Afternoon tea is one those age-old traditions that has evolved over the years but at the core it’s about slowing down your busy life and enjoying a couple of hours of sweets, savories and good conversation with friends. In the Triangle, there are a handful of options to do tea at some classic hotels: the Umstead, Carolina Inn and of course, Washington Duke Inn. I recently received an invite to visit the Washington Duke and its Fairview Dining room to experience their afternoon tea. And it was enjoyable but certainly quite different than my first afternoon tea experience at the Umstead!
I arrived a bit before 4pm and the local food and mommy blogger group was already in attendance. The afternoon tea is kicked off by Don Ball, Director of Food and Beverage at the Washington Duke Inn and he introduces the special guest of the day, Constance Lue of the Old North State Tea society. Decked out in period garb, Connie walks us through the long and interesting history of tea, how it was consumed in US and UK society and general factoids about this magic leaf. A box of high-quality tea bags is passed around and the aromatics behind it are wonderful. There’s a spicy sweetness to it that I’ve never smelled from a Lipton tea bag! I put in my order for tea and go with some ginger peach. A pot is brought around for each of us as the discussion continues.
After the tea has been steeped and poured, the main event is brought to the table, a tower of tea treats! Ranging from sweet to savory, Washington Duke’s finger foods range from deviled eggs, crust-less sandwich triangles to chicken salad in pastry and finally to chocolate covered strawberries and mini fruit parfaits. It’s a colorful and beautiful presentation on proper china and there’s just a feeling of poshness in the air. One point that Connie makes is that afternoon tea is popular for the Duke student community and she reminds us that it’s a fantastic way to learn proper table manners and putting a bit of formal presentation into yourself as these future business leaders move on from university. Or to teach your children to sit still and behave in an upscale restaurant.
As we work on the initial plates of tea deliciousness, a basket of warm scones is brought to the table. There are two types, one with brown sugar and another with fruit and chocolate chips. The scones are served with clotted cream, lemon curd and preserves for some additional flavor! I pick up a warm scone and while I’m usually not a fan because they are typically too dense and heavy for me, the scones at Washington Duke Inn are light, fluffy and sprinkled with large sugar flakes giving it wonderful taste and texture. Adding on the cream and preserves just seems indulgent but I’m pretty sure afternoon tea is meant to be just a bit indulgent.
As we finish off the event, Chef Jason Cunningham comes out and greets the crowd, chats with Connie for a bit and everyone in attendance does a quick introduction. We say our goodbyes and are sent home with a complimentary gift from the Washington Duke Inn staff, a tea brewer and some sample teas, nice! And while tea is usually served at the Washington Duke Inn from Wednesday to Sunday ($25 – $32), as they move into the holiday season it will be served all week. Which is a perfect way to celebrate the cooler weather and time with family and friends. So thank you everyone at the Washington Duke Inn, I’m always impressed with your hospitality and cuisine, it’s hard to say no to tea and a special experience like this one!