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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.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).
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.
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.”
2. “Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple” from ITV: “Agatha Christie’s crime thrillers featuring the author’s much-loved spinster sleuth Miss Jane 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.”
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.”
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.”
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).
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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).
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
– permanent marker
– 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.
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.
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.
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 thezip-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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.