Tuesday, August 21, 2012



Add a spot of refinement to your next European jaunt

By T. Curtis Campbell, MD

In America, we have “happy hour”, not exactly an elegant experience, as the swank piano bars in the nicest hotels are being replaced by sports on the big screen and Wi-Fi social isolation holes.  Europe, however, maintains the tradition of “Afternoon Tea” pretty much wherever your touring leads you.  I enjoyed this delightful restorative, and mostly affordable, nourishment on my trek across Europe last year, on the Orient Express Train, in Paris, Edinburgh, and in spectacular fashion on the Queen Mary II crossing the ocean.

To enhance my travel experience, I like to identify, find, photograph and enjoy a food or drink that exemplifies a state or country that I visit.  I have accomplished that for many states, including Maine lobster, Maryland crab cakes and Nebraska corn, to name a few.  For England, I could have selected “fish and chips,” English muffin (a misnomer I am told), Yorkshire pudding, etc; but I chose TEA because the British Empire was practically built on the tea trade from India, and the custom of “afternoon tea” is quintessentially England.. 


The Dutchess of Bedford (3 September 1783 – 3 July 1857) 
Apparently, the Duchess of Bedford, a friend of Queen Victoria, must have suffered from hypoglycemia, and needed something to sustain herself between the light lunches and late suppers that were customary in England in the 1840’s.  Servants would bring her tea with sandwiches or pastries in the late afternoon.  She started inviting her inner circle of friends to these dainty repasts, and soon the tradition of “afternoon tea” caught on and spread to the far reaches of the British Empire.

“Be a bon vivant, and use the dress code to your advantage.”

Tea time in Edinburgh, Scotland
You will find that throughout Europe, especially in the UK, every nice hotel, train and ocean liner serves afternoon tea, usually at 3PM.  Reservations are not needed except at the most exclusive venues.  Tea is often served in elegant style from glistening teapots into exquisite cups and saucers.  The correct way to pour the tea is through a silver strainer placed over your cup, to catch any remaining tea leaves.  Tea bags are utterly gauche and never seen.  

Three tier offerings of sandwiches, scones, biscuits & desserts
The Ritz London
Soon arrives the “tower,” a multi-tiered presentation of tasty treats.  The lowest level is traditionally finger sandwiches: ham, chicken, egg, salmon and, of course, cucumber.  Above that, are the pastries including de-rigueur “scones.”  Those with no will power start right at the top level:  the heavenly sinful chocolates and sweets, all tastefully presented.  Most such teas are one price “all you can eat,” so spoil your supper or just replace your supper!

For my photo shoot, I choose the cream of the crop, tea at the Ritz in London.  One needs reservations weeks, if not months ahead, so take care of that before you leave home.  Expect top levels of service and ambiance in the Ritz’s Hotel’s Palm Court with gilded surroundings, live piano music and a strict dress code. Be a bon vivant, and use the dress code to your advantage.  A well dressed man will be noticed by his lady, and a well dressed lady will be noticed by everyone in the room!  It may cost a bit, but you will have enjoyed a unique travel experience never to be forgotten: the tea, the scones, the Ritz.

Tea time at The Ritz, London 

Entering The Palm Court at The Ritz, London

Pianist entertaining guests The Ritz, London

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www.theritzlondon.comThe Ritz London

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