As a wine lover, I never gave tea much thought…until I met several passionate tea drinkers. I recently returned from a trip to Ireland where the art of afternoon tea gave me pause. Pause to sit down and take some time for myself or real face time with friends or loved ones…not Facetime as in the app. With afternoon tea, there are no computer screens or smart phones involved. Afternoon tea is a chance to check in with yourself, relax and appreciate the experience, the tea, the baked goods that often accompany this afternoon ritual and your physical surroundings; especially during your travels. Here are my top five afternoon tea spots discovered during my recent travels.
Tea Sommelier and La Belle Epoque Inn Keeper Tracy Mahr is a tea pusher, but in a good way. Tracy was the one who taught me the art of afternoon tea and travel during a trip to Napa Valley. If you want to do Napa like a local, you go wine tasting, but with Tracy, it’s all about drinking tea.
“In owning and running a bed and breakfast inn, it brings me great joy to prepare the most lovely visit possible for my guests… from the beauty of my home, to each particular guest room, to the wonderful breakfasts and very special afternoon tea presented with the utmost thought and care. Everything is thought about and created for the pleasure, relaxation and enjoyment of my guests…”
“So, perhaps that is why every day I look forward to sitting down for my own afternoon tea, as this is a gift I give to myself, a time I set aside to quiet my mind and my heart, and let it speak to my spirit. My preparation has become a personal ritual as I heat the water in my tea kettle, select one of my favorite teas, usually a lovely Darjeeling, Assam, or Earl Grey, brew the tea in one of my beautiful tea pots, and pour it into one of my very special teacups from one of my many travels. Then I close my eyes, inhale the delightful aroma, and begin to sip my tea, tasting all the different flavors that bring to life the water and these magical leaves. I give myself this gift of tea and time every day, sometimes with a good book, and sometimes in silence; sometimes with a favorite pastry or dessert, sometimes without. But always with ceremony, and always with formality because that makes this gift all the more special. I am worth this time, and the joy and peace my tea brings to me is a necessary part of my day, healing and restoring me to once again recognize and embrace the bounty of blessings that are given to me each day,” said Tracy.
Tracy’s favorite place that she enjoyed tea was a little non-descript shop in Praha 2, an area of Prague where she lived. It was very old, reminiscent of the 1920-40’s era, including the dust that billowed up from the chairs when you sat, but the delightful French Jazz music they played, the old and chipped teapots and teacups, and the small but wonderful assortment of tea literally transported her on cold and rainy afternoons, sitting deep in her old chair with an old book, passing afternoon after afternoon, as happy in her heart as she had ever been. No glitz, no polish, no shine, just the most lovely, friendly people, in an old, old shop, sipping cup after cup of wonderful tea, giving her the most dear and special memories that will be in her heart forever.
Insider Tips on how to enjoy tea:
Make afternoon tea special; a gift to yourself. I love the ceremony and formality of tea, the patience it requires while you wait only makes it more special. Take the time to heat the water properly, and bring out your most beautiful pot and teacup, remember it’s a gift to yourself. Buy a tin of whatever tea you truly love, price is not what’s important. What is important is to purchase a tea you truly enjoy, and treat it with respect. Place your tea things on a tray, and take it to a place that brings you peace and sets your heart at rest. Pour your tea, smell its beautiful aroma, close your eyes, and sip your tea. Enjoy this moment, this time, in whatever way that brings you joy. The ways to enjoy tea will be as different and unique as those who drink it. And that is what makes it the very special and magical gift that it is.
For those who like to combine travel with afternoon tea, Harney & Sons is leading a British tea tour in London September 15-21, 2017. Mike Harney will lead travelers to the top tea drinking destinations in the British capital, including the Historic Royal Palaces and The Dorchester Hotel.
In researching this article, I tried Harney & Sons Teas and Tea & Company, an exclusive super premium tea using whole leaf teas, designed for luxury hotels guests, from Mighty Leaf Tea. As I prefer herbal tea, I enjoyed Blood Orange Rooibos from Tea & Company. This organically grown South African rooibos infusion, that smells faintly of tart blood orange with notes of honey and vanilla, was my cup of tea.