Afternoon Tea: a modern update to an old tradition

So my previous post on snacking indicates that I appreciate meals outside of the Three Squares. In fact, they’ve become imperative for me since I don’t eat breakfast. When 3pm rolls around, I start to get hungry and, until recently, go for whatever is in my field of vision.

And in yet another previous post, I’ve also indicated that I’m a coffee drinker. But that doesn’t mean that I’m totally into tea as well. In fact, my #1 afternoon pick me up is usually a Starbucks Venti Green Iced Tea, no water, no sweetener. I try to keep this habit at bay since daily Starbucks trips can really add up. And unlike my coffee, I will not touch any tea that has been sweetened. I think my mom originally got me started on unsweetened iced tea with lemon. She’d drink it constantly and as any curious child, I finally wanted to try some. “EW!” was my first reaction. But tastes evolve and here we are.

afternoon tea

Traditional Tea Service. Via Flickr

Afternoon tea services have cropped up at boutique hotels and eateries. Depending on the lavishness of the establishment, it can range from tea and snacks to what I’d consider a full-blown meal. It’s nice to see these places make it their own tradition. For me, it is a great way to pace your afternoon. A lot of people eat lunch from 12-1pm, followed by a non-stop race to 6pm. And then you get home, feed your face, watch TV and go to bed. But when you take 30 minutes to have a cup of tea and a snack around 3 (4pm seems too late to me), the afternoon seems less daunting.

And just to clear things up, what is commonly referred to “high tea” is actually a heavy meal with meat, AKA dinner. Afternoon tea is called “low tea” and is what you usually see in the United States when someone says “high tea.” Afternoon/Low/Light Tea consists of tea with snacks like scones, cookies, jam and toast, etc. Sometimes there’s cake and not-so-light pastries, and now you’re more into the “full” tea service. What’s crazy is the British diet consisted of breakfast (ale, bread and meat) and dinner at the very end of the day (which was also heavy and lasted until right before bedtime). At some point tea time was introduced and then they were just eating all the time.

But enough with tradition. It’s 2013 and I really think the British had something going here! So I’ve made my own modern tea time:

Step 1: Make tea. Don’t make a lot of it. Make enough for you and whomever you’re sharing it with. I like to use legitimate tea cups that I never use unless I have company over. Teacups tend to be smaller than coffee mugs and only hold about 6 oz. of tea. This is plenty unless you like to stay up until 2am. Since I’m sort of making this up as I go, I like to stick to traditional teas. Last time I was in Portland I had an Earl Grey Tea by Smith Tea and now I’m addicted. When I need something a little cleaner and lighter, I go for silver needle tea (white) or a lavender sencha (green). Both of these are lighter on the caffeine (especially the sencha) and have a cleaner flavor.

And if you just can’t stand tea, or coffee, then find something else to drink!

Step 2: Get snacks. Cheese and crackers? Cucumber sandwiches? Whatever it is, try to keep it simple but of an above average quality. If you have time and want to go the extra mile, having some hors d’oeuvres would fit the bill. Just try not to make it “afternoon tea with a Snickers.” It will definitely take away from the special nature of afternoon tea.

moroccan tea service

Moroccan Tea service. via Flickr

Step 3: It’s all about ambiance. I’ve had dinner in front of the TV. I’ve eaten lunch in my car. I eat last night’s pizza over the sink as a “snack.” I’ve eaten fast food breakfast sandwiches on the way to the airport only to burn my mouth and have to suck on ice cubes during my flight. Basically, there is no “scarfing” in afternoon tea. You’re free to make it what you want, but make it special, if only a little. Find a quiet place to sit and plan out the rest of your day/evening. If you’re having tea with a friend/coworker, leave the confines of the Break Room and step outside.

Step 4: If Step one through three is not your thing, find a place locally doing afternoon tea. In Los Angeles, I have a lot of choices when it comes to afternoon tea. Here are some personal favorites:

American Tea Room. This is the place that sells my Silver Needles and Lavender Sencha teas, among hundreds of others. They have a small cafe area where they will prepare tea by the pot, and have munchies to go along with it.

401 N Canon Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
310-271-7922

Tres by José Andrés. Because of Jose’s enthusiasm for his home country, I now have a crush on Spain. This is going to be one of the fanciest and unique tea services you’ll have. We’re talking chocolate pop rocks and caviar bao. It doesn’t get more LA than this.

465 S La Cienega Blvd
between Colgate Ave & Clifton Way, inside SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills
Los Angeles, CA 90048
310-246-5551
http://www.sbe.com/tres
Palihouse Courtyard Brasserie. They don’t have a dedicated afternoon tea per se but they have such a great menu that this place is hard to ignore. Inside the boutique hotel of the same time, their courtyard cafe meets the criteria for tea ambiance. They serve Dean & Deluca treats and have a great menu. I’ve been meaning to try this place for dinner as well so I’ll update if it’s good.
8465 Holloway Dr
West Hollywood, CA 90069
323-656-4100
http://www.palihouse.com/dining.asp
There are other great tea services at other great Los Angeles Hotels (The Peninsula, The Four Seasons, The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Bel-Air Hotel, The Beverly Wilshire) but having tea at hotels is a bit much. They’re all a $30+ affair. They might be good for a Sunday afternoon so I save them for a special occasion.

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