the right amount of soft, moist and not-too-sweet. Dessert includes chocolate truffles, red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting and vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting.
The Children’s Tea includes chocolate chip scone, rainbow sprinkled red velvet cupcake, chocolate mousse and apples slices with caramel dip.
Coat check on the lower level is opposite a collection of Russian-themed gifts for purchase.

 

 

Destination Tea: Café Lapin

Where:  Buckhead, GA
Style:  French Bistro
Tea Selection:  6 bagged teas
Teatimes:  Tuesday-Saturday 3-5
Reservations:  24-hour notice
Contact: 404-812-9171
Cost:  $18 Afternoon Tea
Destination Tea Tip:  Upon entering the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center, drive towards the rear, to the strip of shops in the lower parking lot, where you’ll find Café Lapin to your right. You may like to request the pretty banquette tucked into a nook at the back of the restaurant for your tea reservation. 

Destination Tea Notes:  This French bistro serves a decidedly American afternoon tea menu, until dessert, when the petit fours and macarons make their nod to France. While our waiter wasn’t exactly sure of each item’s description upon presenting our tray, he was friendly, attentive and kept our pots replenished with hot water, enjoining us to be at our leisure. We were also grateful to Café Lapin for allowing us to add a friend to our party the morning of our reserved teatime, which understandably cannot always be accommodated.

Le lapin (bunny) mascots watch over simply set café tables.
Artwork, mirror and ceramics montages along a lively painted wall

Tea Service

A mini wooden chest of Stash teas awaits us.
True to the typical French fashion of taking tea without milk, our individual pots of hot water come with lemon slices. Though we take ours without, surely cream is available upon request.

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

Et Voilà! The tea tray is presented.
Served with jam, the homemade cranberry scones were a bit underdone in their centers, but were tasty nonetheless. The banana bread was a major hit.
Good form! Bread is sliced thinly and portioned into petite finger sandwiches. The tarragon chicken salad was the favorite, while the pimento cheese struck some of us as sour, and the cucumber sandwiches needed a bit more spread to hold together. Perhaps these were prepared a day early, as the bread seemed slightly stale.
Dessert included pistachio and espresso petit fours, macarons, chocolate truffle bites and fruit and nut cookies.

Destination Tea: Swan Coach House

Where:  Buckhead, GA
Style:  Southern Lady
Tea Selection:  2 prepared hot teas
Teatimes:  Quarterly Tea Dates, 5-7 pm
(Private parties of 20 to 200, 7 days a week)
Reservations:  Recommended advance notice, 3 dates available each season
Contact:  404-261-0636
Cost:  $36 (25% gratuity added) Seasonal Afternoon Tea; $29 Child (25% gratuity added); Private Parties: $39 Adult, $19 Child  sample menus here
Destination Tea Tip:  The entrance to the Swan Coach House is on Slaton Drive, behind the Atlanta History Center’s main building. Bring cash to tip the valet or look for street parking on Slaton Drive and plan to walk a bit. As you approach the house, either use the restaurant entrance on your right to go directly to the dining room, or use the main entrance to visit the gift shop first, as it closes during the course of your tea. Follow Destination Tea on Facebook to learn about upcoming holiday tea dates. 

Destination Tea Notes:  Dining at the Swan Coach House readily transports you into times gone by. After all, you are in the backyard of the Swan House, a 1928 mansion where many an elegant Southern afternoon tea was likely enjoyed. Warmly ensconced in walls upholstered in a bright floral pattern, you can almost imagine you are at tea in the 1960’s, with the twelve Atlantan art patronesses who turned the estate’s former carriage house into the Swan Coach House restaurant and gift shop. Society here is genteel and decorous, so you’ll want to use your inside voice. High tea is served at an authentic evening hour, with an emphasis on homemade Southern delectables. If your tea-going party is small, be on the lookout for seasonal tea dates, where tea is served in the main dining room (pictured below). Year-round, should you have an occasion to gather 20 or more friends for a private tea reservation, you will have the treat of venturing into one of the other four historic private dining rooms the Swan Coach House has to offer.

