Sunday, August 7, 2011

London trip starts with afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel

This afternoon I am sitting down with a cup of the Brown's Hotel's custom blend afternoon tea. The hotel sends each guest off with a small cellophane package, labeled with their signature "B" on the front, filled with enough loose tea for two generous cups to have at home and - in our case - savor the memories of a week in England doing all things tea and Jane Austen.

Last month, my daughter, Rachel, and I crossed the pond for a visit to London. Rachel is attending Regents College for six weeks as part of Michigan State's study abroad program and it seemed a good opportunity to work in a mom/daughter mini-vacation before classes started.

Thanks to some intense pre-planning, suggestions and advice from friends and Rachel's quick grasp of navigating trains, buses and the underground (and, equally important, a good sense of humor), we hit just about everything on my wish list in less than a week's time, including three afternoon teas, two Jane Austen homes, a cathedral, a palace, and, the first Twinings tea shop on the Strand.

First stop was the Brown's Hotel. The dining room, with its dark wood paneled walls and fireplace, along with melodious tunes coming from the grand piano, lets guests know this is the very tradition of afternoon tea.

Starting off with our own silver tea pots with our personal selections (I chose Brown's Afternoon Blend, as noted above), our three-tiered tray of sweets and savories soon followed. The tea sandwiches and scones were delicious and the pastries were almost too beautiful to eat.

As one who enjoys a unbalanced dessert-to-meal ratio (more sweets than savories), the Brown's Hotel did not disappoint. After our three-tiered tray was empty, the dessert cart was wheeled to our table for our choice of cake. These were as rich and satisfying as the hotel itself.

In a previous trip to London, we dined at the Ritz, which also has a classic afternoon tea experience. The gilded decor, the string quartet and the suited waiters gracefully wielding silver serving trays all contribute to the ultimate blending of tea and pageantry. In contrast, however, the Brown Hotel with its earth tones and overstuffed sofas, offers subdued elegance and a comfortable refinement that brings home the feeling that tea may be enjoyed at a leisurely pace in a stately, but relaxed environment.

A great place to start our tea journey in England. More to follow, to be sure.

(See our short video below for feedback on the Brown's Hotel afternoon tea experience.)