Tea is hot right now, in more ways than one. Pinterest predicted that “afternoon tea will be the new happy hour,” for 2022, based on recent searches for “tea party aesthetic” and “drinking tea pose.” Also trending on the social site are “vintage tea party” and “high tea food ideas.” Images of a vivid blue beverage called “Butterfly Pea Flower Tea” are flooding Instagram.
And what better way to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee than with a cuppa? Here are a few places in and around Boston where you can enjoy this time-honored tradition in proper style. Go ahead, get fancy — a string of pearls or a jaunty ascot are perfectly appropriate for tea.
Shelly’s Tea Room, Plymouth
Michelle and Sean Sinclair ran award-winning tea rooms in England for 10 years. In February, they brought their tea-centric skills to downtown Plymouth. You’ll feel like you wandered onto an episode of the “Great British Baking Show” when you spy their tray of treats. Options include Victoria sponge (Britain’s favorite cake) and Battenburg, a colorful cake square wrapped in marzipan. And if you’ve ever wanted try a crumpet or petticoat tail, this is the place. Pastries are baked on site daily. “We are the only English tea room in Massachusetts owned by English people, serving authentically English fare,” says Sean Sinclair.
Their basic cream tea service includes scones and clotted cream and a pot of loose-leaf tea. (More than 100 choices of tea are available.) Ramp up the indulgence factor with the full-on Windsor tea, featuring hibiscus iced tea, crustless finger sandwiches, a selection of petite cakes and desserts, and a pot of tea. Vegan, dairy-free, and gluten-free choices are available. For the under-10 set, Shelly’s offers the Prince & Princess High Tea: two finger sandwiches, a scone, a mini cake, and a drink. Love those scones? Nab some Take & Bake Scones at the gift shop. Cream tea, $14.95 per person; Windsor tea, 1 hour 45 min.; $34.95 per person; Prince & Princess High Tea, $14.95 per child; open daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Reservations recommended. 51 Court St., Plymouth; 508-927-4402; www.shellystearooms.com.
Fancy That, Walpole
You may not score an invite to the Queen’s Jubilee, but you can take a selfie with a life-size cutout of Her Royal Highness at this whimsical little spot — or strike your best royal pose on a pink vinyl couch. Glittery tea pots and pink bejeweled tiaras (for birthday girls) are among the fanciful (and Instagrammable) touches here. Says owner Sarah Erlandson, “I offer people a place where the problems of the day evaporate into laughter over tea.” Among the 100-plus blends of tea, she offers black tea blends including Malted Magic (made with malted milk balls) and Don Draper’s Bourbon Tea (no alcohol, but bourbon-y flavor.) Among green teas, there’s one that tastes like a Cherry Bakewell tart, and a figgy pudding-flavored tea, if you want to go Full Brit. Love the idea of afternoon tea, but not a huge tea fan? Herbal teas (made with flowers, fruit, or bark, not tea leaves) are a great option; Erlandson recommends “raspberry sweet,” a blend of pineapple cubes, apple, dragonfruit, and freeze-dried raspberry that tastes like cotton candy.
Dine-In Afternoon Tea, designed for ages 12 and up, and up to six guests, includes a pot of tea from the expansive tea menu, two scones (the flavor of the day, with clotted cream) and a savory cheddar and chive scone; four tea sandwiches (chicken salad with apricot jam and golden raisins is a favorite), and three mini desserts — mousse or parfait in a shot glass, a French macaron, and a bite-sized cupcake. Afternoon tea, 90 minutes; $34 per person; seating at noon and 3 p.m. weekdays; 10:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. on weekends. Reservations required. 272 Main St., Walpole; 888-323-2832; www.afternoontea.com.
Wenham Tea House, Wenham
Welcome to the most charming spot in Wenham, a 110-year-old tea house, the oldest operating tea house in the country, they say. Closed during the pandemic, its future uncertain, this beloved institution is now owned by local restaurateurs Brenden Crocker and Milissa Oraibi of Black Arrow in Manchester. Their goal is to add modern flair to the classic tea service — check out their jazzy teapots, made by Australian firm T2 — but not too modern. “Our tea service still serves fresh-baked scones with lemon curd, Tiptree jams, and Devonshire double cream,” Oraibi says.