Decorative iron gates invite you to enter the dining room.
Tables are at the ready for reserved guests who check-in with the hostess in the waiting area. Floral fabric covers the walls and chandeliers with bright lampshades warmly light the space.
Tables are set simply with china and white roses.

Tea Service

Servers continually serve bottomless cups of your choice of Earl Grey or chamomile teas.
A serving station holds pots of hot tea and chilling champagne (for those who go for the bottomless champagne add-on).

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

Tables are preset with cheese rings with sweet preserves (a favorite of ours), assorted crackers, “holiday scones” truer to a sugar cookie in consistency, and cheese straws.
All three tiers of the tea tray are dedicated to savories, beginning with chicken salad and pimento cheese tea sandwiches. In the second tier, open-faced olive sandwiches were the perfect tasty bite alongside cucumber nibbles with Boursin cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.
The bottom tier proffered miniature ham biscuits with a dollop of Swan Coach House recipe honey mustard (yum) and shrimp salad in phyllo dough cups.
The dessert platter elicited a good bit of excitement, with its chocolate-dipped strawberries, ginger cookies, key lime tartlets and, for la pièce de résistance:  miniature French silk swans.
Chocolate mousse hides inside the swans.
A large shop with wide array of gifts connects to the dining room, but closes during the evening tea service, so visit before going in to tea if you are interested.
Night-time lighting showcases the private dining areas of the Swan Coach House, which welcomes groups of 20 to 200 for private tea parties daily by advance reservation.

Destination Tea: Jessa’s Tea Parlor

Where:  Woodstock, GA
Style:  Artsy Parlor
Tea Selection:  20+ loose leaf teas
Teatimes:  Tuesday-Saturday 11-5
Reservations:  24-hour notice
Contact:  404-554-7966
Cost:  $22 Classy Miss Sassy; $20 The Southern Charm; $18 The English Lady; $12 Light Afternoon Tea; $12 Princess Tea; $10 Cream Tea – sample menus here
Destination Tea Tip:  Look for suite 101 to find Jessa’s. Follow Destination Tea on Facebook to learn about upcoming holiday teas and dinners. Jessa's Tea Parlor exterior

Destination Tea Notes:  When a mother-daughter team with years of catering experience opens a tea parlor, you know you are in for a treat. Newly opened this fall, Jessa’s Tea Parlor is becoming a popular lunch spot with ladies and gentlemen alike, which hostess Jessa James attributes to the parlor’s hearty Southern fare. To afternoon tea-goers:  come hungry and pace yourself, because you will want to taste everything from start to delicious finish. Jessa and mom Carolyn Lyle whip up a plentiful afternoon tea repast that is homemade from the citrus curd to the salad dressings (which they sell by the gallon). For those who appreciate the creative touches, you’ll spot evidence of Jessa’s artistic side everywhere you look, from refurbished antiques to her handmade decorative cloth napkins, steampunk earrings and tea cups turned pin cushions.

Antique tables in soft colors
Tables in soft and holiday colors
Our brightly lit table
Our brightly lit table, teapot warmers at the ready

Tea Service

Love the creative touches like the condiment spoon with tiny teapot handle, golden utensils and Jessa's handmade cloth napkin
Love the creative touches like the condiment spoon with tiny teapot handle, golden utensils and Jessa’s handmade cloth napkin
Jessa welcomes us with a lightly sweetened iced blend of two house favorites: Bourbon Street Vanilla (rooibos) and Earl Grey Cream (black)
Jessa welcomes us with a lightly sweetened iced blend of two house favorites: Bourbon Street Vanilla (rooibos) and Earl Grey Cream (black).
Each guest chooses a pot of tea and may later ask to try another, but we were well satisfied with our first choices: Orange Blossom Estate (oolong), Bourbon Street Vanilla (rooibos) and Earl Grey Cream (black). There were several other interesting flavors that I would love to try.
Each guest chooses a pot of tea and may later ask to try another, but we were well satisfied with our first choices: Orange Blossom Estate (oolong), Bourbon Street Vanilla (rooibos) and Earl Grey Cream (black). Thumbs up on the fun flavors in this tea menu.
Jessa's tea warmers
Jessa brings a tea strainer to the table with the pots, so guests may ensure that no stray tea leaves make it into their cups.

