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Christiana Campbell’s Tavern

IMG_1266One of the best parts of afternoon tea is its link with tradition. You get to indulge in a practice that has been around for hundreds of years, connecting with the past through a simple teacup. And though afternoon tea is mostly considered a British tradition, it has also been an institution in America since the colonial era.

IMG_1265This is where Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg comes into play. Marking the edge of Virginia’s historic colonial town, Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern allows you to step directly into an afternoon tea party held during the Revolution. So get ready to enjoy a splash of history with your tea!

 

First Impressions and Service

When Colonial Williamsburg claims authentic, they mean authentic. Every employee is dressed in period outfits, and the tavern is no exception. The only daily seating isn’t until 2:00 pm, but while you wait outside on the wraparound porch, Mrs. Christiana Campbell and her friends will come out to keep you company while her slaves and servants ready your dining room. Don’t expect to talk about iPhones or what happened latest on your favorite television show; I was roped into a lecture about why I wasn’t carrying a fan and how carrying a fan was of paramount importance if I ever wished to find a husband.

One of the house staff

One of the house staff

Once inside, you are served by Mrs. Campbell’s small household staff in three courses. Service is pretty limited to taking your tea order and delivering the food, but you are more part of a presentation than a customer. Throughout the meal, Mrs. Campbell and her friends wander through the dining room telling stories of the current events and daily lives of the colonists. One person sings songs about the Boston Tea Party, and you really wish she wouldn’t. Mrs. Campbell instructs you on the proper etiquette of tea including how to properly hold your teacup. I tried her way, and although it is wrong I’ll stick to mine!

 

Décor

Restored to look as exactly like it did in the 18th century as possible, the dining room is all wood paneling and plain paint. Thank goodness the tavern didn’t use the eyesore bright colors you’ll find in the wealthy homes in Williamsburg. Considering you are partaking in a meal, those bright colors might have upset your stomach.  The tea set and other table settings are all accurate recreations of what would’ve been on your table in Revolutionary America.

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Tea Selection

The teas are all done in bags, and here is where I’m not sure how authentic the selection is. You get two tea bags (so you can do both the same kind of tea or two different types) at the start of the meal and they bring hot water out again halfway through. Mom chose the Earl Grey as always, but since I had a cold I went with a mango green tea. I really enjoyed mine, but I wish they had brought out more hot water when I asked because I was drinking my tea like there was no tomorrow. You’ll have a few options of black teas, a few green teas, and a few tisanes and herbal teas.

 

Food

The server reviews with the room as a whole what is served in each of the three courses. Unless there is an allergy the menu is pretty set. Instead of a tiered stand, each course is brought out one at a time and once the room has finished eating, it is cleared away and the next course is brought out. This takes pacing almost completely out of your hands, making you feel a bit rushed if you aren’t quite ready for the next course (I eat slow at tea time). But as it is more of a meal and a show, pacing is kind of determined based on the performance and less of your own stomach.

Sandwiches

Since only one of the offerings is really a sandwich, it’s almost incorrect to label the savory course as sandwiches, but I am always one for consistency. Only one of the four pieces is a vegetarian option, but since no one in our sitting was a vegetarian I have no idea what they do to accommodate vegetarianism.

Asparagus Tart

Asparagus Tart

There was an asparagus tart with some sort of mayonnaise or mustardy cream and a few pieces of yellow carrot. Not the most appetizing option, the creamy filling overpowered any vegetable taste and the crust was a simple butter and flour pastry.

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Smoked Ham on Puff Pastry

Next was smoked ham salad on a puff pastry. Between the smokiness of the ham and the relish and pickles, this one really reminded me of BBQ. Did they have BBQ in the colonial era?

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

It almost seems a requirement that there be a chicken salad on a croissant. I have the usual complaints (mayo) but the croissant was nice and buttery and the chicken was in chunks not pureed which is always a plus.

Salmon on Cucumber

Salmon on Cucumber

The salmon was less of a sandwich and more of a piece of salmon rolled on top of a cucumber slice with some dill. When salmon is involved, bread is superfluous anyway right?

Scones

The scone course had more than just a little scone on it; there was also a berry muffin and a cranberry tea cake. A dollop of TRUE clotted cream (you go Mrs. Campbell!) and red fruit jam rounded off the plate. The scone was small but had a perfect scone texture. The flavor was a but reminiscent of a buttermilk pancake, so I think they made the scones with buttermilk, but buttermilk pancakes are preferable to sugar cookies any day.

Scone Course

Scone Course

In the usual contradiction: Mom liked the muffin while I liked the tea cake. The muffin tastes like a cupcake with some fruit mixed in the batter and a sugary streusel topping. It is very moist but definitely sweet as a cupcake. I love how there were actual chunks of the fruit and not just fruit jam stirred in. The tea cake is your requisite pound cake; it was also moist and fresh. Not as sweet as the muffin, the cake had pieces of dried cranberry in it.

