Area hotels, inns and cafes offer afternoon tea for a variety of tastes and pockets. The tradition of afternoon tea, which started in 17th-century England, has become a popular activity for Virginia residents from Leesburg to Alexandria.
“It’s special and relaxing and different” said Wendy Burdette, tea guest at the Tyson’s Corner Ritz-Carlton.
"The thing about tea is that it’s about taking time
to slow down in our lives and get together with friends and neighbors," said Alexandria resident and tea fan Sue Cummings.
Cummings organized this tea party for the women in her church a couple of years ago. This year the party, which is held yearly in different tearooms, was held at the Bailiwick Inn in Fairfax, and 90 woman participated in the event. Cummings said that her husband was the one who introduced her to tea when he took her on a tea date, and ever since then she has loved tea.
Cummings also organizes afternoon teas for the children in her neighborhood. She believes that children can learn a lot from teatime because it makes them feel important and teaches them about manners.
<bt>The Bailiwick Inn is located at 4023 Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax and serves tea to the public on Thursdays and Sundays from 3-5 p.m. It serves an assortment of savories and sweets, hors d'oeuvres like fruits or sautéed shrimp on pesto toast set up in a buffet style, with the choice of herbal or regular tea poured and served by the wait staff. It also has different types of finger sandwiches; two kinds are served each day they serve tea.
Kimberly McDonald, catering manager at the Bailiwick, said that the parlor holds about 38 people and that between 20 and 30 people come in on Thursdays and 30 to 38 on Sundays. Prices vary according to the day: It’s $21 on Thursdays and $26 on Sundays, when they have a much greater variety of sandwiches and pastries.
They also take reservations for private tea parties, bridal showers, baby showers, reunions and other special events. To reserve, customers must pay for a minimum of 20 people.
McDonald said that they usually take reservations for private parties during the days when they do not have regular teatimes but they can book the public teatimes with private parties if they have room.
<bt>The British Pantry, located at 42495 John Mosby Highway in Chantilly, is another popular spot for afternoon tea. Owner Gerri Middleton said the room resembles an old-fashioned dining room in England, with small bistro tables, chairs and armchairs that provides customers with an easy, informal and cozy atmosphere.
“The tearoom is not big and open,” said Middleton. “It’s cozy and comfortable and intimate.”
Attached to the cafe is a small shop that sells tea trays, aprons, pictures and other decorative items from England so customers can shop as well as stay for tea. The cafe opens daily at 11:30 a.m. for lunch, and tea is served from 1-4 in the afternoon. However, if they are not too busy, they can serve tea at any time of the day. An average of 12-15 people come in for tea on weekdays, and more people come on weekends, so it is best to make reservations to secure a table because you never know how busy it is going to be, said Middleton. Although they do not close the cafe for private tea parties, they do take reservations for birthdays and showers. Groups can be smaller than 10 but no bigger than 12.
The full afternoon tea consists of a pot of tea, which is served with an assortment of small sandwiches such as ham, smoked salmon or cucumber, plain scones, English tea biscuits, clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Anne Burtt, who works with the Pantry, said that if there are more than two people in the party, they serve all the tea items on a three-plate, silver stand, with sandwiches on top, scones in the middle and the biscuits on the bottom. Middleton said that they have regular customers who come in every week or once or twice a month and bring their families and friends when they visit.
"It's comforting to come in and just chat with friends," said Burtt "It's relaxing and refreshing."
“Teatime is so sociable and relaxing,” Middleton added “A lot of ladies come in, meet their friends and stay for hours [because] you are there for the duration.”
<mh>Green Springs Mansion
<bt>The Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria, located at 4603 Green Spring Road, offers afternoon tea year-round on Sundays at 1 p.m., along with program lectures. Starting in April, they will also offer a garden stroll and tea Thursdays at 1 p.m. People come in to listen to a lecture or take a stroll and stay to enjoy English tea afterward. Reservations are required as far in advance as possible because the program is set almost for the whole year and it fills up depending on the lecture.
To make reservations, people must pay a $20 nonrefundable, prepaid fee at the time they make the reservation. Robin Krauss, assistant manor house coordinator, recommended making reservations as soon as possible, since it is usually fills up fast.
Georgiana Blouin, manor house coordinator, said that it is not the typical tearoom because it is primarily an educational facility. Tea is just a way to get people to participate in the educational program.