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

In addition to the traditional three-tier tray, Jessa's high tea options include a first course selection that is a meal in and of itself. We chose two from the following: salad with homemade ranch, balsamic or citrus vinaigrette; chicken salad on croissant; soup (creamy vegetable or tomato basil). Each was served with a rosemary cheddar biscuit - mmmm!
In addition to the traditional three-tier tray, Jessa’s high tea options include a first course selection that is a meal in and of itself. We chose two from the following: salad with homemade ranch, balsamic or citrus vinaigrette; chicken salad on croissant; soup (creamy vegetable or tomato basil). Each was served with a rosemary cheddar biscuit – mmmm!
These were some of my favorite scones yet, moist and served with homemade clotted cream and lemon curd, in three flavors: apple spice, maple pecan and cranberry white chocolate. Mom Carolyn believes a scone should not be a tough dense thing and she certainly won my backing for her stance on scones.
These were some of my favorite scones yet, moist and served with homemade clotted cream and citrus curd, in three flavors: apple spice, maple pecan and cranberry white chocolate. Mom Carolyn believes a scone should not be a tough dense thing and she certainly won my backing for her stance on scones.
Between us we ordered two Southern Charm menus and one Classy Miss Sassy. The Southern Charm savories includes Momma's Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese (yum), BBQ Pork Slider (yes!), Citrus Chicken Salad on Croissant and Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie over Cheese and Rosemary Biscuit.
Between us we ordered two Southern Charm menus and one Classy Miss Sassy. The Southern Charm savories included Momma’s Fried Green Tomatoes with Pimento Cheese (yum), BBQ Pork Slider (yes!), Citrus Chicken Salad on Croissant and Deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie over Cheese and Rosemary Biscuit.
Classy Miss Sassy savories included Salmon Cucumber, Chicken Caprese, Bacon Bloom with Avocado and Goat Cheese and Turkey with Cranberry.
Classy Miss Sassy savories included Salmon Cucumber, Chicken Caprese, Bacon Bloom with Avocado and Goat Cheese and Turkey with Cranberry.
Desserts included a Red Velvet Cheesecake, Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Espresso Brownie, Cranberry White Chocolate Cheesecake and Macaron (my favorite).
Desserts included a Red Velvet Cheesecake, Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Cranberry White Chocolate Cheesecake (very good), Espresso Brownie and Macaron (my favorite).
Jessa's creations for sale
Jessa’s creations for sale
Gifts for your tea-loving family and friends
Gifts for your tea-loving family and friends

Thankful for Afternoon Tea

thanksgiving-thanks-photo

Afternoon tea lovers have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season:

  1. Family and friends who love going to tea with you, for good times and delicious memories,
  2. Destination Tea’s new Georgia Tea Venue directory, which features more than 30 delicious afternoon tea destinations,
  3. Holiday Teas (check out Destination Tea’s Facebook page for the inside scoop on Atlanta’s holiday teas with reservation details).

And remember, should the holiday bustle leave you without advance reservations, a few afternoon tea venues welcome walk-ins (find which ones under the “To Reserve” column in our directories). For example, the recent update to our Dr. Bombay’s review now includes pics of their walk-in Caroline Tea service.

Happy Afternoon Tea-going!

Destination Tea: Urban Tea

Where:  Alpharetta, GA
Style:  Romantic Chic
Tea Selection:  100+ loose leaf teas
Teatimes:  Friday, 12; Saturday, 12 or 2:30
*Private parties may reserve the CommuniTea table anytime during open hours.