Desserts

Lavender Shortbread

Lavender Shortbread, Cake, Truffle

It would seem like you just had a dessert course, but apparently cupcake-muffins and pound cake didn’t qualify as dessert back in the days. Instead you get a lavender shortbread cookie with a delicious dipping of white chocolate, another cake topped with almonds and glaze and with a hint of marzipan flavor, and an absolutely decadent chocolate truffle that you will try not to eat the whole thing but won’t be able to stop yourself. None of the portions are unreasonable, so you can totally clean your plates and still be hungry for dinner by 8.

 

Extras

As I said, this is basically tea and a show, so be prepared for a history lesson along with your cup. But that is kind of the entirety of Colonial Williamsburg, and that is definitely part of its charm.  You’ll kind of wish that you were in colonial attire too, so luckily if you’ve bought tickets for entry in the main street of Williamsburg, you can rent some costumes for the little ones at least.

IMG_1284

Mrs. Campbell’s Tavern is a must experience for anyone in Virginia, but particularly if you are at Colonial Williamsburg. You won’t find another afternoon tea like this one!

 

Christiana Campbell’s Tavern 101 South Waller St., Williamsburg, VA, 23185. (757) 229-2141. Reservations required. Cost per person $23.95 tax and gratuity included.

 

Tea in Other Languages

royal-baby-cambridge-2British baby fever has hit! Quick, grab your thermometer, your fuzzy sweaters and woolen socks, and let’s sweat this fever out of our bodies before Kate Middleton gets pregnant with baby #2.

With what seems like the whole world utterly obsessed with the British Royal Family right now, I have a hunch that afternoon tea parties will have a brief flaring of popularity. After all, everything British is fashionable for the next few minutes and what is more British than afternoon tea?

So no matter in what country you find yourself partaking of afternoon tea, here is how to at least pronounce your favorite beverage in their native languages:

  • Afrikaans: tee
  • Albanian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Arabic: chai or shai
  • Armenian: te
  • Azerbaijani: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Basque: tea
  • Belarusian: harbatu
  • Bengali/Bangla: cha
  • Bulgarian: chai
  • Catalan: té
  • Chinese (Cantonese): cha
  • Chinese (Mandarin): cha (second tone / pronounced with the “a” in a rising tone)
  • Croatian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Czech: caj (pronounced cha-i)
  • Danish: te
  • Dutch: thee
  • English: tea
  • Esperanto: teo
  • Filipino/Tagalog: tsaa
  • Finnish: tee
  • French: le thé (masculine)
  • Galician: té
  • Georgian: chai
  • German: der Tee (masculine; the “T” is capitalized because all German nouns are capitalized)
  • Greek: tsai
  • Haitian Creole: té
  • Hebrew: teh
  • Hindichai
  • Hungarian: tea (plural: teak)
  • Irish: tae
  • Italian: te (pronounced teh)
  • Icelandic: te
  • Indonesian: teh
  • Japanese: o-cha (o- is used as a prefix meaning “honorable” and -cha is used to mean “tea” in various tea names, such as matchasencha and hojicha)
  • Korean: cha

  • Latvian: teja (pronounced tay-ya)
  • Lithuanian: arbata
  • Luxembourgish: Téi (like in German, all nouns are capitalized in Luxembourish)
  • Macedonian: chaj (pronounced chai)
  • Malay: teh
  • Maltese: te
  • Norwegian: te
  • Persian: chay (pronounced chai in most areas)
  • Polish: herbata
  • Portuguese: cha (pronounced shah with a Brazilian accent)
  • Romanian: ceai
  • Russian: chai
  • Serbian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Sinhalese (Sri Lanka): thé (The word for teapot is actually a Dutch loanword. It is theepot.)
  • Slovak: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Slovenian: caj (pronounced chai)
  • Somali: shaah
  • Spanish: el té (masculine; pronounced tay)
  • Swahili: chai (pronounced cha-i)
  • Swedish: te
  • Taiwanese: de (boba naicha refers to Taiwan’s popular “tapioca pearl tea”)
  • Tamil (Sri Lanka): tea
  • Thai: chah (chah yen refers to Thai iced tea)
  • Tibetan: cha or ja
  • Turkish: cay (pronounced chai)
  • Ukrainian: chaj (pronounced chay)
  • Urdu: chai
  • (North) Vietnamese: che
  • (South) Vietnamese: tra (sometimes pronounced cha or ja)
  • Wolof: achai (pronounced uh-chuy)
  • Welsh: te
  • Yiddish: tey
  • Zulu: itiye

So drink up me hearties, yo ho, no matter where in the world Carmen Sandiego is!

Let’s blame that close out on sleep deprivation shall we?

Another Story of Milk: Does Order Matter?

Turns out the debate over the order of doing adding things to afternoon tea doesn’t stop at clotted cream, jam, and scones; the proper sequence for pouring milk into a teacup is also hotly contested. It may be a relaxing pastime, but who said afternoon tea didn’t have its complexities?

