Those of us who cannot get enough of Ted Lasso’s laugh-out-loud one-liners—strategically scripted to delineate between British and American humor—are well aware of tea’s stealth but note-worthy role.
Barely ten minutes into the series, Jason Sudeikis reaffirms a preconceived notion that tea tastes like ‘hot brown water’ and proceeds to ask for water. This short but effective hysterical scene proves that even pop-culture certifies that tea-drinking is not a one-size-fits-all convention.
So what does this ‘hot brown water’ say about a global beverage phenomena that has both tea-drinkers and tea-avoiders identifying a universal practice?
The truth is, supermarket shelves—with bright yellow boxes of Lipton Tea and poshly-marketed ‘English Teatime’ Bigelow—easily disguise a layered past pertaining to one of the world’s most circulated agricultural commodities.
But if you look beyond the colorful packaging, hip blends, and luxurious marketing strategies, tea’s 16th century trajectory mirrors modern day imagery of nationalism, hybrid cultures, and identity.
Table of Contents
The History of Tea
Tea’s adventurous past is neither simple nor short, and cannot be easily abbreviated to fit an introduction that commemorates Washington DC tea outings. But without getting into the nitty-gritty, centuries ago, tea nearly did ‘run the world’.
Tea traditions from East Asia spread like wildfire and collaboratively initiated a modern wave of new ideas, traditions, and customs—a building block that catapulted a cycle of growing technology, supply and demand chains, and reinforced symbols of power and prestige.
The Western world’s colonizing tendencies allowed for the modification of ancient tea practices to fit daily life back home. Soon, original rituals were reinvented and reimagined to fit unique customs, laws, and cultural expectations on an extremely local level.
Spurred by human movement, the massive spread of tea is not far off from modern social media campaigns that sweep the globe almost instantly, just on a slightly slower and water-bound scale.
Modern Day Afternoon Tea
Today, tea ritual is a globalized and standardized practice characterized by differentiation. The average grocery store-goer can identify a bag of tea and it’s functionality, but maintain completely different perceptions, connotations, and cultural expectations from the globally recognized provision.
Do images of a posh British high-tea or the Queen of England or even childhood birthday parties come to mind? Does a steaming cup unearth nostalgic memories? A sense of belonging? Comfort? Ritual? Community?
As an isolated chai tea drinker, I fully acknowledge the dubious assumption that every American household favors tea as the caffeinated beverage of choice—coffee seems better suited to the American propensity to favor productivity over all else.
But perhaps it’s less rash to assume most households procure a tea inventory for the dinner guest who fancies a cuppa cuppa after an evening meal.
Which bears a very important question…where does tea fit into American culture, or on an even more local level, Washington DC?
Afternoon Tea in D.C.
Much like the complexity of tea itself, there’s no one explanation. But as a city that celebrates ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, there’s no question that the afternoon tea-scene in Washington DC mirrors the multiplicity of the city.
Chinese tea ritual, casual global tea-fair, and internationally-themed events all contribute to a hybrid tea culture, honoring a unique melting-pot narrative by celebrating special occasion gatherings, festive birthday events, and togetherness—a mishmash global-tea culture wrapped into one amazing city.
The Willard Intercontinental: Peacock Alley
- Address: Willard InterContinental, 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
- Reservations can be made on the website or by calling (202) 942-7010. Afternoon tea to-go available on Saturdays (orders need to be placed 48 hours in advance).
- Seating times: 1pm and 3pm (90-minute dining restriction) on Saturday and Sunday
For a near high-tea experience on this side of the pond, explore The Willard Intercontinental’s afternoon tea experience at Peacock Alley.
A corridor strewn with ornate golds, rich reds, and grand crown moldings reaffirms afternoon tea’s posh undertones with just enough East Coast modesty to allow for family gatherings and American puns. The elegant tea selection features black, green, herbal, and white varieties to accompany stylish sandwiches, pastries, and scones.
