Is there anything more quintessentially British than Afternoon Tea? But when Starbuck’s purchased Teavana for $620M last year, and began pushing their Tea Bars and emporiums into 330 upscale shopping malls across the globe, I began to wonder what would become of the time honored tradition? To see for myself, I checked-in on both starting at London’s iconic Milestone Hotel.
Voted the No. 1 Hotel in the UK by Trip Advisor, this luxury boutique hotel sits across from Kensington Palace and is considered the ‘Go To’ spot for Afternoon Tea. Nestled on a tree line street in the Royal Borough, I was shown to the Park Lounge; a cozy library inspired room with a large fireplace and a mismatch of shabby chic comfy furniture. Snuggled into an oversized armchair next to the window overlooking Kensington Palace, I quickly see why this is a London ‘Must Do!’
I recognize the women at my right as Ministers of Parliament as they ogle like schoolgirls over a recent acquisition of Christian Louboutin shoes (Harrods is right next door), and Omorovicza’s ‘Plumping Cream’ that I’m not sure how any girl ever lived without? Though I digress.
The champaign is complementary, and my girlfriends and I peruse a three-tiered silver cake stand upholstered with delicate finger sandwiches, flaky scones and decadent sweet treats. Eruptions of starched napkins and flower bouquets explode throughout the hotel whilst Handel’s Water Music pumps through an embellished atmosphere. Two hours, four cups and countless celebrity citing’s later, I can see why Afternoon Tea has remained a fixed attraction. Face Time and conversation are the order of the day, and mobile cell phones and tablets are not welcome at tea. Neither ‘Tweets’ nor ‘Snapchats’ intrude into a world where friends, family and happy acquaintances have and continue to be fostered since the 19th century.
Back across the pond, ahem....I don’t possess the luxury of spending long, languid afternoons at tea. Here, the white-gloved butler at The Milestone is replaced with a cool hipster barista with a handle bar mustache! He steeps a custom blend of Black and White Needle Tea—whose holistic quality claims it can tame my cold—and I can catch up with e-mails, shop for Tea Sets (everything from Cast Iron to the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker is available here) and peruse from their literal emporium of teas. It may not have the pomp and circumstance of The Milestone, but the Tea Bar/ Tea Emporium culture has a certain unassuming vibe that makes you want to stay and relax.
Neither the UK nor the US actually created the beverage. That honor goes to the Chinese who discovered its medicinal purpose back in the 16th century. The British did however introduce the product to India (a British Colony from 1858-1947) and to compete with China’s monopoly they presented it as more than a mere remedy. In fact, when England’s upper class began to take a light meal between 4pm and 6pm, both the Empire and even rowdy Americas followed along making Afternoon Tea the fashion and fait accompli.
Despite your passions or pace, there is no better way to become acquainted, get connected, or very simply rest and rejuvenate than over a steaming cup of tea. So put the phones down and the pinkies up. Its Tea Time somewhere. Fancy that!