 

Nice Tea Has Milk First

Photo Credit www.antiques.com

Photo Credit www.antiques.com

We already know that milk made its emergence into the tea world partly to temper the hot water so porcelain cups didn’t shatter. The Milk-In-First camp believes that adding tea to milk instead of the other way around makes for a better mixing of the fluids. Also adding cold tea to hot water can caramelize the fat in milk and possibly alter the flavor of the brew. Of course bringing the milk to room temperature or heating it up may fix that. It’s a lot like tempering your eggs before making a custard.

 

Second the Best

Photo Credit Mark Harris www.mostphotos.com

Photo Credit Mark Harris www.mostphotos.com

Tea originated as a beverage for the genteel, so it is only natural that there be considered a “proper” way to add milk to this drink. Etiquette supports adding milk to the tea as it allows better control of the color and strength of the cup. The Victorian upper circle tea parties involved the hostess or servants handing filled teacups to guests who were then directed to help themselves to milk, cream, or sugar to their taste.

Also, by adding the milk to the tea, you have the opportunity to try the drink first to determine if it even needs any milk. There is nothing worse than wasting or ruining a perfectly delightful cuppa.

 

No Milk Is the Best Milk

IMG_3725Now most of this debate centers around black tea. It is an understood rule of tea aficionados that you do NOT add milk to green, oolong, or white tea. Pu-erh is close to black tea so that is acceptable. Why? Because it ruins the delicate taste of the leaves and added flavorings. Black tea is the strongest type of tea and can withstand the flavor dilution of milk. Tisanes are also a big no-no when it comes to adding milk. As most tisanes have fruit in their mix, the milk can actually curdle if poured into a too tart tisane. Curdled milk is just gross.

 

Science Says

Science is no help here. Half the scientists point to the possibility of caramelized milk fat ruining the flavor of the tea as reason for milk first; the other half of the scientists cite the laws of thermal gradients supporting milk in last.

 

The verdict? Just like the arguments over clotted cream first or jam first and whether or not to even add milk at all, The Great Milk Order Debate will have to be determined by your own personal preferences!

Question!

What is your milk-order preference? I pour my milk in second because I can have the most control over the strength of my tea, and I am a little bit of a control freak. But many of my British friends insist on milk first!

To Milk or Not To Milk?

The question of whether or not to add milk to your tea can get quite contentious. It seems a simple matter of taste and preference—if you like tea with milk add it and if not leave it out—but as with the proper order of clotted cream and jam topping a scone, the milk or no milk debaters believe it goes far beyond the taste buds.

History of Adding Milk

Painting by Alexander Rossi bestartpainting.com

Painting by Alexander Rossi bestartpainting.com

Milk tea or taking tea with a dairy product has a history that stretches back to the Asian origins of tea (apparently some Asian cultures used to add butter to tea), but milk tea is considered different than adding milk to tea.  When tea first came to Europe, it was sipped with no dairy additions. It wasn’t until the 17th century that adding milk to tea was first being mentioned by upperclass tea drinkers.

Tea historians (what an awesome job) have given two reasons for milk’s emergence. The most common theory is that milk and cream were found to soften the bitter taste of black teas. The second theory has nothing to do with flavor or health, but rather with china. Porcelain (you thought I meant the country China! Made you double-take J) can crack when boiling water is poured into the bottom of a cup, so Madame de La Sabliére of France introduced pouring milk into the cup before the hot tea to prevent her fine porcelain from cracking or breaking during her literary salon meetings. Doing so also allowed the tea to be drunk more comfortably.

Adding Milk Subtracts Health Benefits

Photo Credit illakiyaa.wordpress.com

Photo Credit illakiyaa.wordpress.com

The anti-milk tea league points to scientific studies that suggest that milk takes away from the health benefits of drinking tea. A 2006 study by the Germans showed that adding milk to tea prevents its ability to protect one from heart disease. Black tea has been found to help heart functioning and long term artery health, but milk may bind with the catechin in tea and stop the benefits. The no-milkers also believe that adding milk to tea increases insulin activity (in lab rat studies) and degrades its antioxidant potential.

But adding milk to black tea is more common than adding milk to green tea, and green tea is the kind associated with more health benefits including higher levels of catechins and antioxidants.

No Harm, No Cow

IMG_0479Adding milk has shown some positive health benefits for those pro-dairy tea drinkers. The proteins in milk may line the stomach enough to help prevent some of the acids in tea from contributing to stomach ulcers. And we always need more calcium for healthy bones, hair, and nails! What good is a pinky out from a tea cup if it doesn’t look nice?

People who support adding milk to tea say that the decrease in health benefits are not all that significant or that it doesn’t do as much damage as some scientists would have us believe. For them, it comes down to a matter of taste. If black teas taste better with milk, why not indulge in a little splash? After all, teatime is all about allowing yourself the finer things in life.

