Afternoon tea might be rooted in English traditions, but that elegant pastime lives on in many of D.C.'s most luxurious hotels. According to legend, Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford, popularized afternoon tea time in the 19th century because she got hungry between meals. The practice really became fashionable among England's upper classes during that same century.
It's still easy to find spreads of scones, pastries and tea sandwiches in D.C. A few local hotels are reviving the practice this winter since there's no better way to stay warm than with a steaming pot of tea. Here's a guide to a half-dozen afternoon tea services that mixes new programs with old favorites:
923 16th St. NW
This downtown luxury hotel has just launched daily afternoon tea service ($55 per person), starting at 2:00 p.m. Served in the St. Regis lobby, menu highlights include chocolate-covered strawberries, pastries and scones served with Devonshire cream, lemon curd and housemade yellow peach marmalade. There are also tea sandwiches made with smoked salmon, crab cakes and pork belly.
The Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City
1250 S Hayes St, Arlington, Va.
Afternoon tea ($38 per person) is offered every Saturday from 2:30-4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 3:00-4:30 p.m. at this Virginia hotel. They serve a selection of premium loose leaf teas designed in collaboration with Damman Fères along with pastries and tea sandwiches. There are also scones of course, served with clotted cream, lemon curd and fruit preserves.
1330 Maryland Ave. SW
Starting next month, the Empress Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental will do Holiday Afternoon Tea ($38 per person) on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm. It will include a three-tier stand stacked with green apple and cinnamon tartlets, lemon scented madeleines and pumpkin cheesecake. It will also feature special drinks in addition to the tea service like a hot toddy, peppermint martini and ganache hot chocolate with assorted toppings.
1201 24th St. NW
The Tea Cellar at the Park Hyatt boasts more than 50 rare and single-estate teas from China, Japan, Sri Lanka and the Himalayas. A seasonal tea table ($45 per person) of house made pastries, scones, jams and savory snacks is available on Saturday and Sunday from 2:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Items rotate weekly based on ingredient seasonality. Tea, tax and gratuity are not included.
1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
The afternoon tea ($49 per person) served at this landmark hotel is an old Washington favorite. Guests enjoy a selection of organic Ronnefeldt teas, pastries and finger sandwiches like orange scented chicken mousse or smoked salmon club in an elegant setting complete with live harp music in Peacock Alley. Afternoon tea is by reservation, so call (202) 628-9100 to schedule a time.
1200 16th St NW
There's no better setting for afternoon tea than under the skylight at The Greenhouse, The Jefferson's elegant and historic dining room. Their afternoon tea service ($42 per person) includes tea sandwiches, pastries and a basket of warm scones with house-made fruit preserves. Add a glass of sparkling wine from Virginia for $14 more. It's available on Saturday from 1:30- 2:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:30- 2:30 p.m. by reservation only. Call (202) 448-2300 or visit OpenTable to make an appointment.