Tea Time: 3 Great Spots for High Tea in OC
The first known cup of tea is thought to have been poured somewhere in China around the third century, and since then the world has joined in. Brews from the true tea plant, Camellia sinensis, didn’t reach the shores of Britain until the 1600s. Though they were late to the party, the British more than made up for it by weaving the taking of tea deeply into their culture.
It’s probably from an English duchess, in fact, that the tradition of afternoon tea, replete with finger sandwiches, small cakes and sweets, arrives: It was the custom of the aristocracy to breakfast early, eat a small lunch, then dine late in the evening. The legend is that one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting felt faint in the afternoon and ordered tea and cakes sent to her room. She began inviting friends. Soon, a fad among the wealthy was born: Host elegant fare served in drawing rooms on low side tables beside the armchairs. In America we often mistakenly assume this classy “low tea” is “high tea.” That term more properly is the working man’s supper, eaten at the end of the work day at high counters, hence the name.
However you want to enjoy it, make the tradition your own by exploring one of these local tearooms.
American Tea Room
Experience: American Tea Room’s third location opens this month on Fashion Island’s northeast corner near Neiman Marcus. Unlike its locations in Beverly Hills and downtown LA, this outpost will have lots of seating, indoors and out. The shop’s CEO and tea connoisseur David Barenholtz curates the boutique’s selection of more than 200 rare teas and specialty tea-based drinks. If you’re buying gifts for a tea snob, this is your place. Similar to fine wine, tea flavors and aromas feature distinct characteristics. At the Newport Beach location American Tea Room will unveil Tea Zone touch-screen technology, which allows curious shoppers to swipe right to learn more about select varieties, making information such as countries of origin and what foods pair well with each blend at your fingertips.
Sip: For a tea novice, the Brioche organic black tea is the gateway blend. The sliced almonds, cinnamon bark and safflower petals give this black tea a comforting vanilla aroma. It pairs well with shortbread cookies or Linzer tarts. It comes in a caffeine-free version and tastes splendid on ice, this is a nice offering for young tea drinkers or expectant mothers.
A splurge item is the jasmine pearls organic green tea leaves, which are hand-rolled into tight peppercorn-sized bundles. The leaves unfurl in three minutes as the tea steeps and releases its soothing floral aroma.
American Tea Room, Fashion Island, Newport Beach
The Resort at Pelican Hill
Experience: The Resort at Pelican Hill’s Great Room Social Lounge creates a soothing atmosphere for guests to bask in coastal luxury. Sitting on plush sofas near a crackling fire, overlooking the expansive resort grounds, transports you beyond OC’s borders. The Tea Moderno table is decked out with small bites sweetened with an Italian flair. The desserts and sandwiches ornament delicate hand-blown glass serving trays imported from Greece. Sandwiches such as the creamy tzatziki with sliced cucumber served on flax ficelle bread and shaved golden beets with goat cheese on squaw raisin slices will satisfy. But the raspberry offerings truly steal the show. A mixed berry Bavarian tart tastes as if a raspberry just kissed your tongue; a delicate cup with bright pink layers is reminiscent of Persian rose water-flavored yogurt parfait. For children under 4, the kitchen forgoes the tea and prepares complimentary bomboloncini and hot cocoa.
Sip: The exotic brewed teas such as the organic chamomile flowers from Egypt might start the meal, but the afternoon most surely will finish with one of the resort’s spritzy tea-infused cocktails. The mint tea julep blends peppermint tea with fresh mint to liven up a smokey Sazerac Rye whiskey. Another more refined libation combines white tea with subtle peach notes pumped up by a shot of fino sherry and a splash of prosecco.
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until December 2, Santa Claus stops by from 2 to 5 p.m. to share a modernized English afternoon tea party. The Santa Claus tea in the Great Room Social Lounge: $60 per adult; $40 per child (under age 12).
On December 20 at noon, a “Nutcracker” holiday tea party will take place in Pelican Hill’s elegant ballroom. A live “Nutcracker” ballet performance rings in the season as petite tea sandwiches, pastries and scones are served. The Nutcracker tea holiday party: $90 per adult; $45 per child.
The Resort at Pelican Hill, 22701 Pelican Hill Road South, Newport Coast :: pelicanhill.com
Paris in a Cup Tea Salon and Café
Experience: The Paris in this cup is the version conjured from old movies and dreams of romance. La Tour Eiffel, that ultimate Parisian tourist symbol, features in all manner of displays throughout the cozy salon, which snuggles next to antique shopping malls right off the plaza in Old Towne Orange. Enter through the boutique, where the glass counter temp’s with bonbons au chocolat, macarons and assorted patisseries. To your left, find delightful gift items: Think pink, cute kitsch and flourishes of linen and lace. But the real experience is to be found in the Grande Salon, softly lit with chandeliers and accented with the sounds of Édith Piaf and other French crooners. Le Menu offers simple, traditional lunchtime meals such as quiche with salade verte, plated with porcelain charm. Owner Cheryl Turner offers an everyday tea menu with more than 130 tea selections, including four lines from France, and she works with a master tea blender to make her own creations. It’s the perfect place for gossip and girl talk, or a respite from an afternoon spent treasure hunting among the many vintage shops that make Old Towne the county’s own Mayberry. Mais attention! Reservations are needed; seating times fill up fast.
Sip: Fear not the milk or cream, and please, add the sugar. Leave the green teas and tisanes (herbal teas) for elsewhere; this is the place to indulge in a cup of black tea that fears not milk or cream. And go ahead, add a sugar cube. Here, what’s most important is what accompanies: Warm scones with crème and jam, cucumber and other assorted sandwiches sans crust, a finish with petit fours.
The ninth annual Joyeux Noël Luncheon and Tea. Luncheons feature a five-course meal and tea, musical accompaniment by carolers, and a gift. The $64 cost per person ($35 for kids) includes tax and gratuity. Seating at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays from December 5 through 20.
Paris in a Cup Tea Salon and Café,119 S. Glassell St., Orange :: parisinacupteasalon.com