A little background on how the Afternoon Tea Society in Houston came to be:
This May a friend and I took our mothers to Great Britain for a British Isles cruise out of Southampton. We would be in London for less than 24 hours before the cruise. The flight on coach from Houston to London was long but not unpleasant. Since my friend and I were on separate flights, we agreed to meet at the hotel. Although we had planned an ambitious day of exploring London, arriving at the richly redecorated St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster before check-in prompted an impulse decision to have afternoon tea on the patio upstairs while my mother and I waited for our travelling companions. We were pampered by the most welcoming and polite staff while enjoying the pleasantly crisp London air, champagne, a lovely selection of teas, savories, scones, and sweets. I hope they weren’t turned off by our smell (it was a long flight and dirty tube ride). Anyway, we loved the mismatched but classic china, modern box serving tray, fun tea timers, and all around ambiance of their service. To say we wasted two hours at tea would be a disservice to the experience. That turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip. It was wonderful, refreshing, and a satisfying start to a two week holiday. Sometime during that afternoon, my friend and I decided we would bring that tradition back to Houston by starting a small social club. Thus, the Afternoon Tea Society was conceived.
Similar to a book club, our Afternoon Tea Society is hosted by different people in the club, each event at different locations. I wanted to be the first to host. I already had a 20+ year old china set from my Aunt that was not being used, a full set of silver, and a ridiculously large farm table, so really all I needed were matching cloth napkins, tiered serving platters, and a few recipes. Well, I started a Pinterest account and went crazy. I went to Marshall’s and Home Goods at least once a week for tea service items, Hobby Lobby just as often for scrapbook paper and punch cutters, ordered tea timers and fascinator hats from Amazon and Etsy, and made a special stop in a British store here in Houston. The latter, British Isles in Rice Village, saved me in the eleventh hour with an imported jar of clotted cream after my disastrous attempt at homemade clotted cream. I also made teacup rings as party favors for each guest, and they were a hit. The inaugural Afternoon Tea was a success!
We’ve since had afternoon tea on a cruise ship out of Galveston, which while a pleasant surprise, frustrating to learn that Carnival discontinued wine tastings on all their sailings. It wasn’t quite St. Ermin’s (or my house, for that matter), but they still kept to the three tier approach and offered a good selection of teas in individually wrapped bags. The people watching is more entertaining on a cruise ship, particularly when a slightly less socially polished “gentleman” walked into afternoon tea from the pool with two cans of Bud Light.
The following month we enjoyed tea at Kiran’s near the Galleria in Houston. This was a fabulous experience, as it had a delightful Indian influence. The atmosphere was that of fine dining, complete with a harpist! Rather than three tiered service, mini-courses were brought out to us on individual plates. Each course perfectly paired with a different tea. Finally, the dessert was a free for all, and thankfully we got to the table before a gaggle of skinny teen girls took over. We ordered port so we didn’t really care. Anyway, I loved the food, their house blends of black teas and chai teas, and really appreciated Kiran’s accommodating my lactose intolerance. We will definitely go back.
This last afternoon tea was hosted by one of the ladies in the club. While my tea service had a contemporary classic feel, hers was mid-century classic in every element. She hosted beautifully. Gorgeous mid-century glassware, classically artistic place cards, and not one, but two vintage tea sets. She loves eBay and I do not fault her for it! After tea, we moved to the sitting room and enjoyed port while her friendly but exhausted and utterly unimpressed dog had herself a nap with reckless abandon in the center of the floor. She didn’t seem to mind the rest of us drinking and chuckling like happy hens. Well done, Sarah!
What I’ve learned:
Scrapbook paper is a great medium for menus, place cards, and tea order cards
Homemade clotted cream is impossible in Houston humidity and with ultra-pasteurized cream (good luck finding cream here that isn’t)
Bagged tea is easier to serve than loose leaf (to me anyway)
Fascinator hats are always en vogue
Serving sparkling wine (champagne, prosecco, cava) when guests arrive loosens everyone up a bit
Assigned seating by place cards is worry-free for guests and encourages cross conversation
Port or sherry after tea is never a bad idea
Make everything ahead of time, because cutting and setting things out takes longer than you’d think