Whether it’s the iconic three-tiered silver tray with canapés and white-glove service or something fresh like al fresco iced brews and a “TeaJ” in lieu of a harp, afternoon tea is getting pinkies and thumbs up. Boston Public Library has even gone so far as to cancel its lunch service to make space for sippers all week long, and dads can get in on the game with boozy brews and heavier snacks like s’mores with maple-smoked bacon at another seaside hotel in that historic city. Blame it on an urge to celebrate British traditions with all of this Brexit talk — the union of savory and sweet in the afternoon will always win on this side of the pond at one of these top high tea restaurants.
The Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts
Tea is just as much a feast for the eyes as the stomach at Boston Public Library, where the historic McKim Building, circa 1895, was declared a U.S. national historic landmark in 1986. The Courtyard Restaurant overlooks an open-air Italianate courtyard with a vaulted ceiling and ornate chandelier originally installed over a grand staircase in the 1950s, and the aesthetic was completed with the installation of a marble floor in the nineties. “Enjoying tea in the restaurant is transportive,” says manager Akiko Yamagata. “Sitting in the serene dining room in a historic building, one’s imagination takes hold, into a different time and its customs — just like reading a captivating novel.” The extensive menu — which changes several times a year — is just as captivating and features blends from Massachusetts-based outfit MEM Tea Imports, including the popular Wedding Blend, a fruity, flowery, and herbaceous green. Make a reservation at The Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library.
Pavilion at The Langham, Chicago, Illinois
Pavilion at the Langham in Chicago, truly brings a tradition from across the pond to the shores of Lake Michigan with its Afternoon Tea with Wedgwood — which first debuted at the Langham in London in 1865. Sweet and savory bites like artichoke and melted leek quiche, a grilled asparagus sandwich with petite lettuce salad, pickled mustard seeds, and fresh ricotta, lemon-cherry scones with grapefruit marmalade and blackberry jam, and chocolate verrine with dark chocolate brownie and milk chocolate mousse are served much the same way they were more than a century ago. The Pavilion serves up 25 blends including five blends exclusive to the Langham, including a fruity rhubarb for kids. Make a reservation at Pavilion at The Langham.
Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia
It’s no surprise that being in British Columbia the folks at Butchart Gardens would honor the British tradition of teatime — but what is unique is the way in which they incorporate West Coast flair. Both executive chef Travis Hansen and pastry chef Keith Tran — both of whom have worked at the Gardens for more than 25 years each — pride themselves on signature items such as locally smoked wild salmon, curried Cowichan Valley chicken salad, and candied ginger scones from an old family recipe. Summer is an especially ideal time to visit the Gardens for another reason, says sommelier and dining room manager Dave Lane, who notes that the Backyard Flight program is a “must-try. We’re extremely fortunate to be surrounded by wineries and orchards that provide us with world-class wines, spirits, and liquors, and every year we pick the best to pair with our teas to showcase the terroir and character of the growing conditions. It’s a unique experience not found anywhere else.” Make a reservation at Butchart Gardens.
Modern Tea, Chicago, Illinois
A tradition gets a makeover at Modern Tea in Chicago, where the Radisson’s swanky lobby with couches and a gold-plated mirror puts a new spin on live music from a jazz or string quartet with a “TeaJ.” There are eight Rishi teas from which to choose (available over ice when the mercury climbs) and outside seating for al fresco dining featuring sweets from the hotel’s new pastry chef Caroline Kolaja. One of her specialties is a basil passion tart, though she also admits to having a penchant for cake batter ice cream — her first industry job was as a Ben & Jerry’s scooper in high school. Make a reservation at Modern Tea.
Pembroke Room, New York, New York
Good things come in threes at the Pembroke Room, which features three styles of service: the classic, the Pembroke Royal, and the Lowell Imperial. Each includes a selection of more than 20 Dammann Frères fine French tea varieties, classic finger sandwiches (curry chicken, cucumber and watercress, lobster roll) a dill, egg, and cornichon salad, caviar blinis with goat cheese, scones, petit fours, and more. But the latter two options give you a chance to enhance your experience with a glass of rosé, port, or sherry as part of the Pembroke, and Champagne and caviar with the Lowell Imperial. Look for further enhancements starting in September, when the space will get a spruce-up with new furnishings, carpet, window treatments, and design elements meant to keep the spirit of the room while maintaining the tradition of classic elegance that’s been the setting for generations of bridal bashes and baby showers. Make a reservation at the Pembroke Room.