This post was written in conjunction with Ms. Carly, a manners and etiquette expert living in DC by way of Boston.

Ask any well-bred pearl-clad, dignified lady how she likes to celebrate special occasions and she will reply “With Tea!”.  Formal tea services are indeed a very special way to celebrate bridal showers, baby showers, birthdays, springtime, Mother’s Day, and “just because” special treats.  Carly and I have been enjoying afternoon tea since we were little ones and our mothers took us to the Ritz in Boston for special occasions. Thus, I felt a review of some of the most luxurious spots for afternoon tea this side of the pond was a perfect addition to Luxury Week on LottieB.com.

The Mandarin Oriental, Washington DC (and the Mayflower):
 
Carly recently celebrated her birthday at the Mandarin Oriental for their afternoon tea.  She had heard varied opinions of tea at the Mandarin and was excited to try it out.

About 8 of my lovely ladies and I met in the Empress Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental mid-way through their tea service.  We made reservations weeks in advance as tea is quite popular at this lovely hotel!  We were seated by a gracious host in a line of round tables and parlor chairs.  I have to admit the set-up was not conducive for conversation so we broke out into small talk as we ordered our tea.

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The Mandarin Oriental has a wide range of teas and specialty coffee drinks. Unfortunately they were out of one of the teas many of us wanted to try but thanks to the recommendations of our host, we all ordered up a cup of herbal or Colombian brew.
 
Soon our tummies started to growl and we headed to the buffet table.  Unlike many tea services in which each guest or table is provided a tiered trey of morsels, the Mandarin Oriental sets up a lovely buffet of finger sandwiches, pastries, muffins, and the piece de resistance– the chocolate fountain.  We loaded our plates and headed back to try it all out. 

My personal favorite was the fruit tart and the chocolate covered strawberries, hand-dipped by moi thanks to the chocolate fountain.  We all vetoed the salmon finger sandwiches but gave high marks to the egg salad.  The scones were dry (mark of authenticity) but cookies, tarts, bars, and cakes delicious!  I also raved about the lemon curd, one of my favorite condiments. 

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In addition to an extensive tea menu and enough sweets to send your Dentist into early retirement, the Mandarin Oriental has a fabulous view of the Potomac.  It was beautiful on the day we partook in tea even though it was pouring, windy, and totally miserable outside.  Good thing we had tea to warm us up!
 
The tea was lovely and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly until it was time to pay our bill.  Apparently our host’s extensive knowledge of tea does not extend to mathematics as he proceeded to take a good 30 minutes to figure out our bill.  He also temporarily lost a credit card in the process. Good thing he had 9 ladies with sharp math skills and/or blackberries with calculators to set him straight.
 
I would certainly return to the Mandarin Oriental for Tea.  I also highly recommend tea at The Mayflower as each guest gets their own tier of goodies (I am an only child so sharing is not exactly my forte!). The Mayflower is also the most economically sensible of the options in DC so you can partake in tea and thumb your nose at the economy simultaneously. And what could be more high brow than that!

Blue Duck Tavern, Washington DC:

You would never think of going to afternoon tea at this restaurant known for it’s amazing and expensive dinner service, but Blue Duck proved to be a lovely and relaxing afternoon oasis. My co-worker and I took a few clients here for a ladies afternoon. We were shown to a large area in the back of the restaurant with comfortable booths and lounge chairs, with plenty of table space. It was like out own private room, which was perfect for the occasion. However, there were many other small tables scattered throughout the space that would have been great for “tea-for-two.”

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The tea selection was enormous and almost overwhelming, however our server was quite helpful in choosing some varieties. We actually ended up ordering a few different varieties for the table, since nobody could choose what to get. This is usually a big no-no for afternoon tea, but it worked out, since the atmosphere itself was a little more “modern.” Adding to the vibe, all the tea was served in clear glass pots, so trendy!

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Just like the Mandarin, the service was buffet style, with finger sandwiches of the classic variety (cumber) and the trendy (ahi tuna). There were scones that melted in your mouth, along with clotted cream, but no lemon curd. The selection of mini desserts and cookies was overwhelming. I wanted to try one of each, but there were too many, you name the variety, it was there. And, each one was quite good. I find that sometimes when there is a large dessert selection, some are lacking, but this is certainly not the case at Blue Duck.

When we went on a Thursday afternoon in the late summer the place was empty and we whiled away the afternoon. Bottom line, relaxing, decadent, and amazing, but not your classic “tea” experience.

The Taj Hotel, Boston MA:

The Taj Hotel, which used to be the Ritz, has one of the most classic afternoon tea services in the United States, perhaps second only to the Plaza in New York. They basically have taken the afternoon tea service the Ritz used to have, and spiced up the menu. The architecture remainspretty much the same, classic, elegant and old-world. The furniture is basically the same as well, perhaps with new upholstery. I didn’t notice a difference.

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As I mentioned above, the big change is with the menu. It still has your traditional scones, sandwiches and pastries, but the tea selection is larger. There are more cocktails, and you can even order a cheese plate.Plus high tea comes with a lobster profiterole, so New England. The high tea with pastries and sandwiches is $30 and a simpler tea with just pastries (but still A LOT) of food, is quite affordable at $22 a person. Also, they still use the China from the Ritz, classic and classy.

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When I was there they did not have a harp player, which the Ritz always had, but perhaps I was there on her day off! It’s a classic Boston institution, make reservations far in advance.

If you need me at 4pm I’ll be having high tea on the south win veranda with Carly and Buffy, we’ll be wearing pearls and argyle, obvs!

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