I personally add milk to my teas that are not fruit flavored: Earl Grey (yes I know bergamot is a citrus), Darjeeling, English Breakfast, Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride at Christmas, chai, and some rooibos teas. But unless the flavoring in a fruit tea includes vanilla, I keep my milk jug to the side.

Question!

How do you take your tea and why? Is it all about the health benefits for you, or do you care more about taste than antioxidant levels?

Methods of Brewing Tea

Just like people develop a favorite tea, experienced tea drinkers develop a favorite way to brew their tea. Now you’re probably thinking, “Really? How different can it be? Tea leaves, boiling water, drink.”

Not quite.

 

Infuser Teapots

Infuser Teapot www.jenierteas.com

Infuser Teapot www.jenierteas.com

Some teapots are now sold with an infuser basket that submerges the tea leaves in the water and is then removed when the tea is fully brewed. The baskets are usually metal. A large infuser basket allows tea leaves to swell up from the water and move around, releasing all the flavor and color. And then as soon as the tea is brewed, bam! Remove the infuser and you have an entire pot of perfectly brewed tea.

 

Plunger Pots

Plunger Pot www.briscoes.co.nz

Plunger Pot www.briscoes.co.nz

Another type of pot has a plunger that separates the brewed tea leaves from the water once it is finished steeping. Think of it like a French press for tea instead of coffee. The most important thing with plunger pots is ensuring that the plunger fully separates the leaves from the water; any contact between the two and the tea will continue brewing towards bitterness.

 

Strainer Cups

Brewed loose leaf

Brewed loose leaf

Many tearooms brew their tea in this way: scoop tea leaves into a pot and add hot water (believe it or not the best temperature for brewing tea is not boiling). That’s all. When pouring the tea into a cup, a little strainer is placed on the rim of the cup to catch the leaves.

Tea Strainer

Tea Strainer

The tea does become bitter using this method since the leaves are left in the water, but places usually refill the hot water to try and make it less bitter. I don’t think it works, but this is a very traditional way to brew tea.

 

Tea Bags

Using a Tea Bag

Using a Tea Bag

Don’t get me started! Tea bags are obvious choices for individual cups of inferior tea 😉 To brew a large pot, use two or three tea bags instead of one and remove the bags like you would an infuser basket.

 

Individual Infusers

Single Infuser www.jenierteas.com

Single Infuser www.jenierteas.com

These little mesh or wire balls store enough tea to make single serving cups of tea quickly or larger pots of tea if you have more time. Just make sure that you do not scoop too much tea into the ball; the tea needs some room to expand and release its flavor. I’ve used one of these since my year in England and they are the perfect way to use loose leaf tea without needing to brew an entire pot.

 

As you drink more tea, you’ll develop a preference yourself for how you like your tea brewed. But the important thing is, never turn down a cup no matter how the brewer made it. We never waste tea here J

Which Comes First? The Jam or the Cream?

It’s a variation on the age old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? But of course, since it concerns scones and clotted cream and jam, it is a way more important question than that concerning poultry.

When topping a scone, do you layer cream and then jam, or jam and then cream? Does it truly matter? Which way is the traditional or correct way to top a scone?

Well, there is actual an old rivalry that is still raging today over the proper way to top a scone with clotted cream and jam (though everyone does agree that the jam should be a homemade strawberry for the most authentic delight). And the two epicenters are the same places that battle over their superiority in clotted cream.

The Cornish Way. Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

The Cornish Way.
Photo credit www.hungryhinny.wordpress.com

In Cornwall, they believe that the scone should be topped with the jam first followed by the clotted cream. Some cheeky reasons from the Cornish? “Because we are proud of it, Devonians are slightly ashamed of theirs so they cover it up with jam” says one grandfather. Whether or not that’s true, the Cornish all agree that the jam goes on first and is then topped with a dollop of Rodda’s Cornish cream. If it isn’t Rodda’s, it’s not Cornish.

The Devonshire Way Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

The Devonshire Way
Photo credit www.newcastleeats.co.uk

Devon, on the other hand, tells the Cornish to stick with their pasties because the jam definitely goes on top of the cream. Otherwise, they insist, clotted cream will end up on your nose and they also compare it to bread. In their logic no one puts jam on top of bread and then butter on top of the jam, so why would one do that with cream and scones? Both sides make a fair point, but neither side is going to budge their position any time soon.

I personally follow the Devonshire way of cream and then jam, but I don’t pretend that this is some statement on authenticity or tradition. It’s more of habit and I think it looks prettier than anything else. What about you? Are you a Devonian or a Cornish person?

A Tea for Every Time

We all have our favorite kind of tea, that one type that we gravitate to above all others. Mine is lavender earl grey, my mom’s is traditional earl grey, my best friend’s is any green tea, and I have more than one coworker who swears by mate (though mate isn’t really a tea, remember?).

Officially though, we should all be basing what type of tea we order, not on flavor preference, but on the clock. Certain teas better suit the time of day that you are drinking it, much like some teas are more complementary to the palate, food being served, mood of the drinker, season, or the weather. So no drinking herbal teas with breakfast, and keep the Earl Grey to the afternoon.