Reservations:  24-hour notice
Contact:  678-446-4200
Cost:  $20 Afternoon Tea – sample menu here
Destination Tea Tips:  It IS there! Urban Tea occupies a slender space between the Which Wich? and Robeks stores. Locally-based Certified Tea Specialist and author Lisa Boalt Richardson guest teaches some of Urban Tea’s classes. Follow Destination Tea on Facebook to learn about upcoming events.

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Destination Tea Notes:  For more than 20 years, hosts Lori and Tom Karras operated two tea houses in Palm Beach, Florida, before relocating to Georgia, bringing their delicious recipes along. The couple has now cleverly integrated an afternoon tea space into their new tea shop in Alpharetta by reserving the back half of the store for a “CommuniTea” table. Sliding French doors seclude the dining area away from the bustle of the shop up front, creating the feel of a dinner party. Afternoon tea is a communal experience if you choose to socialize with your neighbors as pots of pre-selected teas are passed round, while each group of friends has its own sandwich and dessert trays.

Our tea table awaits, graced by glamorous chandelier
Our tea table awaits, graced by glamorous chandelier
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Afternoon tea goers enjoy the intimacy of the CommuniTea table while shoppers pop in for their tea purchases at the front of the store.

Tea Service

Tags tied to stainless steel pots label the pre-selected teas we pass around the table.
Tags tied to stainless steel pots label the pre-selected teas we pass around the table. Servers are diligent about making sure that everyone has their fill of each tea.
If you choose to sample another of the 113+ loose leaf teas available, that pot is an additional cost. We were content with the three proffered teas: sencha (green), apple pie (rooibos) and White Christmas (white).
For an additional cost, you may choose to sample another of the 113+ loose leaf teas available. We were well pleased with the three proffered teas: Sencha (green), Apple Pie (rooibos) and White Christmas (white).

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

Kudos to Urban Tea for slicing their bread thinly! Sandwiches include cucumber with herbed butter, spinach quiche, tomato cheddar and Helen's dip (with horseradish) and pineapple jam on toast. Yum!
Kudos to Urban Tea for slicing their bread thinly! Sandwiches include cucumber with herbed butter, spinach quiche, tomato cheddar and Helen’s dip (with horseradish) and pineapple jam on toast. Yum!
A large bowl of tomato basil soup with grated cheddar accompanies the savory platter and we are (rightfully) encouraged to dip our tomato cheese sandwich into the soup. Perfect!
A large bowl of tomato basil soup with grated cheddar accompanies the savory platter and we are (rightfully) encouraged to dip our tomato cheese sandwich into the soup. Perfect!
English cheddar drizzled with honey accompanies the savories course. Our hosts check that we are getting enough to eat - YES!
English cheddar drizzled with honey is served alongside the savories course. Our hosts check that we are getting enough to eat – YES!
Huge chocolate chip scones which are more like a cupcake than a biscuit in their consistency are accompanied by cream and preserves. Desserts include pecan bar, chocolate-dipped strawberry and to the Nothing Bundt Cakes fan's delight, their miniature carrot bundt cakes with cream cheese frosting (ideal partnership, as the bakery is a plaza neighbor of Urban Tea).
A huge chocolate chip scone (more like a cupcake than a biscuit in its consistency) is served with cream and preserves. Desserts include pecan bar, chocolate-dipped strawberry and to the Nothing Bundt Cakes fan’s delight, their miniature carrot bundt cakes with cream cheese frosting (ideal partnership, as the bakery is a plaza neighbor of Urban Tea).
Tea gifts, condiments and home accessories are for sale up front in the store.
Tea gifts, condiments and home accessories are for sale up front in the store.
Owner Lori Karras wants you to find a tea you love, and so will encourage you to smell a tea and taste a sample of it that she brews up on the spot, before you choose one to purchase.
Owner Lori Karras wants you to find a tea you love, and so will encourage you to smell a tea and taste a sample of it, which she brews up on the spot, before you choose one to purchase.