Keep a special eye out for Peacock Alley’s two seasonal afternoon tea offerings—‘Holiday Afternoon Tea’ and ‘Cherry Blossom Afternoon Tea’. Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, and children’s menus are available upon request.
Ching Ching Cha
- Address: 1063 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington, DC 20007
- Reservations not necessary
- Seating times: 11am to 7pm, Thursday through Monday
- Tea and menu items served a la carte
An afternoon tea at Ching Ching Cha immerses diners into a Chinese tea ritual to celebrate the ‘Art of Tea’. Gather around rosewood tables or platform seating while basking in natural sunlight that glows through a towering skylight. Steeped in history, the ritualistic tea menu is intended to relax, nourish, and permeate the spirit of all Ching Ching Cha guests.
Food accompaniments include delicacies like dumplings, soups, and sweets to help round out the elevated tea-sipping experience. Ching Ching Cha’s iced tea is a refreshing alternative to hot, blended with house-brewed tea leaves and sweetened fruit juice.
After finishing afternoon tea, pop into the parallel shop to browse an assortment of teas, pottery teapots, and other tea-forward products.
Mandarin Oriental Empress Lounge
- Address: 1330 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024
- Reservations required, call (202) 787-6148
- Seating times: 1:30pm to 3:30pm, Thursday through Sunday
The ‘traditional Afternoon Tea experience’ at Empress Lounge mirrors the Mandarin Oriental’s five-star luxury hotel standing. Enjoy scones, tea sandwiches, and pastries in the charming lounge space with adjacent views of the Empress Garden.
Lobster salad on butter brioche, deviled eggs and caviar, and opera cake with earl grey and milk chocolate captures an unparalleled tea-time innovation from Executive Pastry Chef Claus Olsen.
The vibrant ‘Above Washington D.C.’ painting—depicting Empress Dowager Cixi swinging over Washington DC—is an excellent conversation starter, casting a brilliant light on the Mandarin Oriental’s blending of Eastern and Western philosophies and cultures.
The Ritz-Carlton at Pentagon City
- Address: 1250 S Hayes St, Arlington, Virginia 22202 (Accessible by the DC metro blue and yellow line)
- Reserve by calling (703) 412-2762 or make an online OpenTable
- Classic Experience, Tea Royale (with a glass of Champagne) or Teddy Bear Tea (children’s tea menu) available.
- Seating times: 12pm to 3pm, Saturday and Sunday
Warm scones, Devonshire cream, and artisan pastries pair beautifully with steeped loose-leaf tea at The Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City. Comforting neutral tones bring warmth to the modern tearoom for a family friendly afternoon tea experience.
Pristine, bite-size goodies sport a contemporary twist to match the ambience. Young tea-goers can opt for hot chocolate and fuzzy stuffed animals for comforting company.
Laduree M Street
- Address: 3060 M St NW, Washington, DC 20007
- Book a table at the M street location’s website or call (202) 948-6350
- Seating times: Every day from 2pm-5pm
Known predominantly as a French macaron empire, Washington DC’s Georgetown Laduree location hosts an afternoon tea every day of the week.
Laduree’s version won’t break the bank, but also doesn’t skimp on fun or elegance. Tall ceilings, cool pastel colors, and hanging chandeliers show appreciation for the bakery’s Parisian origins.
The luxurious velvet purple cushions automatically draw diners in for a choice of tea or hot chocolate and an assortment of three macarons, one pastry, two Guimauves (marshmallows), one savory Madeleine, and two finger sandwiches.
Le Gouter Afternoon Tea at Opaline Bar and Brasserie
- Address: 806 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 (Located in the Sofitel Washington DC Lafayette Square)
- Call (202) 730-8800 or email [email protected] for reservations (Can be reserved up to 24 hours ahead of time)
- Seating times: 2pm to 4pm on Saturday only
French bistro vibes get a modern afternoon tea makeover every Saturday at Opaline Bar and Brasserie.
The sweet bites don’t venture too far from French classics, featuring an array of fruit tarts, macaron, and madeleines that are adapted to refined tea-appropriate sizes and served on eclectic and colorful serve-ware.
