Afternoon Tea at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin

Drawing Room at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin © The Merrion Hotel

Drawing Room at The Merrion Hotel, Dublin © The Merrion Hotel

I called for afternoon tea reservations at The Merrion Hotel in Dublin and was told that they were booked for the entire month of December. Fortunately after we arrived at the hotel, the staff was able to get us a seating (most likely because were guests of the hotel). As luck would have it, we were given a table directly in front of the fireplace and facing the harpist who was just beginning to play for the guests taking afternoon tea.

The Merrion Hotel is located in the center of Georgian Dublin and is just a short walk from Dublin’s “golden mile” – an area of pubs, shops and restaurants near St. Stephen’s Green. The main house of the hotel was created from four townhouses originally built in the 1760’s and now painstakingly restored. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Shelbourne, Dublin

The Lord Mayor's Lounge at The Shelbourne © The Shelbourne Hotel

The Lord Mayor’s Lounge at The Shelbourne © The Shelbourne Hotel

A beautiful mid-December day in Dublin, Ireland – sunny and about 42F or 6C – found me approaching the front entrance of the Shelbourne Hotel for “Festive Afternoon Tea.” We had reservations at this, one of Dublin’s most historic hotels, built in 1828 and the location where the Constitution of the Irish Free State was drafted by Michael Collins and associates in Room 112. The hotel has views overlooking St. Stephen’s Green, the largest garden square in Europe.

“Tea time in the Lord Mayor’s Lounge is muted and airbrushed by Nostalgia, the clink of tea cups, and the cadness of Marie Whelan’s Piano are punctuated by the rhythmic sound of hoof beats as horse-drawn carriages bowl past the windows onto sightseeing promenades” – from The Shelbourne and its People by Michael O’Sullivan and Bernadine O’Neill. Continue reading

High Tea at The Four Seasons Hotel, Chicago

High Tea at The Lounge in The Four Seasons, Chicago - image ©Four Seasons Hotels

High Tea at The Lounge in The Four Seasons, Chicago – image ©Four Seasons Hotels

An unusually warm December afternoon found me in Chicago at one of the city’s premier luxury hotels, The Four Seasons, just off the Magnificent Mile. The hotel is in a high rise building above an upscale retail mall called The 900 Shops.

The hotel’s entire lobby is richly decorated in fine-plush furnishings but, The Lounge – where tea is served – certainly stands out in its striking beauty and decor.  Unlike several hotel venues that serve afternoon tea in a large airy room, this space is small and intimate.  Ironically, the room was full but it was also very private and quiet. The acoustic engineers must have worked overtime on this space. The Lounge’s dark wood, plush carpeting, and fine tapestries all speak of the luxury you are about to experience taking afternoon tea at The Four Seasons Chicago. Continue reading

The History of Afternoon Tea

The Blue Drawing Room where Anna Russell entertained guests for Afternoon Te

The Blue Drawing Room where Anna Russell entertained guests for Afternoon Tea (image credit: Woburn Abbey)

 

First let’s distinguish between the idea of tea drinking in England, and the more elaborate ritual of taking afternoon tea (a light meal), which evolved much later.

When and how did tea become so popular in England? Portugal was probably most responsible. In 1662, when Charles the II married a member of the Portuguese royal family, Catherine of Braganza, she brought tea with her as part of her dowry, and tea soon became the official court beverage in the 1660’s. At that time, tea was scarce, expensive and highly taxed – a rare luxury good that only the aristocracy and upper classes could afford.

The powerful East India Trading Company began providing King Charles II with small gifts of tea from China for Catherine in order to curry his favor and perhaps win special rights and privileges for the company, which may have included a near monopoly on tea imported from China.    Continue reading

High Tea at Fortnum and Mason, London

St. James's Restaurant at Fortnum and Mason ©Fortnum and Mason

St. James’s Restaurant at Fortnum and Mason ©Fortnum and Mason

When I arrived at Fortnum and Mason, it was after sundown and the right time for High Tea. High Tea is served later in the day and is a more substantial meal than the lighter fare that is commonly associated with afternoon tea.  After entering through F&M’s oak doors on Piccadilly, I took the lift up to the 4th Floor St. James’s, a full service restaurant that serves meals and teas of all kinds. The restaurant is light, airy, has a quiet ambiance, tables set a good distance apart, live piano music, and for a lucky few, tables next to the windows overlooking Piccadilly below.  Even though I requested one, they were all reserved for a function later that evening.