Destination Tea: Three Southern Girls Tea Room

Where: East Point, GA
Style: Modern Swank
Tea Selection: Prepared seasonal house blends, pre-sweetened, 1 hot, 1 iced
Teatimes: Friday-Sunday, 12:30-4:30
Reservations: Advance notice required, tea room open only for reserved teas
Contact: Tiffany at tiffany@tpproductionsatl.com or 404-324-1656
Cost: $18 Afternoon Tea
Destination Tea Tips:  Be sure to reserve in advance because this tea room opens for reserved teas and special events only. Also, though not required, tea hats are very much the thing at Three Southern Girls. Follow Destination Tea on Facebook to learn about upcoming show dates and special tea/brunch events, like their recent Women’s Empowerment Tea (awesome).

Exterior Three Southern Girls Tea Room

Destination Tea Notes:  Hostess Tiffany Prewitt is a picture of Southern grace and hospitality from the moment you step inside her tea room and adjoining theater. In the role of tea room hostess, Tiffany dons a lovely tea hat (sometimes of her own design), but she wears many other hats, as founder of TP Productions, writing and performing in the productions she brings to the space’s theater. Know this:  when Tiffany invites her guests to indulge, she is not overpromising. Three Southern Girls’ afternoon tea repast just keeps coming, beginning with a large scone and buffet of savory and sweets, moving into a lunch selection and finishing with a dessert, all homemade. Bridal or baby showers, women’s groups and large family gatherings would be at home here, as it feels like your favorite auntie is spoiling you with all her famous recipes and making sure no one goes home hungry. Guests are offered bottomless cups of the seasonal tea, which is prepared with locally-sourced ingredients ahead of time and pre-sweetened, served alongside a palate-cleansing cucumber water.

Curtains divide the tea room from the adjoining theater. Leopard print, chandeliers and bright pinks invite ladies to luxuriate, while 40s and 50s ballads play softly.
Curtains divide the tea room from the adjoining theater. Leopard prints, chandeliers and bright pinks declare this a ladies’ lounge, while 40s and 50s ballads play softly.

Tea Service

Tea cup at Three Southern Girls
Scones precede the tea service, this one a Craisin-raisin-white chocolate scone with currant jam and dab of butter.
The monthly hot tea selection is a pre-sweetened apple pie, locally sourced from a Louisiana tea plantation and using Florida apples in a family recipe that certainly did taste exactly like a delicious apple pie.
The monthly hot tea selection is a pre-sweetened, apple pie black tea, blended using tea leaves from a Louisiana plantation and apples from Florida in a family recipe that certainly did taste exactly like a delicious apple pie. Our hostess kept our teacups replenished without us needing to ask. The special tea next month is orange spice.