Morning and Breakfast

Strong black teas are the best choice in the mornings because their caffeine content and robust flavor. A lot of cooked breakfast foods and breads need a tea that can stand up to them. Choose an English or Irish Breakfast, Assam, Kenya, or Yunnan tea for your wake-up jolt.

Photo credit www.skydancingblog.com

Photo credit www.skydancingblog.com

Mid-Morning and Lunch

Your first cup of tea is beginning to wear off, so the best choice now is one that will maintain the alertness you received from this morning. Stick once again to black teas, unless you are eating Asian food for lunch and then a strong green tea is better. Choose any of the Morning and Breakfast teas or Lapsang Souchong for a black option; choose Sencha, Chinese Chun Mee, or Gunpowder for a green tea.

Photo Credit www.theodor.fr

Photo Credit www.theodor.fr

Early Afternoon

As the day progressively gets brighter, your teas should progressively get lighter. And with the work day in full swing, a lighter or fruity tea will best calm and soothe you. Choose peachy or mango flavored teas like an oolong, a fruity Darjeeling, a light Ceylon, or a green tea.

Photo credit www.sodahead.com

Photo credit www.sodahead.com

Afternoon Tea Time

Instead of worrying about time pairing, with afternoon tea focus on pairing tea with the food. Choose Earl Grey for courses with cheese, savories, or lemon desserts; choose Darjeeling with creamy offerings like scones and clotted cream; choose Lapsang Souchong for smoked offerings; choose Ceylon for fresh fruit and vegetable based items; choose Kenya for chocolates.

Photo Credit www.earl-grey-tea.org

Photo Credit www.earl-grey-tea.org

Evening and Dinner

Yes, you’ve had a lot of tea today, but why stop now? Night is when the lighter teas and delicate flavors can shine. Teas should now be focused on calming and cleansing, both in terms of digestion and stress. Choose light oolongs, light greens, whites, and herbal infusions or tisanes.

Photo credit www.renaissanceherbs.com.au

Photo credit www.renaissanceherbs.com.au

Review: The Huntington Library Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

Rose Garden Tea Room

The standard for tearooms in Pasadena and Los Angeles—according to the casual partaker of afternoon tea—seems to be the tearoom at The Huntington Library. When people discover that you are a tea aficionado and are trying all the tearooms you can find, they usually ask if you have gone to The Huntington yet. So at the behests of Once Upon an Afternoon Tea readers, I took the plunge and made reservations for this must-do afternoon tea.

 

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

Follow the Signs to Afternoon Tea

First Impressions and Service

The first thing I noticed when we entered the one room restaurant was the noise, followed by the beehive of servers running around like rabid dogs were nipping at their heels. I understood that it was a Sunday and the place was full, but was it necessary to seem so panicked? A good server who is overwhelmed knows how to hide that from the customers. Server 101, Lesson 1: Your guests should never know that you can’t handle your section. Once seated, the server situation only felt worse.  No sooner had we sat then she ran over with a breadbasket of mini scones, rattled off the flavors, and pushed us into ordering the house tea. The entire hour we were there (and note most afternoon teas we do take between 90 minutes and two hours from start to finish) we felt like they wanted nothing more than for us to scarf down food, pay our check, and leave so they could flip our table to another party. It became an act of defiance to sit there and sip tea slowly. I personally would rather have an almost nonexistent server than one who overzealously tries to push me out the door.

 

Décor

IMG_4347The walls, curtains, and upholstery were all in shades of “old crazy cat lady” yellow, tan, and peach. The curtains were an ancient floral pattern in desperate need of updating. But the worst part of the décor came not from the paint or fabrics, but from the room’s arrangement. You are literally less than six inches from the nearest table with only the narrowest of walkways behind your chair for the mad servers to run behind. China is no china at all, but plain white porcelain? Whatever the material that typical restaurant plates and coffee cups are made out of? Nothing felt comfortable or inviting in the slightest. It was less a tearoom than a room that serves little sandwiches and desserts and whose only beverage is tea.

 

Tea Selection

What selection? If The Huntington had a tea selection, we had no knowledge of it. There is no tea menu (there is no menu at all) and our aforementioned pushy server immediately did a hard sell for the house tea. She never said anything about other options of tea, so we kind of assumed that there wasn’t another option until we heard her tell the table next to us—or rather on top of us—that if they weren’t going to succumb to her forcing the house tea on them, they could choose Earl Grey. By then we were almost done and the blackberry black tea was fine enough to drink. I wonder if she makes commission on how many tables order the blackberry tea?

Hope you like blackberry

Hope you like blackberry

On top of that, warming up the tea consisted of adding hot water to the tea already brewing and becoming bitter in our table’s teapot. I don’t understand how people really believe that adding hot water makes a difference in the bitterness of over-steeped tea, because it doesn’t. The tea is just as over-brewed with extra water as it was before the second pouring.

