Taking Tea

Before leaving for the London Olympics, I welcomed guests at Wit & Wisdom restaurant inside the Four Seasons Hotel in Baltimore for High Tea with Hilary.  The invitation confirmation read:

We're looking forward to welcoming you to Wit & Wisdom at Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore this afternoon for a very modern take on "high tea" with Baltimore's #1 Olympic Insider, Hilary Phelps.

What a day it was! Chris Ford, who won Food & Wine's People's Choice Award for best new pastry chef, made delicious desserts - Oreo macarons, vanilla pecan scones and an assortment of other treats.  Kris Fulton of LAMILL was on hand, making and pouring tasty tea in black and green varieties.  It was a day to sip tea and white peach Bellini, talk about the Olympics and send us off in a style that only the Four Seasons can do.

After our wonderful send off tea stateside, I was looking forward to taking tea while in London.  When in Rome, right?

First, I learned that afternoon tea is typically what we call "high tea" here in the states.  In England, afternoon tea is the dainty finger sandwiches, scones and glove wearing ladies.  It's called afternoon tea because it's served in the afternoon, between lunch and dinner and also known as low tea, because it's served in sitting rooms on low tables.  High tea is dinner; it's meat and potatoes and served in the evening.  High tea sounds elegant and regal, embodies images of lovely ladies taking tea in beautiful dresses, and is often used in the states to represent afternoon tea.

Many hotel's in London serve a lovely afternoon tea.  Of course there's the elegant Ritz Hotel and Claridge's House, but I found one with a unique twist at the Berkley Hotel (pronounced Barkley in London), called Pret a Portea, where the tea cakes were inspired by the latest season's  fashion designs.  There was a neon colored Christian Louboutin cookie, complete with a red icing sole and a Miu Miu bikini cookie.  Michael Kors and Gucci inspired individual tea cakes. Jason Wu and Mulberry designs influenced the pastry chef to create tall mousse filled glasses, in the color themes which graced their runway collections last year.

The pastries change every six months to reflect new collections.  The Spring/Summer 2012 collections walked down the runway last February, but the cookies showed up in the Berkley during the same months the clothes would hit the stores.  Fall/Winter 2012 runway shows ramp up in September, around the same time the Berkley changes their delicious selections.

Tea sandwiches are brought first, an assortment of cheese, salmon with butter and chicken salad are delivered to each guest.  After the sandwiches, the sweets arrive on a tower, which matches the striped tea pot, cups and saucers. Each guest selects their type of tea from a list of approximately 15, and has the option to try a different flavor at any time.  The event lasted approximately 2 hours, but we could have sat and stretched it out for a good portion of the day.

Side note, the Berkley is truly a marvelous hotel, so if you find yourself in London, you must go and check it out.  And, you might run into a celebrity or two.  It is rumored that Johnny Depp will rent out the entire bar for 20,000 pounds when he's in town!