A spot of tea
Delight in afternoon tea this winter
by Neha M. Shah
While tea certainly has evolved over the years, the act of drinking this tasty, healthful beverage remains steeped in tradition. The British adopted the practice during their 200-year rule over India, and to this day the tradition of afternoon tea almost always involves fine, loose leaves accompanied by delightful goodies, both salty and sweet.
Fortunately, Triangle area tea lovers of all ages can delight in a mix of tea rooms, from casual to formal. Whatever you choose, it’s guaranteed to be an occasion.
Many view afternoon tea as a reason to catch up and revel in the art of good conversation, while others discover that it’s a great way to celebrate a milestone, whether it be an upcoming wedding or baby.
GAKS Coffee House and Tea Room in Raleigh offers homemade food and a full, Southern-style tea. Named for the four Finch family members involved with the business — 15-year-old Gustave, father Andrew, older sister Karrica and mother Sally — customers at GAKS can select from more than 30 types of loose tea during high tea for both adults and children. Guests also can take an etiquette class beforehand to learn the ropes.
The tea room’s scones are generous in size, as is the family’s spirit in sharing their passion for tea with guests. During their visits, patrons can enjoy the Waldorf chicken salad and pineapple upside-down cake.
“When people think of tea, they think sweet tea and Lipton; however, tea is a universal language,” Karrica Finch says.
“At GAKS, we take the traditional English high tea and make it international,” she adds. “We have tea selections from all over the world and try to incorporate other cultures’ tastes, where tea is not only a drink but a social event.”
In nearby downtown Apex, The Pineapple Tea Room offers Tea-to-Go each Monday through Saturday. While it sounds like take-out, events are held on-site and are ideal for walk-ins and casual tea drinkers alike.
The Pineapple Tea Room also offers reservation-only afternoon tea each Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tea-party goodies include scones with jam and Devonshire cream, finger sandwiches, fruit, and desserts. While there, visitors can enjoy their tea surrounded by antiques and plenty of accessories, from hats and wraps to nifty tea-themed treasures.
While the Umstead Hotel and Spa in Cary offers traditional varieties during afternoon tea, its green, flowering leaf lets patrons watch the tea pod of their choice bloom through a clear glass pot as it steeps into a bountiful flower.
At the Umstead, starters include shaved country ham, jalapeno and strawberry preserves, miniature buttermilk-chive biscuits, house-smoked salmon and dill crème fraiche on pumpernickel bread, pimento and goat cheese on cracked country wheat bread, free-range chicken and watercress salad on country white bread, and chive and farm-fresh egg salad with micro arugula on rye bread. Desserts feature cornbread Madeleine, macaroons, fresh strawberries and Grand Marnier Chantilly, while the grand finish is a plate of buttermilk scones with Devonshire cream and fruit preserves.
Afternoon tea guests also can take in artwork on display throughout the hotel. The Umstead has more than 95 commissioned pieces that are part of its self-guided art tour, including a signature glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly. However, a majority of the artwork is by North Carolina artists such as Mark Hewitt, Kay Hutchinson, Herb Jackson and Ben Owen. The concierge staff offers art-tour booklets that give more information on each artist’s profile, along with a photograph of each piece. It’s all part of the atmosphere at the Umstead.
“Our harpist offers a nice touch that adds to the serene environment in the lobby,” says Richard Brooks, director of sales and marketing.
“And the views of our gardens and lake only help to compliment the experience.”
Neha M. Shah is a freelance writer basedin Cary.
Afternoon tea is abundant in Wake County. Here’s a sampling of tea rooms, which celebrate both casual and formal traditions of afternoon tea. Prices and policies vary by location, and almost all are by reservation only.
GAKS Coffee House
3048 Medlin Dr., Raleigh
Olde English Tea Room & Gift Shoppe
219 S. White St., Wake Forest
The Pineapple Tea Room
111 N. Salem St., Apex
The Umstead Hotel and Spa
100 Woodland Pond, Cary
V’s Teas and Treasures
702 Glenwood Ave., Raleigh