Keeping up the tradition of Afternoon Tea

I have loved the aroma and taste of coffee for as long as I can remember. Even as a young child I recall looking forward to the sounds of my parents’ coffeemaker brewing and the aroma of Chock full o’Nuts wafting up the stairs each morning. I continually begged to taste coffee, to no avail. My mother finally relented when I was four or five, although it was more milk with a few drops of coffee added…but I was hooked and have been drinking coffee ever since.

Tea was not a beverage I drank regularly. However, with Southern roots, my relatives were fans of “sweet tea” that was—and still is—ubiquitous in the Southern US. Too sweet for me, I rarely consumed it except on sweltering hot, humid summer days. When I was in college and visited London, I experienced my first afternoon tea. It was at the Piccadilly Meridien and was quite elegant—women had to wear hats and gloves, waiters wore tuxedos and there was a harpist. Never had I seen so many types of tea (I would not have referred to them as “varieties” back then), the choices were overwhelming. But there was a knowledgeable waiter who explained the myriad teas and their individual nuances—an ideal educational experience. I remember “exotic” names like oolong and lapsang souchong, but do not recall which tea I chose (if there was something with jasmine in it, I’m certain I ordered that one). I developed a newfound appreciation for the beverage and the experience of afternoon tea. Back in the US, I was excited to discover that there were several hotels in New York City that also offered afternoon tea. When I was home from college that summer, my mother and I went to tea at the Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel—another sophisticated affair.

When I visit my parents at Christmas each year, it’s become an annual tradition for my mother and I to go the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans for a traditional English afternoon tea complete with watercress sandwiches, scones and clotted crème. (In a single year, the Windsor Court serves at least 67,000 cups of tea during the afternoon tea service.) It seems to be a mecca for many other mothers, daughters and granddaughters as well. Over the years, the list of teas has become more expansive broadening the taste opportunities (including more caffeine-free options) for eager tea drinkers. A lovely and relaxing couple of hours, and yet patrons walk away pleased and perhaps with a bit more knowledge of and fondness for tea.

A new report from Tetley Tea finds that younger consumers (the report focused on the UK) are less emotionally engaged with tea, which presents significant opportunity for operators to promote tea drinking to a fresh demographic. Consumers under the age of 45 are more likely to drink tea while socializing. The report suggested tapping into the younger demographic and creating a better out-of-home tea-drinking experience. With consumers’ time more constrained, the popularity of the daily formal afternoon tea has waned. But why not bring it back (we can forego the hats and gloves)–at least for special occasions–as it is both educational and entertaining? As Henry James said, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

Off to tea I go! Enjoy the holidays! Best wishes for a Happy New Year!

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