The Hot Plate: High Tea Offers a Warm Break from Winter’s Chill

Posted February 12, 2010 at 2:24pm

Some of my fondest memories of childhood trips to London, Dublin and Edinburgh, Scotland, came from days when my mother and I would abandon my father and brother to return to our hotel for high tea. We would sip the piping-hot beverage from beautiful porcelain cups while munching on dainty finger sandwiches and sweet pastries. The whole event had a lovely sense of occasion to it and allowed my mother and me to chat.

[IMGCAP(1)]While high tea is not as big a part of life in the states as it is in Europe, there are still a variety of places in the District where you can indulge in the tradition. Whether you’re catching up with a friend or visiting with your mother, high tea is a delightful way to spend a chilly afternoon. Many local hotels offer high tea, allowing you to get a slice of Europe here in Washington.

Perhaps the most well-known and decadent tea in D.C. occurs at the Willard (1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW). The hotel, located around the corner from the White House, is a legend and is said to have had the original lobby that spawned the term “lobbyist.” The Willard recently underwent a face-lift that opened this famed entranceway and made it more accessible.

For years, the Willard has offered a very elegant afternoon tea in Peacock Alley, the long corridor that runs from the front of the hotel to the back. The Willard offers a wide variety of finger sandwiches, including smoked salmon and pea tendrils, as well as pastries such as chocolate Napoleon. All of this is accompanied by a harpist, which adds a nice sense of occasion to the event. Currently, tea is available from 2:30 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for $37 per person, or $47 with Champagne.

The Mayflower (1127 Connecticut Ave. NW), another D.C. landmark, offers a similar setup for the slightly cheaper cost of $35 to $45.

High tea is served in Café Promenade and offers an array of finger sandwiches and sweets. Staple sandwiches such as smoked salmon and dill crème fraiche on pumpernickel bread are available in addition to treats such as chocolate éclairs. Guests choose from 10 different teas and have the option of adding a glass of Mumm Napa Chef du Caves for an additional $7. The Mayflower is ideal for larger groups because tea is set at round dinner tables, as opposed to the couches that adorn the Willard’s hallway. The hotel is happy to accommodate large groups such as birthday parties or baby showers. Tea is served from 3 to 5 p.m. every day.

The Mandarin Oriental (1330 Maryland Ave. SW) breaks away from the high tea setup and brings its guests “Afternoon Savories and Sweets” in the hotel’s Empress Lounge. From 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, guests can indulge in a buffet of desserts as they sip hot beverages. Traditional treats such as scones and clotted cream with fruit preserves are offered alongside ginger coconut éclairs and mango cheesecake.

Not only will the Mandarin offer a selection of teas, but the hotel also serves coffee. The rotating menu features French press coffees such as Guatemala Antigua Finca Medina and India Malabar. Coffee and tea drinks are also available a la carte for those who are looking for more of a caffeine boost than a sugar high.

If you want a truly casual tea experience, look no further than Teaism (400 Eighth St. NW). At the Penn Quarter location, guests can choose from a traditional afternoon tea or an Asian afternoon tea, both of which are served in the eateries’ downstairs garden. The menus include snacks and a pot of tea. The traditional menu features tea sandwiches, ginger scones and cookies, whereas the Asian tea menu consists of rice balls, tofu and green tea ice cream. Tea is served from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. daily for $20.