I’ve done my fair share of tea in this town. Afternoon tea has been a serious obsession of mine since I had the luck of spending several summers in England during college, basically living on tea as a poor student. It’s also a favorite way of my girlfriends to get together. Over the years in Washington I’ve had afternoon tea everywhere – Henley Park Hotel, Four Seasons Hotel (sadly no longer serving), The Jefferson Hotel, etc. Noticing a trend? Afternoon tea here is mainly a hotel thing, with Teaism being the notable exception (or Ching Ching Cha if you want an Asian tea experience).
With my absolute favorite afternoon tea spot being closed for renovations (that would be the venerable Jefferson, where the scones came out warm and fragrant at the perfect time), I thought I would try The Mayflower Hotel. They serve afternoon tea daily from 3pm-5pm in Cafe Promenade, a soaring orchid and mirror filled room.
There are many ways to enjoy teatime, and if your tastes run to the gleaming china and sparkling silver variety, The Mayflower delivers on the upscale. If you require attentive and charming service, you’ll definitely find it here. The tea selection itself is quite nice, all served loose in individual pots with lovely silver strainers on the side. The usual suspects are featured such as Earl Grey, darjeeling, and some great greens like sencha or oolong. They even have an enchanting wild blackberry tea that’s a black caffeinated blend, as opposed to the usual herbal tisane. The aroma drove me into a dreamy state, longing for spring…
So where does The Mayflower fall short? Well, frankly, the goodies.
They sure look delicious, don’t they? Unfortunately, looks aren’t everything. You can always tell whether sandwiches were made fresh or not, or how long they waited for you. And these waited a bit. There’s nothing worse than smoked salmon that’s been in the air too long. And a chunky vegetable sandwich that fell apart in my hand has no place at afternoon tea. I felt like Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest wailing, ”Why are there no cucumber sandwiches?!?”
The scones also looked great, but were crusty in a slightly stale way. And I really don’t care for afternoon tea that serves scones with whipped cream instead of clotted. Though the lemon curd was perfectly tangy.
We left quite a bit of the pastries uneaten, but had several refills of tea. So on the tea score, The Mayflower is fine. But I don’t want to pay $35 for a pot of tea without the precious pastries and sandwiches being delectable as well (ok, the elevated price is my fault, as I went for the “Royal Tea” with an added glass of champagne. Without it, I would’ve paid $25. But sometimes, a girl’s just gotta have bubbles…)!
In defense of the hotel, it’s obvious from the fact that afternoon tea is fading from the city’s hotels that it isn’t a moneymaker. It must be difficult to stock up properly when you aren’t quite sure how many people will show up (then again, they do require reservations).
In any case, I’ll stick to Teaism. Until The Jefferson Hotel reopens… they better not have messed with their tea service!
Renaissance Mayflower Hotel
1127 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036