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Tea Party for One

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as Afternoon Tea”
-Henry James

First introduced in China over 4000 years ago, the tea ceremony is a long-lived tradition that is cherished in many countries around the world. While some view tea as simply a medicinal beverage to ward off illness, others such as myself, look forward to daily afternoon tea – sometimes served with baked goods, and other times served with good company.

Tea can be an enjoyable afternoon with a couple of your favorite girlfriends; it is not a rushed event like coffee can sometimes be, but rather an occasion to sit around for an hour or two just chatting, reading, or quietly sipping away. As the winter months drew near and the snow coated the cobble-stoned streets, I dreamed longingly for a good cup of tea. And so began a city-wide search for Cambridge’s best brew.

Boston is a city filled with tea traditions that date back to the 18th century, culminating famously with the Boston Tea Party. As a tactic to gain further control of the colonists, England imposed heavy taxes on tea imported from the West Indies Trading Company. In a violent revolt during the middle of a cold December night, nationalists dressed as Mohawk Indians rushed the boats and dumped over 342 crates of British tea into Boston Harbor.

Perhaps it is this tumultuous history with the British that led to the current lack of traditional English Tea Shops in the Boston and Cambridge Area. Searching far and away for a small shop donned in traditional chintz and floral china, all I found for those inclined to a proper English tea take place in some of the city’s finest hotels.

However, a more modest approach is at the Inn at Harvard where tea is served in an airy atrium adjacent to the lobby. While not as posh as some tea ceremonies, the offering included scones and muffins, a variety of jams, and well-known brews such as Darjeeling and English Breakfast. The atmosphere is laidback and the location can’t be beat – just steps away from Harvard Square. It is a smart option for those looking for a traditional English tea without the hefty bill: $15 per person.

In addition to English ceremonies, modern day Boston is ripe with Asian tea shops that offer a variety of green teas and popular chai teas. Establishments such as Dado Tea go one step further with formal Japanese, Chinese, and Korean tea ceremonies, while also offering guest lecturers on teas and herbal medicines. The papyrus lined walls house a mix of contemporary and traditional Asian d‚cor, creating a relaxing environment. The green tea service, served in a three-step steeping process, requires the patron to be intricately involved in the tea ceremony. The knowledgeable wait staff will guide you through the process, which begins by heating the pot with warm water and ends with a well-deserved cup of tea, free of loose sediment, but full of flavor. More Zen than the atmosphere is the price for tea at Dado: $15 for two people.

A great option for those who prefer to gather around in a caf‚ setting, but still call themselves tea aficionados is Tea Luxe. The shop in Cambridge features old fashioned paneled-wood walls, lined with boxes of exotic loose teas, and tables topped with shiny galvanized tin. The staff is young and tea-savvy, and their avant-garde attitudes permeate the shop to create a hip environment. In the winter, the front room can be kind of drafty so be sure to dress in layers if you plan to stay awhile.

For those looking to get out of Cambridge and explore the Boston area, a great break-the-bank option for tea is at the Ritz Carlton. Located smartly next to Boston’s Public Garden, one can enjoy a formal tea ceremony complete with cucumber sandwiches and crumpets delight. However, the price tag for an afternoon of tapestry and tea is steep: $25 per person. A warm retreat from the shops on Newbury, the TeaLuxe located in Back Bay offers a side room that serves up beverage and light fare for those on a more reasonable tea budget. Grab a table and order up favorites such as the Throat Tender or Chamomile Mint; both are great herbal brews to fight off the cold season.

Winter is officially here so grab some friends and plan an afternoon tea. For those craving some alone-time, tea can also be a relaxing event. Bring a good book and enjoy the extra goods; they typically bring service for two even if there is only one of you!

January 18, 2005
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