 

Food

The Huntington Tearoom does not do a traditional afternoon tea service, no matter what they claim on their website. Instead of the typical three-tiered stands with finger sandwiches, scones, and little desserts, they have a buffet in the middle of the room. IMG_0621While great for those with appetites that surpass a usual afternoon tea quantity, a buffet only serves to enhance the feeling of being rushed through like cattle for the rest of us. Note, however, that at the end of your meal the server will bring by a plastic bag for you to bag your scones to-go in, so eat your fill of the sandwiches and desserts and save the scones for later to get the most out of your money.

Take them away...literally

Take them away…literally

Sandwiches

The advantage of a buffet is that there are more options than most tearooms offer for finger sandwiches and if you like particular ones you can have more of those and not waste your stomach on those you dislike (no mayo for me! Extra smoked salmon!).

Grab only what you want to try :)

Grab only what you want to try :)

A debate between Mom and me arose with the Tarragon Chicken Sandwich (chicken, tarragon, mayo, walnuts, and celery on wheat bread): She tasted tarragon; I did not. I felt that there was too much of a mayonnaise and relish taste to the sandwich, but Mom still insists that there was tarragon mixed in with the nicely not pureed chicken salad. We did both agree that the bread tasted very fresh.

The Carrot Ginger Sandwich (chopped carrot and candied ginger with cream cheese on fig walnut bread) was definitely a new favorite that I want to recreate. It was sweet, more like a finger sandwich best served for breakfast than lunch, and the fig-walnut bread was a sophisticated take on cinnamon raisin bread. I had two of these!

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Salmon Canape, Carrot-Ginger, Cucumber-Mint, Chicken-Tarragon

Mom’s assessment of the egg salad on white bread was that the bread was once again soft and fresh, but that the salad needed more flavor. There was no seasoning or herb mixed in, so the egg sandwich literally taste like simply egg and bread.

The Cucumber Mint (freshly sliced cucumber and mint with cream cheese) fell victim to the not enough cucumber trap of cucumber sandwiches. Although the mint was strong and refreshing, without any cucumber for substance the sandwich was just too airy.

There is also an assortment of salads.

There is also an assortment of salads.

The smoked salmon (smoked salmon with cream cheese Dijon spread, dill dollop, and cucumber garnish on marble bread) was surprisingly good. I think dill is the best herb to pair with smoked salmon, but not enough places combine the two, choosing capers instead for that briny taste. But dill brings a touch of the pickled sourness of capers with a more refreshing note. This open-faced canapé was tangy, creamy, and worthy of seconds and maybe thirds.

Scones

Every table gets a breadbasket of mini scones in different flavors. The flavors are luck-of-the-oven, completely dependent on what the kitchen is churning out in mass quantities when you sit down. The table next to us received maple bacon scones and chocolate chip scones. We were given almond, cranberry, and apricot scones.

You can take them home.

You can take them home.

In hindsight, I don’t think it really matters what flavor you are brought, since they all sort of tasted the same. I liked how they were brought warm to the table, but since you should take them home anyway it doesn’t really make a difference. All the flavors were rather bland with only little pieces of their mix-ins for not much added flavor. When topped with jam and cream, they all taste the exact same. The texture was nice, particularly noteworthy since they were mini scones, which tend to end up over baked and dry.

IMG_4346The whipped cream is very sweet and fluffy (which I don’t like, see my clotted cream rants). I can’t comment on the marmalade because as I discovered at one of my first tea places, I really don’t like marmalade. These two toppings set me up for disappointment with the watery jam, but I actually was surprised at how tasty the raspberry jam was. It had a great flavor, not too sweet and not too tart, and its only problem was consistency.

Desserts

Dessert Buffet

Dessert Buffet

The brownie and the chocolate mousse cup were laughably polar opposites. While the brownie was rich, thick, and basically a block of fudge (nothing wrong with that 😉 ), the mousse cup was light and airy and shatters in one bit. Talk about dessert antithesis.

The fruit tart’s custard was rather bland, no strong vanilla flavor like so many excellent fruit tarts have, so it tasted more like a raspberry topped cookie than a fruit tart. I will say, though, the fruit they used was wonderfully ripe and fresh. You can taste that it was made that day and not defrosted from mass baking earlier in the week. The nature of a buffet probably makes a difference with that aspect as the food turnover is high.

IMG_0631The pecan bar was a disappointment, especially as I just recently learned at my job that I like pecan bars. Maybe that liking only applies to the pecan bars at work? This one was heavy on the pecan, but there was something about the filling that just didn’t work. I don’t know ingredients of pecan bars yet so I couldn’t put my finger on where it went wrong. And my crust fell off which is always sad.

Grab extras of the tea cookies. They are nice and crumbly like Russian Tea Cakes without all the powdered sugar and if you sneak a couple extras into your scone basket before the plastic bag comes, they’ll blend right in and you’ll have dessert to go.

