Guest blogpost by Robyn Webb
In one of my favorite Steve Martin films, L.A. Story(1991), there is a memorable scene where his character takes a delightful jab at fussy coffee ordering that was spot on-“I’ll have a half double decaf in a half caf with a twist of lemon”-anyone? Fortunately tea, my preferred hot beverage of choice, hasn’t been elevated to such silliness. Although there are choices beyond just plain black, tea remains a simple pleasure not corrupted by the many convoluted ways you can ask for a cup of coffee. And the English tradition of taking high tea, the best way in my opinion to appreciate tea’s refined personality, is alive and well and living in Miami.
As part of a fine finish to a lovely festive season, my cousin and I booked tea for two at the grand Biltmore Hotel the day before it was back to the grind until the next holiday reprieve. There are a few traditional high teas offered in Miami, but we wanted an iconic setting to fit one of the oldest rituals of sipping the steeped leaves. Under vaulted ceilings amid soft orange glows from medieval-like candelabras, we settled into our oversized, plush rattan-backed chairs for two hours of pure indulgence. Greeting us at the table were the four crucial elements of any tea service; fine bone china cup and saucer, sterling silver spoon, antique tea strainer and our own individual tea pot.
Having what we needed for a perfect tasting, we were in business and ready to begin the custom according to history was started by Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 19th century. It was noted that the usual procedure of serving dinner as late as 9pm left the Duchess rather hungry, so she would order tea, bread and butter and cakes to be served in her room in the late afternoon. Her habit then evolved into offering an invitation to relatives and friends for a round of afternoon tea and entertainment, although most of the “entertainment” was just idle conversation and juicy gossip. My cousin and I were certainly up for the chatter but mostly we couldn’t resist all the delectable treats set before us from an elegant three-tiered platter.
But before we could enjoy sweets and savories, we needed to select our tea. The leather bound menu offers black, green, white, oolong or herbal teas. Narrowing down to one choice within these categories was no easy feat( still worlds away from a confusing coffee menu), but I eventually settled on a green one, Mao Feng Shui, in hopes of restoring my equilibrium after a recent cold. My cousin selected antioxidant rich, almost caffeine-free White Petal tea. As the infusions brewed up heavenly scents inside the walls of our pots, we could turn our attention to the finger foods. A few of the usual suspects such as tea sandwiches and petit fours were present, all beautifully prepared, but there were a few definite standouts.
Leslie and I agreed that the moist mini corn muffin topped with silky smoked salmon and a dot of black caviar was a winner. I’m a sucker for any kind of French macaron, any flavor will do and lemon did nicely. A tea wouldn’t be tea without a scone and I can honestly say these were about the best I’ve ever had. Soft, with melt-in-your-mouth clotted cream schmeared on top, let’s just say it was a saving grace to my waistline that there was only enough for one each.
You don’t have to wait for the holidays or any special occasion to enjoy the Biltmore Tea, there are daily seatings at 2 and 3:30pm, just make reservations as seating is limited. As we slowly drank our perfumed teas and digested the little, but filling morsels of baked goods, the gentle strumming of soothing live guitar music played in the background. All this tranquility in one of Miami’s favorite hotels can be yours without any crazy ordering procedures in sight.
Biltmore Hotel, 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables, FL. 33134, 855-878-1968. Biltmore Tea: $29.50 plus tax.
Guest blogger Robyn Webb is an award winning cookbook author, nutritionist, culinary instructor, private chef and Food Editor of Diabetes Forecast Magazine. Her latest book is her first departure from food into the world of luxury apartment living in the City of Light; The Paris Vacation Apartment Guide: Rent With Confidence, Learn Where to Stay Without Getting Overwhelmed, Ripped Off Or Scammed. She and her husband split their time between homes in Miami, FL and Alexandria, VA. She can be reached at robynwebb.com and through www.twitter.com/robynwebb and www.facebook.com/robynwebbms . She still doesn’t drink coffee.