Afternoon Tea, Southern Style
by Patricia Mack
Afternoon tea is so civilized, so comforting, so refined, so… so… Southern. Yes, Southern, and that is said with all due respect to our English cousins who standardized this lovely daily ritual centuries ago. Thank you, but I’ll take my “cuppa” with a little Tupelo honey and a genteel Georgian accent.
There are many cozy tea rooms to be found in America’s Southeastern cities, where in times past “Afternoon Tea” with invited guests was a singular social event in the homes of upper class families. Culinary historians dazzle us with descriptions of the food: Madeira cake, fruity, buttery and winey; caraway seed cake, sliced thinly and incredibly fragrant; oatcakes; scones; toasted currant bread…. And the tea, clear amber and hot poured from fine china or silver-plated teapots. Those days are largely gone but tea aficionados still prize the wondrous taste of a cup of freshly brewed tea in a serene environment where remnants of ceremony are still observed.
And tea, after all, is more than a beverage and a ritual. It is also a chance to chat with a friend; a break for a tired shopper; a balm to a troubled heart. Such a place is the very “proper” tea room known simply as The Tea Room, in downtown Savannah, Georgia, one of our Top Tea Houses in the World. Here the afternoon finds formal tea service resplendent with bone china, fresh flowers, white linens and lavish trays of assorted finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, preserves, savories, sorbet, fresh fruits and — if you like — Champagne. The house tea menu is extensive, including, in the category of black tea, Assam Mangalam, Autumnal Darjeeling, Decaf English Breakfast, English Breakfast, French Breakfast, Grand Keemun or Temi Sikkim. If green tea is the preference, order: Citron Green, Green Earl Grey, Madame Butterfly, Moroccan Mint/Green, Sencha, Organic, Pinhead Gunpowder, Yunnan Green Needles. Or if white fills the bill, either the Pai Mu Tan or the Shoumei may please.
There are scented teas and herbal infusions as well, and being that The Tea Room is Southern, one of the most popular items on the menu is the house-made peach iced tea, perfect for late summer refreshment.
Expect to “oooh” and “ahhh” if you order the flaming tea, which boasts a brandy-soaked sugar cube set alight when served, and is a delight of meltingly good sweetness.
Families often book The Library, a welcoming, softly lit dining room with a fireplace and two wing-back chairs, for small parties or gatherings like anniversary, retirement or engagement parties. It’s almost like entertaining at home, only nicer and easier. Community organizations also favor The Tea Room, for the tea and for the comfort of listening to a lecturer while sipping daintily from a cup.
The Tea Room sells loose tea and tea accoutrements, as well. All of these items are intriguingly displayed.
Seating in The Tea Room is pleasant no matter where your table is located, but ask for The Library, where you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time into one of those elite parlors where a formal tea was served every day.
The Tea Room
7 East Broughton St.
Savannah, GA 31401
Lunch: 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Afternoon tea (by reservation): 2:30 p.m.-4 p.m.
Retail: Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
You can click on each photo to enlarge.