The Making of A Dunwoody Afternoon Tea Tradition

When I was asked to speak at the Dunwoody Preservation Trust’s afternoon tea, I did not know what it would mean to me in full. At first, I was honored, and nervous for my first speaking engagement. But then I attended a Tea Committee planning meeting, and learned the backstory on this new Dunwoody tradition, now in its second year. The suggestion to host a public tea came from a DPT member who had been hosting an annual tea in her home. What began as an intimate gathering of girlfriends had grown to a large tea party over the years, as her guests wanted to include their daughters, granddaughters and neighbors. I was most touched by the service award she gave to one attendee every year, which recalled to me the charity teas of the early 20th century. Having seen the photos of her tea table and perfectly made scones, I can see why this neighborhood tea party was so popular.

These women, also members of the DPT, now work together to host an annual tea at the Donaldson-Bannister Farm, which last year celebrated its 150th anniversary. Itself a 180-year-old tradition, afternoon tea perfectly fits the charming setting, and as I witnessed, brought joy to the attendees. This year, due to Covid, the committee decided to host the event under a tent on the outdoor patio by the restored barn. [See last year’s event here.]

For several of the guests, who arrived in pretty dresses, tea hats and classic pant suits, this May tea was their first public outing in over a year.

I watched the first two guests arrive, beautifully dressed and smiling as they expressed pleasure at the scene before them: ivory tablecloths crowned with floral centerpieces. In that moment, I saw what a gift this event is to the community.

I spoke twice during the tea, first during the tea service, about teacup etiquette, and then again during the dessert course, about the history of afternoon tea, and what differentiates it from high tea.

I spoke briefly, so that the guests could get back to their conversation and delicious meal, but an unabridged version of Destination Tea’s afternoon tea tips can be viewed here:

Watching friends and family smiling and laughing, my thoughts kept returning to that Tea Committee planning meeting I had attended. The amount of thoughtful care that went into preparing and serving this year’s tea, to be safe during the pandemic, was astounding. The committee debated exactly how they would serve, color-coding each table’s teapots, putting scone condiments into individual containers, coordinating each person’s role to make the table service fluid.

One mom brought her daughter to her first afternoon tea. I love the elder generation in the background of this picture – the preciousness of young and old coming together at afternoon tea.

The DPT committee spent months treasure hunting at thrift and consignment stores around Metro Atlanta, to obtain enough teapots, teacups and china plates for the 50-guest event. This year, teapots were dedicated to each table by ribbon color.

Mix-n-match china adds an element of interest to any afternoon tea. Can you feel the anticipation of all these plates ready to be populated with goodies?

Yet another detail that our hostesses thought of to make the event an occasion: as guests were coming in and finding their seats, a DPT member entertained with soft tunes on the farm’s Play Me Again Piano, part of a nonprofit art installment of “public pianos” throughout Metro Atlanta.

I played my usual game of Find My Favorite Teacup, loving the basket mold and scalloped edge of this teacup design.

Served with Punjana black tea, the first two courses were plated together: Salmon with Cream Cheese Dill Spread, Pimento Cheese, Cucumber with Cream Cheese Dill Spread, Roast Beef with Horseradish Mayonnaise, and Freshly Baked Currant Scones. Again, I felt the love, as I learned that the Tea Committee ladies woke at a very early hour on the morning of the tea to begin baking and making sandwiches so they’d be fresh.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Boothe

A Mango Passion Green Rooibos tea from ZenTea in Chamblee was served with the dessert course, all homemade: Raspberry Crumble Bar (my favorite), Almond Shortbread Cookie, Gingerbread Cookie, Lemon Delight, Andes Mint Cookie and Fruit.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Boothe

Just when you expect all the fun has been had, the DPT ladies have one more surprise in store for their guests. They are invited to turn over their saucers, and find that one person at each table has a sticker, making them the winner of one of these sweet mini teacup favors.

In future, we recommend arriving early for teatime, to capture some memorable portraits under the farm’s gorgeous rose trellis.

What an event! All done by volunteers in our community, with great attention to detail and love. This is what afternoon tea is about: the sharing of our selves with one another. Whether it’s the hostess shopping, baking, setting the table and serving, or the guests gathering around the tea table to listen and laugh together. I am grateful to find this spirit alive in my hometown of Dunwoody, Georgia, and for the wonderful women I met through this experience.

[Parting word to the wise: this tea sold out immediately after being announced to DPT members, who receive first notice. So if you are not already a member, you may want to join!]

DestinationTea
Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

2 Comments

  1. This is one of the best DT reviews/posts I’ve read, one that appears to have been a wonderful, rewarding event. Grandma Freda would have thrived in this environment had she had the opportunity to be exposed to one. Go Destination Tea!!

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