Tea Cookies

Tea Cookies

On the dessert side was also an assortment of fresh fruit and cheeses. I like the addition of fruit because it allows me to trick myself into thinking that afternoon tea is healthy.

 

Extras

Stroll around the gardens before and then again after your afternoon tea. The Huntington has the most beautiful themed gardens and right now the roses are in bloom. And since you have to pay for admission to the Library in addition to your tea, you may as well get your money’s worth.

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I can officially say that all those who rave about The Huntington Tea Room need to try some of the other places I’ve reviewed. A few food items stood out as good offerings, but between the buffet style service and the being rushed and pushed throughout the whole meal, this place no where near lives up to its reputation as a must-do tearoom. With so many better tearooms minutes away in Old Town Pasadena, unless you are coming for the gardens, The Huntington can be skipped at no loss.

 

Visit The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room at 1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA, 91108. (626) 683-8131. Closed Tuesday. Cost per person $29.50 plus cost of admission to The Huntington Library.

 

Tea Fannings

Speaking of tea bags, did you know that tea bags don’t actually contain tea leaves? They are filled with fannings.

Doesn’t sound too appetizing or tea-like does it?

Fannings is the technical term for the leftover powders and dust from tea processing. They are essentially small broken pieces of tea leaves and tea dust.  When combined they have the consistency of a rough powder.

Green Tea Fannings. Photo credit www.tootoo.com

Green Tea Fannings. Photo credit www.tootoo.com

This is the “tea” in most tea bags! The fannings are considered by tea enthusiasts to yield an inferior tasting tea and drinking experience, partially because the fannings are exposed to more air during processing and packaging. Air exposure causes the tea to go stale faster and lose some of the flavorful oils.

But the news is not all bad, I promise! Some of the higher end tea sellers who use bags do package whole tea leaves in larger bags (always unbleached and large enough to allow the tea to expand when wet), and have moved away from bagging fannings. A good rule of thumb: the cheaper the tea, the more fannings there be!

Review: Paris in a Cup

Even napkins are in theme

Even napkins are in theme

You walk into a 1940’s movie set in Paris: the outdoor café, the primped poodles, the quintessential combination of French pink and black behind the silhouette of the Eiffel Tower. Sure it may seem overly touristy and not authentic to what walking through the streets of Paris is actually like to experience, but who cares? This is Hollywood’s take on Paris, and you are ready for your close-up. Welcome to Paris in a Cup, a tearoom in Orange, California.

 

First Impressions and Service

You initially walk into a cluttered store that sells all manner of things tea and France related. Here the hostess takes you to your table to be waited upon by a French maid. No, seriously, all the employees are wearing all black outfits to showcase their frilly “French” aprons. I wonder if the kitchen staff is wearing aprons too. Our server was nice though bland, and her service skills were average. We never felt rushed, which is a good thing for an afternoon tea. But she didn’t seem very knowledgeable about the teas, more like she was just remembering the names of the menu items without any particular expertise or opinions about what she was naming off. We also had to ask multiple times for a few items, but she was always good about checking up on us. Overall the placed seem well staffed and there was nothing to complain about regarding service, but nothing to rave about either.

A nice accommodation they make is any purchases you wish to make in the store can be added to your dining check; there is no need for two separate transactions.

 

Décor

Tea Salon

Tea Salon

As I set the scene above, this tearoom’s décor was inspired by the owner’s favorite Paris-set films of the 1940’s. Everything is a variation on that French pink, black, and brown color scheme, from the walls to the menus, from the upholstery to the wrought iron canopy over a large table. It is like stepping straight into tourism Paris. It reminds me of a Parisian salon in a rather upscale hotel.

 

Table setting

Table setting

Which in this case is honestly not a bad thing. Unlike many tearooms, Paris in a Cup is not overly kitschy and floral. The space is rather open, airy, and sophisticated. There are crystal chandeliers, vases of fresh flowers, and plenty of space between tables. Another great thing about the room is the perfect noise level. It is not so loud that you can’t hear your tea companions, but is not so quiet that you feel uncomfortable having a conversation without being overheard.

 

Tea Selection

The teas are all brewed loose leaf and removed before your pot arrives at your table; in my opinion this is the best way to serve tea! No overbrewing your leaves, no bitter tea, and no tea bags J. Unfortunately like most other places there was no means of keeping the pots hot much less warm, so by the end of the meal our six-cup pot of tea was once again cold.

The selection is well sourced from a variety of tea sourcing companies like Mighty Leaf, Harney & Sons, and Les Palais de Thes. This means that not only are there the options of white, green, oolong, black, and tisane teas, but there are multiple options for individual flavors. Want an Earl Grey or an orange black tea? You can choose the distributer you prefer. This would be an interesting touch if the waitress had known more about the nuances of the teas we were asking about.