After opening on this spot in 1707 as a small grocery shop, Fortnum and Mason have been doing business at 181 Piccadilly for over 300 years.  They have a long history of dealing in exotic imported foods and other fine goods, including full leaf teas of all kinds, and have earned numerous Royal Warrants. From the beginning, Fortnum and Mason have sold tea to anyone who asked, a novel idea in the 1700’s when tea drinking was limited mostly to the aristocracy. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at Brown’s Hotel, London

Brown's Hotel English Tea Room © Rocco Forte Collection

Brown’s Hotel English Tea Room © Rocco Forte Collection

Although it was dark and overcast on this late November day in London, the air was unusually warm at 57F / 14C.  Walking up Albemarle Street in the heart of Mayfair, I came to the unmistakable entrance to Brown’s Hotel.  Built in 1837 by James Brown and his wife, Sarah, who were formerly butler and maid to Lord and Lady Byron, it was the first hotel in London that catered to “genteel” folk.

As of 2003, Brown’s is owned by The Rocco Forte Collection which invested 24 million GBP in refurbishments after acquiring this luxury hotel.

On a historical note, Alexander Graham Bell stayed here in 1876 to demonstrate his new invention, the telephone.  The English Tea Room is where Rudyard Kipling wrote much of his famous novel, The Jungle Book.  It is also believed that Agatha Christie wrote her novel (At Bertram’s Hotel) while at Brown’s Hotel and modeled the story after the hotel. United States Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt both selected Brown’s Hotel for their honeymoons. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz Carlton, Chicago

Lobby of The Ritz Carlton, Chicago (image courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)

Lobby of The Ritz Carlton, Chicago (image courtesy of The Ritz Carlton)

Afternoon Tea at The Ritz Carlton, Chicago reminds me of spending a relaxing afternoon in someone’s luxurious parlor or living room. The mood is unhurried, the atmosphere is elegant, and the overstuffed sofas and chairs just make you want to stay and never leave.  In some ways, it reminds me of The Gallery at The George V in Paris, one of my all time favorite places for afternoon tea.

Tea is served in The Ritz Carlton Hotel’s lobby located on the 12th floor of Water Tower Place in Chicago, a high rise building on The Magnificent Mile that includes retail stores on the lower floors, the Ritz Carlton Hotel on the mid floors and luxury condominiums with views of Lake Michigan on the upper floors. You’re close to the high energy of the city yet, at the same time, twelve floors above it in a soundproof oasis. (This is also where U.S. television personality Oprah Winfrey lives in Chicago.) Continue reading

What Is Clotted Cream?

Tea time, with scones, clotted cream and jam

Tea time, with scones, clotted cream and jam

First of all, it’s clotted, not whipped.  Secondly, it’s a rich and creamy dairy product that most people associate with England, but is now available widely around the world.  Thirdly, it’s a luxury item that is usually spread on scones, desserts and fresh fruit, especially at afternoon tea taken in the English tradition.

Clotted cream is made by pouring fresh milk into a pan and then letting it sit for several hours, allowing the cream to rise to the top.  Then it’s simmered over low heat until clots form on the surface, trapping the cream inside. The clots are then skimmed off to make clotted cream.  The signature golden hue comes from the butterfat content in the whole milk.

Some sources claim clotted cream first originated as early as 16th century England, while others indicate the 19th century.  In any case, it seems clear that it arose as a method for preserving excess milk supplies, at least for a few extra days. Since that time, the process for making it has barely changed. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Waldorf Astoria, New York City

Afternoon Tea on The Cocktail Terrace at The Waldorf Astoria (image courtesy of The Waldorf Astoria)

Afternoon Tea on The Cocktail Terrace at The Waldorf Astoria (image courtesy of The Waldorf Astoria)

If there ever was a luxury hotel that embodies New York,  it’s the Waldorf Astoria. Of course it’s a landmark luxury hotel, but it’s steeped in so much history that it’s difficult to talk about New York without mentioning the Waldorf.  From Guy Lombardo’s annual New Year’s celebrations broadcast from the Grand Ballroom to guests including heads of state and Hollywood royalty too numerous to mention, the hotel has a long and storied past.

Historically, The Waldorf is responsible for transforming the role of major urban hotels into establishments that do more than just provide temporary accommodations to travelers. These grand urban hotels were to become social centers in cities and prestigious destinations for visitors.  The Waldorf was also at the forefront of advancing the status of women by being one of the earliest to admit women singly, without escorts. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea at The Pierre, New York City

Afternoon Tea is served in The Pierre's 2E Lounge

Afternoon Tea is served in The Pierre’s 2E Lounge

Ah, The Pierre, a luxury hotel in New York City and one time home to actress Elizabeth Taylor, former Harrods owner Mohamed al-Fayed, and the French designer Yves Saint-Laurent.  Charles Pierre, an immigrant from Corsica, began in the restaurant business in New York and over the years established social ties with some of Wall Street’s largest financiers. In 1930, they joined together to form a venture to build The Pierre, a 42 story hotel on Fifth Avenue and east 61st Street, in Manhattan. The Great Depression doomed the prospects for this and many other hotels, and it was forced into bankruptcy in 1932.  J Paul Getty then purchased the building in 1938 and converted some of the hotel’s rooms into cooperative apartments. As of 2005, The Pierre is a Taj Hotel, a global chain of fine luxury hotels and resorts.  Continue reading