Savories & Sweets

Buffet at Three Southern Girls
Guests are invited to “indulge” by helping themselves to multiple visits to the buffet, which included savories: cucumber sandwiches, Southern deviled eggs with bacon, pimiento cheese boats, spinach dip and chips, crudités with dip, and sweets: red velvet cupcakes, lemon meringues, waffle cookies, German chocolate chip cupcakes, fruit tarts, butter cookies, shortbread, linzer cookies with currant jam and whipped fruit salad cones.
After our first trip to the buffet, the treats just kept on coming! Here is Three Southern Girls Culinary Creator bringing out more of her confections from the kitchen.
After our first trip to the buffet, the treats just kept on coming! Here is Three Southern Girls’ Culinary Creator bringing out more of her confections from the kitchen.
My first plate from the buffet. I had to go back for more spinach dip, but thankfully resisted the temptation to have another deviled egg to leave room for the next courses.
My first plate from the buffet. I had to go back for more delicious spinach dip, but thankfully resisted the temptation to have another deviled egg, to leave room for the next courses.
While our hot tea was kept refreshed throughout the meal, before our main courses we were treated to a pre-sweetened iced sparkling lemonade tea, which was not too sweet and very refreshing.
While our hot tea was kept refreshed throughout the meal, before our main courses we were treated to a pre-sweetened iced sparkling lemonade tea, which was not too sweet and very refreshing.
We chose between a chicken salad, pecan strawberry salad and pork sliders for our lunch selection. Tiffany explained that pork sliders, made with bbq pork and cole slaw on a sweet roll, are not only a standard on a Southern afternoon tea menu, they have always been a favorite of hers. I was glad for her recommendation -- they were very good. A cucumber tomato salad was served on the side.
Our selection was either a chicken salad, pecan strawberry salad or pork sliders. Tiffany explained that pork sliders, made with pulled pork and cole slaw on a sweet roll, are not only standard on a Southern afternoon tea menu, they have always been a favorite of hers. I was glad for her recommendation — they were very good. A cucumber tomato salad was served on the side.
I was frankly shocked to discover that there was a dessert course after the half-dozen sweets we had already sampled on the buffet. The chocolate cakes, one a mini bundt and the other a lava cake, served with blueberries and whipped cream, were not too sweet and definitely worth taking home if you cannot possibly eat another bite.
I had to suspend disbelief when Tiffany announced a dessert course after the half-dozen sweets we had already sampled on the buffet. The chocolate cakes, one a mini bundt and the other a lava cake, served with blueberries and whipped cream, were not too sweet and definitely worth taking home if you cannot possibly eat another bite.

5 Shows That Transport You to A World of Taking Tea

Yes, I lay claim to a very active imagination, one of whose favorite pursuits is escaping to other worlds. Of course, it should come as no surprise that I particularly delight in shows where taking tea happens on the regular, with a varied cast of tea sets playing a starring role. I also won’t say no to a little murder mystery and period costume. Here are five shows I’ve viewed on Hulu or Netflix that fit the bill – hope you find you enjoy them!

1. “Lark Rise to Candleford” from BBC One:  “Adaptation of Flora Thompson’s memoir of her Oxfordshire childhood, set in the small hamlet of Lark Rise and the wealthier neighbouring market town, Candleford, at the end of the 19th Century.”

Lark Rise to Candleford
Lark Rise to Candleford

2. “Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple” from ITV:  “Agatha Christie’s crime thrillers featuring the author’s much-loved spinster sleuth Miss Jane Marple.”

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple

3. “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” from ABC TV:  “Our glamorous lady detective, The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, swans into early 1929 Melbourne, fighting injustice with her pearl-handled pistol and her dagger-sharp wit.”

Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

4. “The Forsyte Saga” from ITV:  “Epic series spanning three generations of the upwardly mobile Forsyte family at the turn of the 20th century, based on the classic novels by Nobel Prize-winning author John Galsworthy.”

The Forsyte Saga
The Forsyte Saga

5. “Lost In Austen” from ITV:  “A thoroughly modern heroine threatens to ruin one of the world’s greatest literary love stories in this ingenious reinvention of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice.”

Lost in Austen
Lost in Austen

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The Rise of the American Tea Room: Serving Women’s Rights with a Cup of Tea

This summer, just as I was trying to understand why a place without an afternoon tea service would be called a “tea room,” I discovered my answer inside this treasure:  Jan Whitaker’s Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn, A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America (copyright 2002).

(c) 2002, Cover of "Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn" by Jan Whitaker
(c) 2002, Cover of “Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn” by Jan Whitaker

I can now explain how “tea room” became a bit of a misnomer in American culture, but more importantly, get this:  the independent American tea room gave women entrée into the restaurant industry, both as proprietresses and patronesses. Pretty great, right?

You see, as Ms. Whitaker explains, “The restaurant business was closely associated in many people’s minds with catering to appetites of all kinds, including sexual appetites. For a woman to enter this business at the turn of the century, even as an unescorted patron, was a risk to her reputation…Women’s exclusion from many public dining rooms in the 1900s and 1910s was undoubtedly a factor in their attraction to female-friendly tea rooms. Most women were reluctant to challenge the widespread rule in hotels and fine dining rooms that unescorted women would not be served.”

