2004-10-22 / Society

Tea – a time to put aside the worries of the day and focus on that which is pleasant.

By Linda Sosbee

Table set for tea at the Dorchester
Table set for tea at the Dorchester The Dorchester was absolutely the best place I found in London for afternoon tea. In fact, it is probably the best place I have ever had tea. That is high praise considering I have had tea at the Plaza and St. Regis in New York; the Elmwood Inn in Perryville, Kentucky; Brown’s Palace in Denver; The Ritz in London; and many other truly outstanding tea rooms.

This glorious luxury hotel was built in 1931 on Park Lane overlooking Hyde Park. It has hosted the noble and the noteworthy. Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, celebrated his stag party in the hotel. General Eisenhower planned the Normandy invasion from his Dorchester office suite.

Among the many celebrities to sleep under its roof are Gloria Swanson, Marlene Dietrich, Richard Burton, Nelson Mandela, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan, and Nicole Kidman. Now the hotel can boast that Linda Sosbee and Pat Mizell have had afternoon tea there.

Afternoon tea at the Dorchester is served in the Promenade, the focal point of the hotel since its opening. Stretching from the lobby to the ballroom, the Promenade is a grand 55 meter colonnade with 42 engaged columns and 28 free–standing columns painted to resemble marble. The walls are a soft butter cream.

Comfortable and cozy pale green corduroy and silk damask sofas and chairs are arranged in intimate settings to accommodate two guests or as many as eight. The groupings are separated by screens and large potted palms giving a sense of privacy. Tea is served on glass–topped brass or marble–topped wooden tables. The flooring is classic Italian palazzo marble interspersed with hand–tufted carpets from Asia.

The Dorchester serves 3,000 meals each day, but none receives more attention than afternoon tea. In 2000 and again in 2002, the hotel was named the best place to have afternoon tea in London by the Tea Council of Great Britain.

Three tea services are offered. Traditional afternoon tea and champagne tea are served from 3 pm to 6 pm. High tea is served at the Dorchester from 5 pm to 8 pm each day, one of the few places to still serve a traditional high tea. More than 20 kinds of tea are available, including Lapsang Souchong, China Oolong, Assam, and the Dorchester’s own blend.

The hotel has its own dedicated tea time chef and a crew of 15 pastry chefs who create the tea fare. The chefs compete in a good– natured rivalry to invent new additions to the tea time menu. In 1997 they won the “Best Tea Pastries” award from the Association of Pastry Chefs.

All teas are served on eggshell–thin Wedgwood bone china. Each piece is hand–polished before being placed on the crisp white linens which cover each table.

Given this elegant, yet comfortable and unpretentious setting, it is no wonder Pat and I were eager to begin our afternoon tea.

(Continued next week)

Calling the Dorchester a hotel is like calling champagne a fizzy drink or caviar a sandwich spread.


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