High Tea

Escape the madding crowd at the Four Seasons and other tea rooms

By Erica Wayne 01/19/2012

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To me, afternoon tea — the full English extravaganza, complete with pots of premium blends, delicate finger sandwiches, warm scones and ornate pastries — is one of the finest meals on earth.
 
If it’s done properly (gracious servers, food brought to the table in beautifully arrayed courses, China teapots refilled as needed), the repast will appeal not only to the stomach and the eyes, but also to the mind, allowing a couple of hours of restful escape from the exigencies of daily life.
 
As you might expect, teas seem to be primarily female functions. Real men don't eat quiche or crumpets unless wheedled into submission by real women. I have to sympathize; a quartet of refined, rectangular tea sandwiches and one or two scones may fade from significance within an hour or two. Tea is a social event as well as a meal, a chance to catch up with a friend, gossip and — most important — ignore the “must do” list we women carry in our purses and the backs of our minds.
 
There are several places to partake of afternoon tea in and around Pasadena: for sheer indulgence, the Langham Huntington, Pasadena (1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena, 626/568 3900, pasadena.langhamhotels.com) offers traditional afternoon teas for $39 to $59 and a Sunday chocolate tea for $59, complete with a chocolate fountain and unusual sandwiches, like white chocolate and avocado mousse with vanilla shrimp. Shades of Willy Wonka!  
 
If you want culture with your tea, the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens (1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, 626/405-2100, huntington.org) serves up a generous helping of each. In their Rose Garden Tea Room, a central serving table is laden with sandwiches, cheeses, fruits, salads and petit desserts which can be approached without limit (tea and scones are served to your table), but getting up for refills is a drag and the cost ($28) must be added to a $15 museum entry fee for non-members.
 
Rose Tree Cottage (801 S. Pasadena Ave., Pasadena, 626/793-3337, rosetreecottage.com ) charges $32.50 for tea, which includes a helping of roast beef (very English, but more a traditional component of high than afternoon teas). The cottage is also a purveyor of a huge number of English goods, from food and small gift items to cookware and even apparel. 
 
Tea Rose Garden (28 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 626/578-1144, tearosegarden.com) is a full-service florist. No wonder their afternoon tea includes a spring petal salad. The prices range from $19 to $22 for a set tea, and they also have an á la carte list of delightful sandwiches, salads and pastries.
 
Scarlet Tea Room (18 W. Green St., Pasadena, 626/577-0051, scarlettearoom.com) has set teas from $27 to $32. However, their menu has expanded way beyond tea to include innovative lunch and dinner items that are bound to take attention away from the more standard (and well-prepared) sandwiches, scones and pastries that should be the focus of the 
tea taker. 
 
If you’re really, really, really into teas, Chado Tea Room (79 N Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 626/431-2832, chadotea.com) has more than 200 varieties. There’s an ample afternoon tea for $18 and a tempting list of salads and sandwiches. The ambiance is part restaurant, part store and part apothecary, with bins of fine tea leaves and crockery from floor to ceiling. 
 
My latest favorite is the Four Seasons Tea Room (not exactly a room, but a whole cottage with two dining areas and a garden). It’s one of the purest providers of afternoon tea and also one of the oldest, opened in 1991. Unlike the restaurants above, Four Seasons’ menu consists of only four teas (sandwich, salad, cream and afternoon) and, although they have a few items 
for sale, the focus is on the ladies who lunch.
 
Last week I was one of those ladies, catching up on my friend Catherine’s life and letting her catch up on mine. We arrived at 1 p.m. (Four Seasons is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and were given a choice of tables in the two sunny dining rooms adorned with lace curtains, dark wood furniture with comfy cushions, linen napkins and cabinets filled with lovely floral China.
Once seated, we were handed the tea list. Although no match for Chado (thank goodness, or we might still be there), there were plenty of choices, and we each wound up with a huge China pot of fragrant tea and delicate China teacups.
 
Soon after, a platter of lovely finger sandwiches appeared, adorned with edible flowers (pansies, roses) and herbs (a sprig of fresh mint). The fillings were truly elegant: among them cucumber with dill butter, tarragon chicken salad, egg salad with green olive spread, red pepper with cream cheese and cream cheese on pumpkin bread. 
 
Having dealt with the sandwiches and my tiff with my sister and Cathy’s daughter’s new suitor (I would have said boyfriend, but after all, we were having afternoon tea), we were served hot, freshly baked egg-washed scones we could slather with dense whipped cream and raspberry preserves. As Yelpers often say: Delish!
 
Had that been all, we would have been quite satisfied, having discussed travel plans, husbands’ foibles and the fashionable “paleo” diet as we filled ourselves up with enough carbs to set back anyone on that regimen by at least a month. 
 
But our empty basket was soon replaced with a trio of diminutive lemon bars, powered sugar-dusted shortbread rounds and a deep, dark chocolate confection that was indescribable. (No, not “delish” — much, much better!) These last were perfect to make our brief, exasperated foray into contemporary political events more palatable and to make that last cup of tea for the road much more enjoyable.

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