Embrace the true nature of Parisian dining and sip tea—or tea inspired cocktails—on the spacious and relaxing outdoor patio.
The Mansion at Strathmore in Bethesda
- Address: 10701 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852Call (301) 581-5108 for reservations (Pre-paid, non-refundable reservations required)
- Specialty Teas & Tea and Talks
- Seating times: Tea event dates available online. Tea begins at 1pm on the date of the event.
Enjoy a themed afternoon tea party with a ‘Specialty Tea’ at The Mansion at Strathmore. Strathmore is a non-profit community performance center in Northern Bethesda that serves locals and neighboring DC residents.
The Mansion’s ‘specialty teas’ extend Strathmore’s community arts mission with themed afternoon tea events that cultivate artistic conversation. Greek Tea, Outlander Scottish Tea and Talk, and Downton Abbey Tea—to name a few—pair with brilliantly tailored music, savory nibbles, and steaming pots of tea.
- Address: Three locations at Lafayette Park, Penn Quarter, and Dupont Circle
- Reservations not necessary
- Open 11am-8pm daily
Teaism serves a highly customizable and easy-going afternoon tea with a stroke of international influence. The dining room boasts bohemian vibes with floral accents—combining café, restaurant, and tea-room energies all into one.
Cold, hot, and even Boba tea make up the stacked herbal caffeine menu while the food ventures far from typical bite-sized offerings with well-built nutritious plates.
Henley Park Hotel
- Address: 926 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001
- Call (800) 222-8447 or make an online reservation
- Royal Tea or English Tea available
- Seating times: Friday from 2pm-5pm, Saturday and Sunday 12pm-4pm
The Tavern at the Henley Park Hotel pays tribute to English Tudor architecture with a dedication to Britain’s unofficial beverage of choice. Both afternoon tea options host warm house-made scones with cream and jam, while the ‘Royal tea’ shows off with a larger selection of seasonal tarts and chocolate truffles and tea sandwiches for more ravenous eaters.
Cocktails are an additional $14 per drink, but $22 will buy you an unlimited supply of booze to alternate sips of tea.
Blue Duck Tavern’s Tea Cellar
- Address: 1201 24th St NW, Washington, DC 20037 (Located inside the Park Hyatt Hotel)
- Contact via their website about booking a semi-private dining event ()
A top DC destination to savor transformed local ingredients, Blue Duck Tavern advanced the notion of ‘farm-to-table’ with a semi-private dining experience at the Tea Cellar. This tea-sipping experience is not your typical afternoon-tea setting.
Gastronomic plates and glass humidor-aged teas account for a very unique event showcasing “the best curated collection of tea in the United States”.
Blue Duck Tavern’s restaurant culinary team constructs an exclusive menu to highlight regional ingredients and help showcase over 35 rare and limited-production teas. The intimate space can seat 10 people or accommodate 25 standing guests for a standing reception.
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
- Address: 4155 Linnean Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008
- Contact group [email protected] or call (202)243-3914 to make a reservation (reservations must be made at least 7 days in advance)
- Minimum of 10 guests
Former home to philanthropist and art collector Marjorie Merriweather, the Hillwood Estate is THE only DC destination for a memorable ‘high-tea for the masses’ experience. Perfect for larger family gatherings, baby showers, or birthday celebrations, this afternoon tea requires a minimum ten guests seating to reserve a table.
A feast of miniature scones, chicken salad croissant sandwiches, and a chocolate Nutella tart are served family-style with a choice of hot or iced-tea to go with.
Before you leave, take a stroll through the Hillwood gardens or visit the museum to admire pristine eighteenth-century French-inspired decor.
Looking for a Washington DC Hotel?
- Hotel Hive – Affordable, trendy, pet-friendly hotel
- Eaton Hotel – Stay in the heart of DC
- Four Seasons Hotel Washington DC – DC luxury at it’s best
- Kimpton Hotel George – Great for families and pets
- Willard InterContinental Washington – Historic hotel right near the White House