4

Afternoon Tea Is a Social Experience — Even When Taken to Go

The Brown Palace has served traditional afternoon tea since 1984.EXPAND
The Brown Palace has served traditional afternoon tea since 1984.
Courtesy Brown Palace Hotel
^
Keep Westword Free
I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

A traditional English afternoon tea offers a taste of nostalgia. The ritual can re-create historical elegance, or it can conjure the imaginings of childhood tea parties. Between sips of tea and bites of delicate sandwiches and pastries, there’s time for lingering conversation and a chance to leave current events behind.

Before COVID-19, tearooms very much created this experience in-house, and while they still do, some Denver tearooms are also offering a new twist: afternoon tea to go. Traditions that stick around often adapt and change.

The afternoon tea many Americans know was started by the seventh Duchess of Bedford in the 1840s. At that time, the English dined late in the evening, but the Duchess found herself hungry around four. She started a habit of ordering tea, bread and butter in the afternoon, and soon invited friends to join. As the years passed, her gatherings became larger, and by the 1880s, afternoon tea had become a popular social event among upper-class women.

Afternoon tea often showcases a dainty array of English delicacies such as scones, lemon curd, Devonshire cream, petite pastries and crustless sandwich triangles made with cucumbers. The food is displayed on a three-tiered service and accompanied by pots of English tea.

But afternoon tea should not be confused with high tea, says Issac Jackson, the tea manager at the Brown Palace. Historically, high teas were more of a working-class supper where tea was served alongside hearty stews and sandwiches. The Brown Palace emulates the afternoon tea started by the Duchess of Bedford, and it suits the hotel’s opulent ambience.

Tea is held in the 129-year-old hotel's lobby — a room that extends upward past eight floors of ornate wrought-iron balconies toward a stained-glass atrium. The Brown Palace's tea service dates back to the 1920s and ’30s, but it started as more of a private event hosted in the ladies' lounge. The service in its current form has been going strong for 37 years. “It’s a chance for people to put their phones down and to put away their computers. When you look around, you see everyone sitting in their nice dresses and slacks and suits, really enjoying conversation with one another,” Jackson continues. “You’re here not only to eat, but to enjoy each other.”

Babe's Tea Room is putting a new twist on an old tradition.EXPAND
Babe's Tea Room is putting a new twist on an old tradition.
Courtesy of Babe's Tea Room

Conversation and connection are the heart of the tea, but the accoutrements set the stage. Allison Jannach kept this in mind when starting her own tea shop during the early months of 2020: Babe’s Tea Room, at 2401 15th Street, is designed with a colorful, modern edge meant to provide a fresh approach to serving tea. “There’s a huge experiential aspect to what happens in our tearoom,” Jannach says.

Jannach grew up frequenting a small tearoom in South Florida with her mom and sister. She loved how it felt like a “real-life tea party,” and the hosting and presentation of afternoon teas appealed to her sense of hospitality. She dreamed of owning her own tearoom, and she happened to be searching for a storefront around the same time that Jessica Avery of the House of Commons was looking for a buyer. The store changed hands at the beginning of 2020.

Because Babe’s opened during the pandemic, Jannach and her team immediately incorporated outdoor seating and online ordering as part of their platform, and because they couldn’t safely serve many customers indoors, they also offered “takeaway tea parties” — literally, tea service to go. Offerings include a three-tiered cardboard presentation to be filled with varieties of triangle sandwiches such as chicken curry salad and roast beef with horseradish as well as desserts such as macarons and flourless chocolate cake.

Jannach says the takeaway tea parties have been a hit because it gives patrons a taste of the experience they would ordinarily receive as seated customers, but they get to enjoy it in a place of their choosing. Groups like the Jane Austen Society have ordered tea parties for members to enjoy at home while “meeting” over Zoom. Some take tea service to the park. The takeaway option will be included in next month’s Valentine’s Day Par-Tea fundraiser for the American Heart Association, hosted by Miss Colorado for America, because indoor seating will be extremely limited.

The Brown Palace has also begun providing its tea service to go. Jackson says the hotel added the option around Christmas so that customers could continue one aspect of their holiday traditions. “Typically we book up nearly a year in advance, and a lot of people were calling and expressing their concern,” he explains. The Brown's setup includes an entire service with options of tea, jam, honey, sugar and hors d'oeuvres — everything but hot water, Jackson notes.

And like Babe’s Tea Room, the Brown Palace has received a great response from customers. Nothing can compete with the novelty of being served a seemingly timeless experience. Call Babe's Tea Room, which is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, at 303-455-4832. Contact the Brown Palace at 303-297-3111 to order takeout afternoon tea 24 hours in advance for pick-up from noon to 4 p.m. daily.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.