Decked-out dining rooms, warm scones, and tons of tea to choose from will surely put you in the festive spirit.
Although the Brits introduced afternoon tea—consisting of hot tea, finger sandwiches, small pastries, and scones with clotted cream—in the mid-1800s as a fancy way to fend off hunger between lunch and dinner, it’s a tradition that can also be found across the United States today. And what beats getting dressed up to eat miniature sweet and savory treats (at the same time!) while sipping some chamomile with your pinky out? Not much. Except maybe holiday flavored treats and tea in a decked-out salon. Here are eight places in seven cities where afternoon tea is a classy way to celebrate the holidays.
New York City
If you’re looking for a traditional high tea in New York City, try The Pembroke Room (a block from Central Park in The Lowell Hotel). Until Thanksgiving, pumpkins and orange-berried branches serve as autumnal decorations; a Christmas tree and lights will go up after November 22, when its official Holiday Tea Service starts. The holiday tea menu is full of festive flavors—cranberry mayo replaces the regular arugula on the turkey sandwich, and pumpkin is added to the usual list of macaron flavors, such as strawberry poppy seed, Earl Grey, and vanilla lemon.
On the menu are three holiday tea blends chosen by a tea sommelier (that’s right, there is a tea sommelier): Noir Parfume Black Tea, the Vert Parfume Green Tea, and the Tisane de Nöel, all from French purveyor Dammann Frères.
Classic Tea: $63; Royal Tea (which includes a glass of wine): $73; Imperial Tea (which includes champagne and caviar): $110.
Want something a little more low-key and affordable? Try the House of Commons in downtown Denver. Owner Jessica Avery, who hails from England, says her afternoon tea is “very similar, really” to those she grew up with in Lancashire. Holiday tea is offered Thanksgiving through the first week in January. She makes her own spicy Christmas blend of tea, and the tearoom, as well as the petits fours, are decorated for the holidays.
$26 or $32 with a glass of prosecco.
Many people think of tea as a mother-daughter outing. In Seattle you can go to a mother-daughter establishment. Queen Mary is run by Mary Greengo and her mother, Beth, who makes all the baked goods. In addition to the sweets, sandwiches, and scones tearooms usually provide, Queen Mary serves fruit sorbet and soup. Right now, it is offering fall flavors—pecan pie bars, pumpkin chocolate brownies, ginger cookies—and for Christmas, it will feature spice and peppermint. More than 80 teas are available at Queen Mary.
$42. Add champagne for $8.
For most of the year, Allium at The Four Seasons in Chicago serves high tea on the last Saturday of every month. But starting in November, it has high tea on Saturdays and Sundays and, by popular demand, every day in December. The holiday menu lists 10 teas from the “Rare Tea Room”—a vintage 2010 blood orange pu-erh, for example—and goodies such as a citrus tea cake and candied violet scones. It also offers a tea for kids ($30) with delicacies like Rice Crispy treats, ham and cheese sandwiches, and fruit kabobs.
$58. Add bottomless bubbles for $22.
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Afternoon tea can be found outside big cities, too. The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, offers a holiday afternoon tea every day in December except Christmas. Its holiday tea is a spruced-up version of the lovely regular afternoon tea (a highlight: plenty of warm, soft scones). And 2018 marks the 21st year of its annual “12 Days of Christmas,” which includes lavish decorations and numerous events: a holiday market, a train ride, a Santa visit, a special tea with the sugar plum fairy, and a gingerbread house workshop. You can’t escape Christmas at the Carolina Inn.
Classic Holiday Tea: $38; Royal Holiday Tea (includes sparkling wine): $46; Kids: $25.
Lovejoy’s Tea Room in San Francisco started as an antique shop that served tea and scones in the early 1990s, but because of customer interest, it quickly transitioned to a tearoom that also sells tea and china. They pride themselves on an unpretentious and eclectic setting that might remind you of your grandmother’s living room. Interestingly, they do not allow the use of cell phones to encourage actual conversation.
Lovejoy’s features special tea selections for Thanksgiving and Christmas and turns the tearoom into a “Christmas Wonderland” in December. The “Queen’s Tea” is most like a high tea and includes sandwiches, salad, a scone with cream, fresh fruit, and sweets. But the tea service offers various combinations of sweet and savory options. You can also just go for lunch or a cup of tea.
Queen’s Tea: $30; other tea service combinations start at $17.
If you want something a little more high-end and ultra-festive, go to the Fairmont San Francisco. Its holiday tradition, which runs on weekends from mid-December through January, started when the hotel opened in 1907; it includes a 23-foot-tall Christmas tree and a two-story gingerbread house kept together by gallons of icing and decorated with “hundreds of pounds of candy.” If simply seeing the gingerbread house isn’t enough to fulfill your dreams, reserve to have your tea inside it. Perfect for kids or pretending you’re a kid (fits 10 people, extra fee applies).
The “Gingerbread Holiday Tea:” $119, kids: $89.
What better place to have a tea party than the city of the Tea Party? (Just drink it and don’t dump it into the harbor, OK?) You can enjoy afternoon tea inside the Boston Public Library at The Courtyard Restaurant. Most of the year it offers afternoon tea; a fancier version, the Copley Tea, includes a soup or salad on the weekends. But during December it only offers the Copley as its holiday tea. Pumpkin-spiced bundt cake and harvest squash soup are on the fall menu. Past wintery flavors have included gingerbread cookies, peppermint bark, and fruited spice cake.
Plus, it’s located in the historic McKim Building, completed in 1895. So you while you’re there, tour the lobby full of marble, brass, and mosaic ceiling laid by Italian immigrant craftsmen; French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes’s only mural outside of France; the coffered ceilings in Bates Hall, the main reading room named after the library’s first big benefactor; the third floor murals painted by John Singer Sargent; and numerous other details that pay homage to the city’s history.
Afternoon tea: $39; Copley Tea: $45.