O.C.’s Best: Afternoon Tea

Britain’s light-meal tradition is experiencing a SoCal revival, with local teahouses offering the classic service

The ritual dates back to the 1800s as a snacking fix and social gathering for the aristocratic ladies of Britain. Today, afternoon tea has become a fashionable alternative for birthday parties, and bridal and baby showers. Here are five teahouses in Orange County where you can practice traditional etiquette while noshing on dainty pastries and finger sandwiches.

1 . The Tea House on Los Rios
Once inside this century-old cottage, you’ll be transported to the English countryside by Victorian floral wallpaper, lace curtains, and porcelain teacups. Have a seat in the music room, where instruments adorn the walls. The Garden Tea, left, comes with your choice of two dozen loose-leaf varieties, assorted finger sandwiches, and a warm, heart-shaped currant scone you’ll daub with Early California cream, a variation on English clotted cream. Tea also comes with dessert, with your choice of English trifle, lemon tart, bread pudding, and the Mamboche, a delectable ice cream parfait. Don one of the party hats to get into the spirit. $17 to $38 per person; 31731 Los Rios St., San Juan Capistrano, 949-443-3914, theteahouseonlosrios.com

2 . The Resort at Pelican Hill
Afternoon tea becomes an elegant affair the minute you enter the resort’s Great Room. The parlorlike setting, just off the lobby, offers sweeping ocean views appropriate for such posh service. Details are thoughtfully planned, from the sterling silver tableware to a three-tiered platter of savory bites and finger sandwiches almost too pretty to eat. Try the berry tarts and fresh, house-made black currant scones served with Devonshire cream, strawberry preserves, and lemon curd. Choose from 10 teas, including organic green, chamomile, vanilla rooibos, and English breakfast. Frequently, a classical harpist will be on hand to serenade you, too. $50 to $60 per person; tea service offered 2 to 3:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday; reservations required. 22701 S. Pelican Hill Road, Newport Coast, 949-467-6800, pelicanhill.com

3 . McKenna’s Tea Cottage
You can’t help but sit up straight in this seaside tea room that feels like a grandmother’s quaint living room. Pale yellow walls, lace tablecloths, and mismatched teacups set the mood for a tranquil experience. Choose from more than 30 specialty loose-leaf teas such as the McKenna’s Special Blend—a fragrant infusion with apple, elderberries, hibiscus, strawberries, and rose hips. $11 to $27 per person; reservations recommended. 810 Electric Ave., Seal Beach, 562-431-0200, mckennasteacottage.com

4. Tea & Teacups
Cozy with plenty of kitsch, this small and homey shop has something for everyone, offering 130 loose-leaf teas, one of the largest selections around. Best of all, guests can select a different variety for their second pot. Don’t be shy about asking for refills. The warm, scratch-made apricot, cranberry, or coconut scones come with cream and jam, and cupcakes are served in darling teacups. $11 to $26 per person; reservations required. 18154 Imperial Highway, Yorba Linda, 714-572-9825, teaandteacups.com

5 . The Sussex Teapot

Adjacent to a British grocer and gift shop, The Sussex Teapot is known for its Cornish pasties, bangers and mash, golden house-made scones (gluten-free available, too), and a traditional no-frills tea service with lace tablecloths. The house tea, PG Tips, and Yorkshire Gold are popular British blends, though you can’t go wrong with some  Earl Grey with a sugar cube and spot of milk. $11 to $20 per person; 12752 Valley View St., Garden Grove, 714-897-9442, sussexteapot.com 

For our web exclusive “How to Have Tea Like a Brit”, click here.

Photographs by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue.

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