Afternoon and Cream Tea

I hope your holidays were restful, joyful, and filled with an abundance of family and tea.

The other day I was feeling homesick for my Notting Hill address and inspired by the premiere of Downton Abbey’s fourth season at the same time, so I decided to have cream tea in my living room.

Cream tea is simply a pot of your choice of tea, scones, clotted cream, lemon curd, and jam. I usually brew an afternoon black tea blend for cream or afternoon tea. Just to clarify: afternoon tea is cream tea plus finger sandwiches (cucumber, chicken salad, ham, egg salad, etc) and smaller sweets like macaroons or tiny cookies. Afternoon tea generally takes place between about 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. (the afternoon) but I’ve had reservations as early as 1 p.m. As for cream tea, I’ve had it throughout the day in London cafes, so it’s a bit more flexible and informal.

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Upper left: strawberry jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream. Bottom center: buttery, flaky scones smothered in clotted cream and jam. Bottom right: Hot Cinnamon and Spice tea with milk. Perfection.

One of my current favorite black teas is Harney & Son’s Hot Cinnamon Spice. This time I tried it with some milk. Usually I refrain from adding anything to this tea because it has a much sweeter taste than a traditional afternoon blend, but I’m one for experimentation and I do recommend it as long as it is given a chance on its own first. Please, do not go anywhere near this blend with sugar. Thanks.

I referred to the scone recipe from Rick Rodgers’ Tea and Cookies. It was simple to follow and helpful with tips! I think my scones could be a bit thicker/fluffier– probably to do with how much I patted the dough down before I cut out the scones. Also, the little black dots are not raisins– they are currants (think mini raisin) and can be found in the same aisle.

This was not the only tea adventure I had over my holiday–of course I had to get out and explore another tea room!

After Christmas I went to Chadds Ford, PA with my dad for some afternoon tea at Special Teas Tea Room. Before we grabbed our finger sandwiches, we ordered two bowls of steaming, savory, creamy butternut squash soup to taunt our taste buds (and to be honest this was both our breakfast and lunch, let alone afternoon tea). Needless to say, we were starving.

We shared two pots of tea: a traditional afternoon black tea blend and a Christmas blend with cinnamon undertones. This was a very relaxing place to have tea, the service was timely and the staff was very friendly. I recommend staying a few minutes before you leave to browse their gift shop… they have lots of UK products.

After experiencing a few afternoon teas since I’ve returned from London, I do tend to compare them. Anyone can describe the mechanics of an afternoon tea: tea, scones, two or three spreads for the scones, finger sandwiches, tiny sweets, etc. But presentation, taste, service, tea and table ware, and atmosphere are what really defines and differentiates place A’s afternoon tea from place B’s afternoon tea.

Presentation: Are the cups clean? How about the silverware? Is everything neat and in its proper place? Is it aesthetically pleasing?

Taste: How does everything taste? Sweet? Salty? Hearty? Do you like the tea?

Service: Have you been served in a timely fashion? Too slow? Rushed? Is the staff friendly?

Tea and table ware: Does the tea ware clash or compliment each other? Is it an eyesore or does the contrast work?

Atmosphere: Would you come here again? How were the other customers?

Some places are more formal and chic with glass teapots, while some like to mix and match china for a homey feel. To each his own. It really all comes down to a good quality tea and good company.

Cheers!

The Lincoln Room: Afternoon tea in West Chester

Located on West Chester, PA’s Market Street is a historical building with strong ties to Abraham Lincoln and a good traditional Afternoon Tea and luncheon.

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The Lincoln Room is a quaint tea room hidden in the basement of an old printing press, which by the way printed the first biography of Abraham Lincoln on Feb. 11, 1860. This building still has the original ceiling, walls and fireplace from the 19th century.

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While Afternoon Tea is most popular, lunch is also offered. Luncheon and tea are served from 10am to 2pm Tuesday through Saturday. Their food menu includes soups, quiches, salads, sandwiches and tea sandwiches (mini triangular sized sandwiches), and a variety of desserts. “Tea-For-Two” is a major feature on the menu, served on a three-plate tower, which includes a plate of eight tea sandwiches for each, a plate of bite-sized desserts (scones, croissant bread pudding, cookies and cakes, lemon curd and Devonshire cream) and of course a large pot of tea (of your choice) to share.

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As you enjoy your “Tea-For-Two,” please be sure to follow tea etiquette. A small reminder is inserted into the menu lest you forget your manners. Please no clinking your spoon against your teacup, keep the conversation low, and please, please, do silence your cell phones and take calls outside.

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The day after Thanksgiving, for example, is a great day to go enjoy a good cup of tea and a few finger sandwiches. I went with my mom and had “Tea-For-Two.” The Lincoln Room has a warm, relaxing environment and is appropriately decorated for the holiday season. The fireplace, which is original, was filled with thick candles imitating a warm hearth on a cold day and a few framed historical facts rested on the mantel.

The staff is incredibly friendly and full of information about the building’s history. The service was at just the right speed; enough time to have a few sips of tea and get settled before the tea sandwiches and bite-sized desserts arrived. Much to our surprise, the tea room was pretty full, so please make sure you call a few days in advance for reservations.

I’ve lived in the area all my life and have even passed the Lincoln Room many times, never thinking twice about it, let alone knowing that it was a tea room! It wasn’t until my mother suggested this place the other week that we decided to explore, and thank goodness we did!

The Random Tea Room

My roommate and I ventured into Northern Liberties this weekend for a specific purpose: to drink amazing tea. I’ve been waiting for a weekend where I could get to the Random Tea Room and Curiosity Shop. I’ve been blogging since the beginning of the semester and since then I’ve had some time to build a wish list of places to visit. So far I’ve hit every one, now including the Random Tea Room.

