Washingtonians Celebrate Coronation with High Tea

The perfect high tea begins with a three-tiered serving platter filled with savories and sweets. It includes, of course, perfectly brewed pots of tea to be poured into delicate tea cups with saucers made of beautifully decorated porcelain.

“These are the basics” several exuberant “tea takers” told the Georgetowner at one of the many full high teas in Washington on Saturday afternoon, May 6, after watching King Charles III’s elaborate two-hour coronation ceremony in the morning. 

What better occasion could there be to partake in the tradition-filled usually hours-long British-originated high tea than the King’s coronation?

“This one is perfect,” Virginians Samantha Caldwell and Jeanne Northentt told the Georgetowner with satisfied smiles at one of the some 30 tables filled with mainly women (many with small fancy hats) and children at the Four Seasons “Coronation Tea.” It started with flutes of cold bubbly champagne, while patrons perused the elegant tea menu of what was to come: scones, savory sandwiches, sweets and even ‘finishing’ short breads and fruit cake…. along with a wide selection of traditional English and Indian teas. 

Then, the three-tiered treys arrived. 

Photo by Peggy Sands.

On one tier were the traditional classic unsweetened breads, usually hot, very light freshly made scones with small dishes of clotted cream and a special preserve (this one with strawberries and lavender – “as served at the Buckingham Palace,” claimed the menu). The next tier usually holds the “savory” treats, in this case the “King’s coronation quiche — made of spinach, tarragon, cheddar and fava beans; a curried chicken salad crustless triangle sandwich with sundried apricots and shallots; New England lump crab on toasted mini rolls; avocado toasts with smoked pistachios and pickled red onions; and a large roll of scottish smoked salmon with herbed crème fraiche and caviar on thin slices of multigrain baguette. 

The top tier of sweets at the Four Seasons included a raspberry lemon top with lemon curd, a “Battenburg’ multi square cake said to have been made originally in honor of the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Louis of Battenberg;  a caramel banana cake said to be the favorite treat of the young Princes William and Harry, and the required chocolate ender, a chocolate, this time a biscuit cake said to be Queen Elizabeth II’s favorite afternoon tea cake. All were prepared at the Four Seasons by pastry chef AJ Thalakkat, a British tea expert who worked at the iconic Empress Hotel in London.

Photo by Peggy Sands.

Of course, the savories and sweet offerings of the high teas vary by venue and chefs. Many of the savories might include a thin crustless sandwich with flavored cream cheese topped by thin slices of cucumbers. Sweets now often include French pastries like mini eclairs and cream croissants. Even the three-tiered treys differ. At the St. Regis, their cherry blossom tea sweet offerings cascade down from ornate table-side tree branches with the savory bites at the base.

As can be seen, high tea differs from a normal “afternoon tea” or a “cuppa” consisting of a mug of tea (many “Brits” add milk) and sometimes a snack of cookies or cake that’s a necessary break in the afternoon work day.

High tea was supposedly introduced by Anna Maria Russell, the Duchess of Bedford in the 19th century “who around 4 p.m. would ask for tea, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and cakes to be served in her room.” The tea taking became an afternoon social event for the leisure class including lots of gossip and often taken before going to a social or cultural event that would end with a late night supper. But, according to historians, high tea also became a tradition of hungry workers at around 5 p.m., when many ended work and had a mug of tea with a heavy meat sandwich while sitting at a high table or bar before going home to family and chores and a later dinner or supper.

Photo by Peggy Sands.

There are more than a dozen venues in Washington offering traditional high teas at various times and prices – many custom reserved for groups of ten or more. They include: Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, the Mansion on O Street, Blue Duck Tavern, Ladurée in Georgetown, the Tavern at Henley Park, the St. Regis, Four Seasons, Opaline Bar & Brasserie, Watergate Hotel’s Kingbird, the Willard, Art & Soul on Capitol Hill, Waldorf Astoria and the Salamander Washington DC.

Prices for the high teas per person vary between $28.50 (for groups at the Hillwood) to around $100 per person at the starred hotels.



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