Reminiscing on afternoon tea

 Many years ago in the mid 90’s, when I first moved to D.C. I discovered the fabulousness of the Afternoon Tea. I tagged along with a friend to attend a party of someone I did not know, held in the tea room of the Ritz Carlton.  Why I was at a stranger’s tea party I can’t recall.  Even now I can not fathom a socially acceptable reason for crashing a stranger’s birthday party being held at a fancy pantsy hotel. Or was it a baby shower? Ah the hubris of youth.

What I do recall from that tea was that for $20 (and that included tip), one could experience a few hours of being treated like a queen. Sitting in comfy chairs as a harpist and pianist played quietly, we would be served dainty sandwiches and an abundance of sweets. Every fifteen or twenty minutes a lovely person would come by to see if my teapot needed more hot water. I would thank them after they filled it and they kindly responded, “my pleasure.” It was lovely.

 At the time, I was living in a boarding house, having just arrived in DC a few months earlier. Thompson-Markward Hall billed itself a “Young Christian Women’s Home.” You could not drink, smoke or have men, at least inside. So we smoked on the back porch, came home drunk and men? Well, that was for each individual young lady to figure out for herself. I was working two jobs at the time. Temping by day, looking for a full-time job that offered benefits, and working retail at night. Luxury was not a word that applied to any aspect of my life. But it would start popping up, once a month, when I would drag a new friend or two to an afternoon tea.

Not long ago, perhaps a year, I returned to that Ritz-Carlton with a friend. My income has greatly improved since my 20s and no longer sweat the cost of tea. Sadly, I was disappointed. Now I know that often, the first memory of something always trumps the repeat. But after several years of working the circuit, the afternoon tea experience was gone. This last time, Instead of a fireplace, harpist, and comfy armchairs, my friend Stacy and I sat at a table in a room that could have been a meeting room, staging area or storage. A few paintings on the wall did not distract us from the reality that we were sitting in a room with no windows and no atmosphere.  Where was the harpist?  It had all the atmosphere a waiting room.

The wonderfully quaint tea sandwiches from earlier days were replaced with a few “modern” twists that held no appeal. Really the only recognizable part of the entire meal was that there was a scone. A small, dry, sad little scone. And hearing the mandatory “my pleasure” from our server sounded hollow. Did I mention the bill was more than $50 per person? Yeah, thanks Ritz, I think our tea relationship has run its course.

I don’t go to afternoon tea at hotels anymore, it seems to have lost its appeal. Or maybe the fact that I pay twice as much now for half of the experience just rubs me the wrong way. But I still love Afternoon Tea. And the amazing thing about a tea party, is that it can so easily be thrifty, simple and frugal while still feeling luxurious. Heck, just cut your PB and J in quarters and arrange them on a pretty plate and you are halfway there. Afternoon tea is all about presentation and how it is not what you are eating, but how you are eating it. Make it a ceremony and it will feel like a ceremony. Make it a treat, it will be a treat.

Following are some links to books that have provided me with most of my go-to recipes. One of which includes a wonderful recipe for one of the official sandwiches of afternoon tea – the  cucumber sandwich. I have included the recipe below.  There are myriad other books out there so feel free to ignore my suggestions. Most of my book purchases were well before the turn-of-the-century. Oh, how Victorian and tea-y sounding. And let’s not forget the 21st Century, a few blog links as well.  Enjoy! 



Joy the Baker recently posted a lovely recipe for Green Goddess Tea Sandwiches  for Mother’s Day.

Design*Sponge features Rachel Khoo’s recipe for crumpets and raspberry curd. Um, yum I will be purchasing raspberries this weekend.

I featured a post around Easter showcasing Diary of a Mad Hausfrau’s tulip cakes, equally at home at tea party.


 Cucumber and Roquefort Cheese Sandwiches

  • 10 thin white or whole-wheat bread slices (I like the Pepperidge Farm thin sliced bread)
  • 2 small cucumbers, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon black sesame seeds (optional)
  • Roquefort Cheese Mousse (see below)

Roquefort Cheese Mousse

  • 8 ounces Roquefort cheese (in a pinch, bleu cheese will do)
  • 8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 4 tablespoons butter at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut crust off bread slices and cut bread into desired size. Use a serrated knife. Place the bread slices on baking sheet and toast for five minutes.

Blend the Roquefort cheese, cream cheese and butter until smooth.

Spread a thin layer of mousse over each slice of toast. Roquefort cheese is powerful so a little goes a long way. Place overlapping slices of cucumber on the toast and garnish each with a piped rosette of mousse and some toasted walnuts. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

I have also made this recipe as a closed sandwich. Spread mayonnaise on the sides and roll in the crushed walnuts.

Makes 20 sandwiches

Recipe from Afternoon Tea Serenade: Recipes From Famous Tea Rooms

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