Any day is a good day for high tea: Mother's Day, birthdays (mine or yours), anniversaries or simply because I haven't seen you in a while. It doesn't take much to justify a few hours spent sipping a warm, richly steeped brew while munching on delicate goodies.
And for me, it's the goodies that promote the status of the tea to "high."
The expected crustless sandwiches are a wonderful truth, especially around here where you might find an open-faced cucumber sandwich on thin, moist buttermilk bread, the cuke atop a spread of local goat cheese, sliced so thinly and layered so intricately that it resembles an exotic fish.
But the sweets also help: handcrafted truffles, aromatic with fresh lavender and stunning with honest-to-goodness gold-leaf garnish.
And the scones: Some places provide real clotted cream to spread atop the freshly baked finale.
A fresh pot of Earl Grey never tasted so good as when accompanied by petite munchies. Get thee to a high tea, enjoy the peace of the process, reconnect with an old friend and think of me while you sip.
The Carolina Inn211 Pittsboro St. • Chapel Hill • 918-2735
Versions of the high tea vary at this Chapel Hill landmark. The Classic Tea is $20; the upgraded Bridal Tea, where everyone gets a few extra treats and the bride a glass of Champagne, is $30; the Little Prince and Princess Tea, which features a more kid-friendly selection, is $17. Teas come from Adagio and The Elmwood Inn and vary with the seasons. The tea ends with scones, cream and chocolate-dipped strawberries. High tea is served Thursday through Sunday starting at 2:30 p.m. For reservations, contact restaurant coordinator Lorraine Ficarrotta at firstname.lastname@example.org or the phone number above.
The King's Daughters Inn204 N. Buchanan Blvd. • Durham • 354-7000
Though this bed-and-breakfast in Trinity Park offers afternoon tea to guests daily, it also invites the public to a high tea once each season. The most recent iteration was a St. Patrick's Day tea, where $15 bought you a traditional cream tea, or Devonshire tea, service with warm scones, clotted cream and the music of the Irish. Visit their website to see what's to come next.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens426 Anderson St. • Durham • 684-3698
hr.duke.edu/dukegardens • sarahpdukegardens.blogspot.com
For the most sublime tea experience in the Triangle, visit the Durham-Toyama Sister Cities Pavilion at Duke Gardens. Here you'll find as authentic a Japanese tea as possible this side of the Pacific. Nancy Hamilton, cultural programming director for the gardens, and many Japanese volunteers bring the traditional elements of poetry, philosophy and togetherness to the tea. They also don traditional clothing including tabi (socks), zori (sandals) and kimonos. Patrons sip green tea from Japan from a small bowl and enjoy one small yuzu, or treat. This is the second year the gardens have offered a spring and fall chado, or way of tea, and the events sell out. The standard cost is $30. For more info, e-mail email@example.com.
Herons at the Umstead Hotel & Spa100 Woodland Pond Drive • Cary • 447-4000
In one of the most gorgeous settings in the state, tea drinkers can admire the blown-glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly, fresh flowers and North Carolina pottery as they sip. Menu items include house-cured salmon tea sandwiches, deviled quail eggs, warm buttermilk scones with Devonshire cream and fresh strawberries with Grand Marnier chantilly cream. Choose from a variety of loose-leaf tea from Mighty Leaf. Tea is offered Wednesday through Sunday 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Cost is $32. Reservations are recommended.
Washington Duke Inn3001 Cameron Blvd. • Durham • 493-6699
In memory of "more genteel times," the on-campus inn and golf resort serves a high tea in its Fairview Dining Room, where the setting is all classical music, velveteen settees and patriarch portraits. Sippers choose from a selection of teas from Taylors of Harrogate (established 1886), or they can upgrade to Champagne for an extra $8. The basic tea includes savory and sweet bites as well as fresh scones. Tea is offered Wednesday through Sunday 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Reservations are required. At $20 per person, this might be the best deal at Duke.