21st birthdays are notorious for drinking alcohol. But by 22, the legal drinking age excitement has worn off (somewhat…), so for Nikki’s birthday this past week, we opted for a different beverage–tea.
I had never been to high tea before, though my mind was full of stereotypes such as finger sandwiches, fancy china, and biscuits. I was excited to see these stereotypes either fulfilled or negated. We had talked about going to tea at the Taj hotel during senior week, but those plans fell through when we found out their afternoon tea is only offered on weekends. Nikki, however, found out that the Langham Boston Hotel has afternoon tea on weekdays from 2-7 (the Langham in London has been serving afternoon tea since 1865), and since her birthday fell on a Tuesday, what better way to celebrate than a long, leisurely meal spent with our pinkies up in a city known for its Tea Party (#history)?
Afternoon tea at the Langham is served in Tiffin, a restaurant/lounge/bar/cafe area that’s off to the left of the main hotel lobby. Complete with super soft white chairs and white pillows, we got comfortable quickly (Passover-style reclining, duh) and then perused the menu, which consists of two prix fixe options. I ordered the ‘Tiffin’ option, which is slightly cheaper, and Nikki ordered the ‘Reserve’ option, which was slightly more expensive (simply due to a small glass of rosé wine and a proscuitto plate). We obviously ordered the two different options on purpose, intending to split every single item (no matter how small it already was) in order to try everything they offered. We also ate each dish at the same time and in the same order (should the curried chicken sandwich go first? Or last? It was a tough call.).
After Nikki’s proscuitto di parma appetizer with stone fruit, cracked pepper, and honey, we were served our first plate, a variety of adorable finger sandwiches. My favorite was a tie between the classic cucumber sandwich with chive farmer’s cheese and French white bread and the house smoked salmon, crème fraîche and dill finger sandwich on brioche. Nikki’s favorite was the Maine lobster salad on brioche (fitting because, as an alternative birthday plan, we had discussed driving to the Cape for the day).
The sandwich portion of the meal was then followed by a scone basket. My meal came with two traditional cream scones, while Nikki’s came with two cherry scones. Again, we exchanged one for one in order to try both. We were also given Devonshire clotted cream, strawberry jam, and lemon curd. I didn’t have a strong preference of one over the other, as I think they were made with the same batter and just one simply had cherries added to it. The scones were the most filling portion of the meal. I didn’t really expect to be full from high tea, as I expected portions to be miniscule–and, for the most part, they were. But the scones were actually normal-sized so filling up on bread mid-meal was a slight issue.
This, however, didn’t stop us, of course. As we still had dessert to look forward to. My meal came with a marmalade tartlet, chocolate madeline, raspberry napoleon, lemon panna cotta, and blackberry parfait. Nikki’s included chocolate, caramel and Gloucester sea salt tartlet, toasted coconut buttercream cupcakes, strawberry hazelnut linzer, and vanilla crème brûlée with apricot compote. Of the desserts, the winner was definitely the chocolate tartlet (which, luckily, we had saved for last). However, aesthetically, the winner was the blackberry parfait that–I kid you not–was served with edible gold leaf #classy.
The most disappointing portion of the meal was the little extra birthday plate served (that I not-so-sneakily requested from our waiter while Nikki went to the bathroom). Presentation was great, but the three dessert bites were all mediocre-tasting at best. The plate consisted of a raspberry macaroon (didn’t hold a candle to Laduree, but I’ve been spoiled), and then two other desserts I don’t even remember now (which thus shows how unimpressive they must’ve been). But we weren’t charged for this dessert plate, so can’t really complain I guess!
And, most importantly (?), the tea! We made the mistake of ordering the same kind on round 1 (not because we didn’t like it, but because it would’ve been smarter to order two different teas to try two different flavors). Nonetheless, we both enjoyed our refreshing white peach teas. Once we had finished our first pot, we ordered another, this time getting different ones.
Nikki ordered the tropical green tea, and I ordered the English flower blend, which was pleasant and mild, like a more floral chamomile tea. All this fluid contributed to our feeling super full…but we just kept going. The tea came in beautiful white individual tea pots with a pink floral pattern that happened to oddly match the dress I wore. The first pot had already been steeped in the back before it was brought out to us, and the second pot we ordered came with a small hourglass timer which told us when it was ready to drink.
Overall, it was a fun, entertaining experience. The quiet, un-rushed (such a rarity these days) atmosphere was relaxing and conducive to conversation, and there was something fun about being the youngest diners (by far) in the room. It was definitely a splurge activity–both time-wise and money-wise, but perfect for birthday celebrations. There’s something so much more fun about getting to try lots of different things as opposed to just one main dish; it reminds me of Spanish tapas, except quieter, more refined, and instead of lots of different dishes on lots of different little plates, you get lots of little dishes on just one plate (coincidentally, her birthday dinner plan involved tapas…so clearly Europeans have the right idea). Interestingly, when you only have a bite or two of a dish, it makes you eat slower and more focused–being more aware of what you’re eating and enjoying those two bites while they last, before moving onto the next mini-dish.
Cheers to 22! And hopefully many more classy birthday celebrations in years to come 🙂