Yikes. We owe a debt of gratitude to the women who changed those social mores!

Here’s how they did it:  they seized the opportunities presented by 1. high society’s love of afternoon tea, 2. the burgeoning motorist population and growing road infrastructure, and 3. the national prohibition of alcohol.

As afternoon tea was coming into fashion in the U.S. around the turn of the 19th century, independent urban tea rooms competed with the palm courts and tea salons of hotels and department stores, catering to the upper classes.

Tea at Charters Towers, 1880, Courtesy of New Old Stock
Tea at Charters Towers, 1880, Courtesy of New Old Stock

“Hotel tea rooms were managed by men for the most part, but the small independent tea rooms that began in the 1910s were usually owned, operated and fully staffed by women, often times middle-class women…  Because men would not work under the command of a woman, the owners had little choice but to hire all-women staffs — quite a novelty.”

When the city-dwelling elite classes repaired to their summer homes and resorts, some city tea rooms would relocate to the country for the summer season. Likewise, rural roadside tea rooms, often located within driving distance of a big city, began springing up to cater to recreational driving parties. 

“During the 1920s, at the height of the tea room craze, these little businesses were virtually synonymous with female self-expression.” Whether her tea room was a dining room set up in her own home, an outbuilding connected to a gas station, or a free-standing establishment, female proprietresses took advantage of their captive audience by using the dining area to showcase wares for sale, such as handmade items like textiles and jewelry or antique furniture and dishes.

Riverside Tea Room, Thousand Islands, NY, courtesy of Jan Whitaker "From Patrons to Chefs, a History of Women in Restaurants" Boston Hospitality Review
Riverside Tea Room, Thousand Islands, NY, courtesy of Jan Whitaker “From Patrons to Chefs, a History of Women in Restaurants” Boston Hospitality Review

Tea rooms became increasingly popular as they developed a reputation for simply-prepared, home-cooked fare with fresh ingredients. Then in 1920, when the temperance movement culminated in prohibition, diners looking for an alternative to the bar scene began flocking to the tea room. “Even before it was banned outright nationwide in 1920, alcohol consumption was viewed with disfavor by the teetotaling middle class who patronized tea rooms, (some of which borrowed the abbreviated T from the temperance campaign, calling themselves T-houses).”

“Contrary to what their name suggests, tea rooms didn’t necessarily revolve around tea, the beverage, nor tea, the repast…In the beginning, some tea rooms did serve only one meal, afternoon tea, which did indeed feature the beverage tea…These establishments could not make enough money on afternoon teas alone; Americans simply weren’t all that devoted to drinking tea or taking an afternoon break…Indeed, American tea rooms were in fact small restaurants, serving mainly lunch and, secondarily, dinner.” 

1920s tea room menu
1920s tea room menu

Atlanta has two such historical tea rooms, icons of successful female entrepreneurism:  one memorialized in a cookbook and one still operating today.

Frances Virginia Wikle Whitaker opened the Frances Virginia Tea Room in the late 1920s, and “by 1931, was serving 1,000 people a day…which meant 1 percent of Atlanta’s population was eating at the tea room each day!” (Thank you Angela of “Tea with Friends” for these details). The Frances Virginia remained open for nearly four decades, and is now memorialized in The Frances Virginia Tea Room Cookbook by Mildred Huff Coleman.

Frances Virginia Tea Room, courtesy of Fulton County GAGenWeb
Frances Virginia Tea Room, courtesy of Fulton County GAGenWeb

From Mary Mac’s Tea Room website:  “Mary Mac’s Tea Room doors first opened in 1945 when Mary McKenzie decided to use her good Southern cooking to make money in the tough post-World War II days. In those days, a woman couldn’t just open up a restaurant, so many female proprietors used the more genteel Southern name of “Tea Room.”…And there were at least 16 other Tea Rooms around in-town Atlanta with Mary Mac’s being the only one of them left.”

mary-macs
Mary Mac’s Tea Room, Atlanta

Destination Tea salutes these first tea room proprietresses, who had the guts and ingenuity to change our world. Ms. Whitaker tells us that the August 1923 issue of Tea Room and Gift Shop deemed, “The success of a tea room is dependent not only upon the quality of the food served, but also up on the way it plays upon the imagination of its guests.”