Beyond those tea-time mainstays, “Chef Brenden likes to be creative and change things up,” in terms of menu, Oraibi notes. Dainty bites, arrayed on three-tiered trays, might include ham and Brie in pastry cups with fig jam, roasted portobello on a baguette with red pepper jelly and chevre, or a chocolate-coconut vegan brownie topped with pomegranate cream. (Vegan and gluten-free bites are available, but not a full vegan or dairy-free high tea at this point.) Tea comes from Harney & Sons Fine Teas, with more than 20 kinds available. And if you happen to know some oh-so-civilized small fry, treat them to Tot’s Tea (ages 12 and under, $29 per person, with kid favorites like grilled cheese and PB&J and mini-desserts.) The garden patio is set to open this spring. Classic tea, 90 minutes; $44 per person; served Friday and Saturday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.; by reservation. 4 Monument St., Wenham; 978-468-1398; www.wenhamteahouse.com.
The Dunbar House, Sandwich
Want to see a child’s face light up? Present them with two tiers of tiny sandwiches and luscious miniature sweets — like Funfetti scones with cream and jam. That’s “Wee Tea” at the Dunbar House. Because why should teensy royals George, Charlotte, and Louis have all the fun?
For adults, the Windsor Afternoon Tea, served all day, is a great way to pay homage to the tradition of tea time. The setting is a 1920s carriage house, transformed into a British-themed tea room. “When you walk in, you’ll hear jazz and swing music that will take you back in time,” says owner Kate Wolstenholme. “There’s nothing like taking the time for tea!”
Choose a beverage from their lengthy list of loose teas and tisanes, along with a scone with fruit and jam, fresh fruit (nice!), four finger sandwiches (perhaps turkey with mango chutney or lobster salad), and four decadent seasonal desserts. Or give tea time a vegetarian or gluten-free spin. All the baking is done in-house. Lunch and brunch menus carry on the Sandwich-meets-UK theme, when chef Patrick Hurley whips up a beef stew or ploughman’s platter. Upcoming events include a “Downton Abbey”-themed afternoon tea and a celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee. Afternoon tea, 90 minutes, Thurs.-Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Reservations recommended. Windsor Tea, $30 per person (may be higher for special events); Wee Tea, $17 per person; One Water St., Sandwich; 508-833-2485; www.thedunbarhouse.com.
Abigail’s Tea Room & Terrace, Boston
How could we do a tea story without mentioning the most infamous tea party of all? At the Boston Tea Party Museum’s tea room, you can taste the five historic teas that were thrown overboard at the Boston Tea Party: Bohea, Congou, and Souchong (black teas) along with Singlo and Hyson, both green teas (Hyson, an early spring green tea, was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.) Who knew the museum had a tea room, with harbor views and an outdoor deck? And if you’ve ever hankered for a souvenir mug with your name on it, this is the place.
Abigail’s doesn’t serve a traditional high tea, but they offer a counter-service-style menu of sandwiches, clam chowder, scones, and cookies, so you can create your own afternoon tea. Employees wearing Colonial-style garb are happy to chat about life in Boston in 1773, adding to the motif. While you’re sipping tea, the kids can play period games like draughts. A tea platter, serving up to four people, includes scones and a pot of Abigail’s Blend tea, named for Abigail Adams. Since 80 percent of the tea thrown overboard during the Boston Tea Party was black tea from China, and quite strong, tea master Bruce Richardson added some teas from India to temper earthiness and add smoothness to Abigail’s Blend, along with a bit of black tea from Kenya to suit modern tastes. Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thurs.-Mon. Tasting of five teas, $3.99 per person; Abigail’s Tea Platter, $14; 306 Congress St., Boston; 617-338-1775; www.bostonteapartyship.com.
Out of town, but intriguing: Tea meets art at the Mayflower Inn, Washington, Conn.:
It’s afternoon tea-meets-art salon: Tea is served in an exclusive set of porcelain cups, saucers, and teapots created by Montreal-based artist Marie-Claude Marquis, an extension of the artist’s exhibit in the hotel’s library, “Too Tired to Sleep.” Running through June 30th, the show is a series of vignettes that celebrate rest and self-care. The private experience (for up to four guests) includes tea sandwiches, cookies, scones, homemade preserves, tartlets, and the inn’s signature Bellocq tea. Afternoon tea, Mon.-Fri., 2 or 4 p.m.; $55 per person; $75 with champagne; 118 Woodbury Road, Washington, Conn.; 860-868-9466; www.aubergeresorts.com/mayflower.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org