Having tea here was like having tea in a friend’s living room. We were welcomed in upon entry and as soon as I absorbed my surroundings I realized this was different from any cafe or tea room I’ve been in before. From the mismatched furniture to the unique teacups, we could tell that Random Tea Room is very personal and full of character.

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The Random Tea Room’s international loose tea collection includes black teas of Sri Lanka & Assam, caffeine-free tisanes, Chinese red and white teas, Darjeeling, herbal infusions, house blends, Japanese teas, Oolong and more. Customers are welcomed to smell each tea before they try it, and ask for blends of their favorites.

Chai Oats, atop the food menu, is an oatmeal-like cereal surrounded by chai and topped with chocolate shavings. This is perfectly paired with King’s Tea, a nutty Oolong tea infused with ginseng. This was my first experience with oolong tea and I really enjoyed it. There will be King’s Tea in my future.

The description in the menu of King’s Tea is right on point:

“Our darkest, nuttiest Oolong, the King’s Tea is infused with ginseng, lending its already rich character a sweet finish. It is uncanny: the more you drink, the sweeter the air you inhale becomes. Plainly, King’s Tea offers an unrivalled flavor sensation, and due to this quality, it is steadfastly pursued by its devotees once they’ve discovered it.”

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In the warmer months, the Random Tea Room has outdoor seating in the back for various events.

But tea is not the only source of wellness Random Tea Room offers. If customers are in need of serious stress relief, the Random Tea Room offers massage therapy, truly promoting wellness of the whole being. Their massage therapists offer deep tissue, sports injury and Swedish massages. When I think of pairings of tea I usually think of food, but a massage takes tea pairings to a whole new level of stress relief.

This is the tea culture I love to see; people with the purpose to help other people by promoting wellness through a good cup of tea and relaxing environment.

Some tea in D.C.

For the first part of Fall Break a group of my friends and I went to visit a friend who is interning in Washington, D.C.

We did a lot of walking, site seeing, and admiring everyone taking photos of themselves in front of the government shutdown signs. We may have taken a few of our own…

Anyway!

My goal in D.C. was to find a great place for tea but some of the places I drooled over did not have weekend hours…so that made me sad. But I knew that we were planning to go into Chinatown for dinner and I knew that the Chinese love their tea so I was satisfied knowing I’d most likely run into a few kettles in Chinatown. And I was right.

At the end of our long day, Dawn, the same friend from my last post, decided to take us on a hunt for authentic Chinese food. I think according to her we came close, sort of. We decided on a place called Chinatown Express Restaurant and what do you think they served us before our meal? Jasmine tea!

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Jasmine tea!

She told me that many people in Northern China drink jasmine tea with meals. It is usually served in a restaurant before diner so people do not sit down to drink this tea like they would green tea.

I would have loved this tea much more if it was stronger but overall it was delicious. By the way, I am sorry I do not have a picture of the tea leaves, they were taken out of the pot before it made it to the table.

While I did not get my ultimate tea experience in D.C. to share with you, I did encounter a little bit of tea culture. It has inspired me to look for this in other places, especially Philadelphia. This has raised lots of questions for me, including:

 

What is our tea culture, if we have one?

If we don’t, why not?

And why did coffee become such a dominant drink in the U.S.? We have a dominant “coffee culture.”

Is tea making a comeback? Will there be more cafes that are mainly about tea, like Steap and Grind?

While it might be a common practice to be served tea in China and in the UK (yet another post on the way), what can the U.S. have?

Do you sit down with your friends and have tea?

Is it a ritual you have in the morning or before bed?

 

These questions have helped me focus in on a goal, a goal that I originally started with when I began my blog and that was to find the tea culture in Philadelphia.

It is places like Chinatown Express that help create a sense of a tea culture and it is my hope that places like that have some kind of influence on the people who have eaten there.

Longjing Tea

So this weekend was a tough one which means I was unable to get into the city and find a cafe or tea house to blog about but that does not mean I did not get my hands on a new kind of tea!

One of my good friends from school was supposed to go into the city with me on Saturday morning to come along and discover some new tea place with me while I soaked up some tea information for this blog. Unfortunately it just was not possible for me to make it into the city, so she decided to come to my apartment late Friday night instead.

She brought me some tea her family uses in Hangzhou, China. So you can imagine I got really excited. And if you can’t, trust me, I was beaming. She told me that that people who love this tea in China will drink it all day everyday. My kind of town!

The tea she brought is called Longjing tea, a green tea, also known as Dragon Well Tea. It has origins in Hangzhou, China, but it is currently produced in Zhejiang.

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I looked inside the tin and realized the leaves were huge! She told me to skip the infuser and to just pour the water right over the leaves. “Just don’t drink the leaves,” she said. So that’s what we did.

While I can now say that I have experience with loose tea, and love how “real” it seems compared to bagged tea, this loose tea was really tea leaves!

Leaf!

Several sips into my first cup, I noticed it got really strong, but I kept drinking…and may have ingested a few tea leaves, but it was so much fun and I don’t think I would have had such an experience if we went out to tea.

So we sat for an hour or so talking with my roommate about school and life and enjoyed our authentic Chinese tea at 1AM. Does anyone else do this with their friends? It doesn’t have to be so late at night but what about in the morning, afternoon or early evening?

I did a bit of research and found that Longjing Tea is traditionally brewed using an Yixing clay teapot. Owning a teapot like this is on my wish list!

I found this video and I think it’s worth checking out, let me know what you think!

How to brew Longjing Tea