"We want people to walk away with something in their heads as well as their tummies," Blouin said
Tea is served in the 18th-century historic house, which accommodates about 40 people at one seating, with two to four people per table. Full tea includes a pot of tea poured by a server and three types of finger sandwiches, three pastries, one type of scone, clotted cream and jelly, all brought to the table on a tea tray. Blouin said that the set menu of sandwiches and pastries depends on the season and type of program they have. For example, they will be having a Martha Washington Tea Party, for which they will serve George Washington’s favorite tea items.
“Tea is something that is coming back,” said Blouin “It provides a relaxing atmosphere for discussions and gathering with family and friends.”
<mh>Ritz-Carlton Times Two
<bt>The Ritz-Carlton Hotels in Pentagon City and Tysons Corner also offer daily afternoon tea, Monday through Sunday from 2-5 p.m. at Pentagon City and Monday through Friday from 2:30-4:30 and Sundays from noon-4 p.m. at Tysons. Both hotels feature a variety of flavored teas and others, with a set tea menu that consists of three or four types of teatimes at different price ranges.
The Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City has the $15 Winnie the Pooh Tea, which includes two types of tea sandwiches, three pastries and hot chocolate; the $20 Devonshire Tea, which includes two scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberries; the $26 Afternoon Tea, which includes four types of tea sandwiches and 11 pastries; and finally the $31 Tea Royale, which include a glass of champagne, four sandwiches and 10 pastries, with everything from scones to tarts and cakes.
The Ritz-Carlton at Tysons has a similar menu, but just one less teatime selection. They have the Light Tea at $22 per person, which includes an assortment of 10 pastries; the Afternoon Tea at $25 per person, which includes four tea sandwiches in addition to the assortment of 10 pastries; and the Royal Tea at $35 per person, which includes a glass of champagne or cocktail, and fresh strawberries with whipped cream, drizzled with Grand Marnier, added to the afternoon tea menu. Tea is served in the lobby lounge with tables, armchairs and sofas, while the piano plays light tunes for the guests to enjoy while drinking and talking.
Louis Rodriguez, special events coordinator at the Pentagon City location, said that they have 50 to 70 people who come in for tea Monday through Thursday and 100 on weekends. Rodriguez advises that large parties of eight and above should make reservations at least two to three weeks in advance.
Sunissa McNamara, tea hostess at the Ritz-Carlton at Tysons, said that people come for different special occasions, such as bridal showers, baby showers, and birthday parties for adults and children. They can seat six to eight people per table, but they cannot move tables around for larger parties. “We need to keep the lounge elegant,” McNamara said, “so we try to place guests around the same area if more than eight.”
Asterina Haile, tea server at the Ritz in Tysons, said that although 99 percent of the guests are women, she has some men who come in regularly with their wives or for business meetings. Haile also said that 75 percent of their guests are regulars and come back every week, once a month or a couple of times during the year and bring their families and friends.
Haile encourages her guests to bring their children because she has seen children come in and have birthday parties at a young age. She thinks that children can learn a lot from teatime.
“They [guests] don’t come only for the food or the place but because they feel comfortable and enjoy the ambience,” Haile said. “I make them feel like they come in and see a friend because I treat them that way.”
Penny Fisher, Wendy Burdette and Connie Bucko, who were part of a group of about 10 women enjoying tea at the Ritz-Carlton on Monday afternoon, all come together for tea as a tradition at least twice a year at different tearooms around the area.
“We try to do it a couple of times a year just [as] friends getting together,” said Penny Fisher. “We try to find a couple of different places. At Christmas we try to go to D.C. so we can see the decorations.”
“The whole ambience is nice. You can take your time, and no one hurries you out,” added her friend Connie Bucko.
<mh>Stone House Tea Room
<bt>The Stone House Tea Room, at the Norris House Inn in Leesburg, is another place for tea. Owned by the McMurrays, the Stone House Tea Room serves theme teas to the public at least twice a month and on holidays. Theme teas such as Friendship Tea and Valentine’s Day Tea were held in February, and they have scheduled theme teas until August of this year. They also serve teas every weekend after Thanksgiving for the holidays.
The tearoom will seat 30 people and is open for private parties when they don’t have a tea scheduled. People come in for bridal showers, baby showers and birthday tea parties. Private parties are required to have a minimum of 12, and up to 24 guests can sit together. They usually have about 27 people at a seating.
Shannon McMurray, manager and owner, said that people should make reservations a week to two weeks in advance for public and private parties. For more information, visit their Web page at www.norrishouse.com.