Posted by: Robin | May 6, 2008

High Tea

tea cupsI am an Anglophile. It came on slowly, beginning in high school with my love affair with Jane Austen and the world of Regency England. Then I was attracted by Oxford and the Inklings. A series of popular history books by Thomas B. Costain on the Plantagenet dynasty cemented my passion for all things English. I’m not quite in the category of mania, but avid may be an understatement. The world of High Tea and English breakfasts and authentic fish and chips were three must-have experiences when I finally had my chance to cross the pond. Of the three, the one that stood up to expectation was High Tea. I felt like a bit of a rube at Brown’s Hotel, but I didn’t care. Knowing this, every so often a friend will ask me to partake of a touch of England here in New Jersey by inviting me to tea. This past Saturday was my most recent foray. My friend Julie invited me to go to a tearoom near her home.

I practiced all week holding my fine bone china tea cup with its delicate array  of violets with my pinky just so. Julie told me this wasn’t a place I had to dress up for, but it took all my willpower not to put on flower prints and lace. I am not the frilly-type normally, but this was High Tea, and in my own mind I was lady of the manor for a couple short hours. My compromise was to go bohemian.

We pulled up to an old Victorian house with peeling lavender paint and a lovely but overgrown garden. We walk in the door, and we were in the middle of a florist/gift shop with the lace and flower prints I wasn’t wearing exploding from every square inch. There was so much stuff that for a minute I felt dizzy from sensory overload, so I was a bit dazed as Julie led me through the labyrinthine shelves to a small glass conservatory with tables covered with a pretty, large-flowered chintz and matching upholstered chairs. Every detail had a worn, proportioned elegance. It was a room that really needed a hug. I’d entered the drawing room of one of the old aristocratic families that badly needed to marry a son to the heiress daughter of an American Robber Baron. I had to do some fast reworking of my fantasy, but I held tenaciously to my English tea dreams. I could do frayed gentility.

Then the barefooted, dirt-streaked urchin pattered into the room and offered us cast iron tea weights as chocolates followed by a four-footed black fur-duster that snuffled at our feet for crumbs. I was obviously in a parody of a Dickens’ novel, or maybe a Doctor Who episode. After three return visits from the urchin and fur-duster I surrendered. My pretensions were punctured. I was in South Jersey in a rundown Victorian with an overstressed proprietor, but I had great company, delicious cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey Green tea, and a good laugh at myself. That’s my definition of an afternoon well-spent.



  1. I wonder if you have ever tried a cream tea? It consists of the obligatory cup of tea but in addition scones with jam(or should that be jelly to you?) and clotted cream. It’s to die for but low calorie it isn’t.

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