The Brown Palace Tea: A Classic Experience of Graciousness and True Hospitality

[Written in Summer of 2012]
The Queen of England celebrates 6o years on the throne this week – the Jubilee of her Queendom. I could think of no more fitting way to celebrate than to go for High Tea at the Brown Palace with a friend. In our emails back and forth trying to decide the exact date and time, we called it T @ the BP. I guess we were trying to hip up what is such a formal and traditional experience. We each put on our Tea Best and headed downtown. Known as the Western White House, from the days Dwight Eisenhower used it as this, and having hosted every President except two since Teddy Roosevelt, they have service honed to an art form. The entire experience – from the moment you arrive at the valet*, to the moment your car is brought around for you – is elegant and polished. There are people available at every step to attend to your needs, and that alone is a wonderful luxury. When walking in to the main lobby – where the tea is hosted – there is live piano or harp music and that sets the tone [literally] for an enjoyable, soothing experience.

We sat down to a table laden with visual delight – fresh flowers, true silverware, cloth tea napkins, a silver bowl of sugar cubes, a small silver pitcher of cream. We ordered the basic tea [$31.; you can upgrade adding kir royales or champagne] which comes with your own individual pot of tea [gracefully embossed with the Brown Palace logo of course], full-size scones, tea sandwiches and mini pastries. We were greeted by our server just moments after being seated and he asked if we’d been to tea there before. I said I had and my friend hadn’t, but we knew what we were going to order. This is a gracious way to welcome people, and a clarifying opening to understand whether there’s a need to explain the drill. It also relieves the server and customer[s] from having to sit through an explanation if one isn’t needed. I ordered the Darjeeling – which we were told is considered the Champagne of teas [fun fact] – and my friend ordered the Earl Grey – which he said is the Queen’s choice [fitting, since we were there Jubilee-style]. The flavors of the sandwiches are distinct and satisfying – like the curried egg salad on crustless white bread, and ham with apricot cream cheese on crustless wheat. Plain and poppyseed scones with Devonshire cream imported from England, and a varied selection of mini pastries, make for a filling “meal” and if you have any leftovers [which is unlikely since they’re so good], you can take them home with you. Also, you are often offered – or can request – a second plate of tea sandwiches at no additional charge.

Our service was well paced, with both our server and the tearoom manager checking in on us, as well as another server coming around regularly to refill our teapots with fresh hot water. I was in good company, sharing a meaningful conversation and laughs with my friend [as in all areas of life, who you bring with you to the table matters greatly]. It’s a civilized experience to be in such a lovely environment, adding sugar cubes to your tea with silver tongs, drinking from a delicate china cup and gently resting it back on its saucer. In our harried and frenetic world, it’s a reminder of the joy and calming influence of graciousness and true hospitality.

*I’m a big believer in valet parking wherever it is offered. It’s an avoidance of hassle and irritation [especially trying to park downtown], that I feel is worth it, whatever the cost.

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