Tea-Themed Party Favors: Tea Strainers (Steeped in Love)

Tomorrow when our family gathers for my cousin’s bridal shower, I hope they will love these favors I put together, of course featuring tea, this time from local tea shop ZenTea in Chamblee, GA. Whether you are hosting a tea party, a shower or another fête, these will be a hit with tea lovers and foodies alike (who can repurpose the tea strainer as an infuser for soups, stews or sauces).

Tea Strainer Party Favors

I like party favors that are part consumable, part useful, part keepsake, and environmentally conscious. Well, yes, I realize that’s a tall order, but these did a fair job of filling it. These favors treat your guests to delicious teas and afterwards may provoke memories of your occasion, whenever the strainer is put to use.

MATERIALS (per favor)
– 1 tea strainer, try any grocery store with a varied kitchenware section
– 4 tea sachets, or 1-2 ounces of loose leaf tea
– 1 zip-loc bag
– 1 printed tag, on plain printer paper
– 1 card stock square
– 1 6″ ribbon
– 2 tulle circles
– scissors
– permanent marker
– pen
– hole puncher

STEP ONE:  Prep Your Tags
Choose colors that echo your theme. In this case I used the color palate of the bridesmaids’ dresses, with metallic green card stock as a backdrop. After printing the tags on regular printer paper and cutting them out, cut the card stock a bit larger than your paper tag, line the two papers up such that the card stock forms a border for your tag, then hole punch the two papers in one punch.

Tags Steeped with Love

Cut diagonal tips on 6-inch lengths of ribbon that are narrow and pliable enough to be pushed through the split keyring near the strainer’s latch. Anything from a quarter-inch to half-inch ribbon should work.
Tag ready to assemble

STEP TWO:  Portion Your Teas
I chose to use teas in sachets to provide for guests who may be unfamiliar with loose leaf tea brewing techniques, but certainly loose leaf teas accompanied with a simple how-to brewing guide would also be perfectly paired with these strainers. To properly store the tea, it is important to seal it in an air-tight container. I used zip-loc bags, which are admittedly unattractive. We’ll address that in the final step.

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Each favor had four pyramid tea bags, all of the same tea, because mixing flavors, unless individually wrapped, would likely blend and ruin the flavor of each. I marked each zip-loc bag with the tea type and brew time. In honor of my cousin the international traveler, I chose teas that called to mind a variety of countries, including Green Moroccan Mint, Green Cherry, Pu-erh Scottish Caramel and Herbal Piña Colada. Whichever teas you select, I suggest including a caffeine-free option. For bridal and wedding events, I highly recommend Harney & Sons Wedding Tea, which is too delicious.

STEP THREE:  Assemble Your Favors
To conceal the zip-loc bag, tightly wrap it around itself and pinch two tulle circles around it, before settling it into the tea strainer. Allow some tulle to poke out of the top, fanned a bit, but not uniformly, as you latch the strainer closed.

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Now to finish, write the type of tea on the back of the card stock tag, loop your ribbon through both pieces of paper, then push through the tea strainer ring, and knot. One caution as you are working with the strainers – they are delicate! It is easy to lean on them and press them out of shape while you are affixing the tags.

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This project, for a quantity of 15, took me about four hours, from start (designing the tags) to finish, and cost about $5 each. Ask a friend to help you assemble over a pot of tea, and the time will pass quickly and enjoyably. Et voilà! I would love to hear from anyone who uses this idea or improves upon it.

Also, if you have a favorite tea-themed favor, please share in your comments or email me at angela@destinationtea.com.