 

Vanille with milk and sugar

Vanille with milk and sugar

We ordered the traditional Earl Grey selection that we always choose as well as a vanilla tea for me. The vanilla tea (Vanille from Damman Freres) was nicely sweet even before adding milk and sugar and was well balanced between the strength of the black tea and the notes of vanilla bean. The Earl Grey (Earl Grey The des Lords from Le Palais de Thes) lacked the listed notes of safflower petals, so out of the Earl Grey options this would not be recommended.

 

Food

All famous French women eat cake

All famous French women eat cake

Le Menu is an adorable ode to French women, with combinations of items with such names as Juliette, Geneviere, Madame du Barry, and Marie Antoinette. There is a selection of sandwiches, salads, and soups that sound very appetizing, but we went with the The Pour Deux: six assorted tea sandwiches, two scones with crème and jam, and six petit fours.

The Pour Deux

The Pour Deux

And tea of course (by the way, the is French for tea). This meal was the perfect size to split between two and satisfy us with no leftovers.

Sandwiches

The presentation was fantastic. Each sandwich had its own unique design so they were easy to differentiate.

Parisian Egg Salad

Parisian Egg Salad

The Parisian egg salad was made with a red pepper along with the mayonnaise, and that pepper flavor masked the mayonnaise enough to where I could have eaten the sandwich if there had been no other food options available to me. And that is high praise. It was served on a delightfully hearty wheat bread.

 

Cucumber Flower

Cucumber Flower

The classic cucumber was an open-faced white bread flower (not Wonder Bread!) topped with a dill cream cheese and a fresh cucumber slice. I love dill; I think it is the perfect herb to accompany cucumber. The presence of dill always elevates a simple cucumber sandwich to an ultimate height of refreshment, as it did here, while still maintaining a lightness. That is the beauty of this cucumber sandwich. It is light yet substantial.

Chicken Salad Croissant

Chicken Salad Croissant

Now the chicken sandwich on a mini croissant stole the entire meal from attention. Barely any mayonnaise meant that I could enjoy it! The croissant was either a little stale or it was toasted, which gave it a nice texture that could hold up the chicken salad. The salad was a mix of grilled chicken, mayo, almonds, red and green grapes, and chopped celery. This alone would make me return!

Scones

I’ve had bad scones, but I don’t feel like I can even call what they served scones, so I guess I can’t call them bad. Both flavors of scones were less scone and more of a thick disc cookie that crumbled before you could even consider adding cream and jam. The first was an orange-cranberry-white chocolate scone.

Orange-Cranberry-White Chocolate Scone

Orange-Cranberry-White Chocolate Scone

The flavor was too sweet and too pronounced; blending three strong flavors together into one small package made for overwhelming the taste buds. Don’t even think about topping it with the stiff “crème fraiche” or marionberry jam because that would just be flavor overload. The second scone option was a raw sugar scone, which was great if you were seeking a really good sugar cookie.

Raw Sugar Scone

Raw Sugar Scone

But a sugar cookie is not a scone, and again it crumbled and couldn’t hold up the crème and jam. As for texture, there was no rise on the scones so there was little more than the crust part of the scone, barely any of the fluffy interior that you seek in a great scone. Nothing about the cream or jam stood out. In fact, this part of the meal was a huge disappointment.

Desserts

Desserts!

Desserts!

While failing at the scones, Paris in a Cup redeemed themselves a bit with the desserts. All of them were done very well and very decadently. The lemon curd tart with a crème fraiche topping was well balanced and complementary between the buttery crust, tangy curd, and sweet cream.

The raspberry topped cheesecake with a marble chocolate shard and graham cracker crust was also a great dessert to highlight how multiple flavors can complement each other. The crust was super thin, allowing the light and creamy cheesecake to take center stage. The raspberry white chocolate added some excellent body to the cheesecake layer.

Finally the chocolate mousse teacup was the ultimate in chocoholic indulgence. It was chocolatey!! Decadent and rich, the dessert was wonderfully creamy and dense. And I could totally picture my eight-year-old cousin trying to drink the mousse from the chocolate cup. Sorry, but it is definitely too thick for that!

 

Extras

Paris in a Cup Store

Paris in a Cup Store

The attached store sells their teas, some French desserts like macarons, Paris decorated knickknacks, and jewelry. It is worth a look around. We picked up a magazine, a book on tea, and a jar of pistachio curd from L’Epicerie that I am dying to try out.

Paris in a Cup Store

Paris in a Cup Store

Reservations are a good idea, but we showed up early and were seated early with plenty of open tables. The surrounding area is full of antique shops, literally the entire block, so this is the perfect tearoom to take a break from your antiquing.

 

Overall, Paris in a Cup is a nice respite from the flowered pink of other tearooms. It is full of little touches that make the place a great experience, from the décor to the menu names and the little store. But as the scones are subpar, when we next return we will be sticking to trying some of their enticing sounding items on the daily menu. Or maybe we’ll just split a full sized chicken salad sandwich!

 

Visit Paris in a Cup Tea Salon and Café at 119 S Glassell St, Orange, CA, 92866. (714) 538-9411. Cost per person: $22.00.

 

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