Dainty finger sandwiches, artful petits fours, delicate china and elegant surroundings: the ritual of afternoon tea is a delight, a refined escape from the general coarseness of the world today. It’s also a time-honored Mother’s Day tradition.
New York presents some of the most beautiful high tea services outside of London, in spaces ranging from grand traditional salons to exotic tucked-away lounges. In consultation with the experts at High Tea Society, we came up with a definitive list of the best Manhattan high teas.
No place in New York is more synonymous with afternoon tea than The Plaza Hotel. Mothers and daughters have been enjoying cucumber sandwiches and scones in the Palm Court for more than 100 years. Mr. Harper calls the beloved venue “ideal for afternoon tea under an impressive stained-glass laylight.” After Thierry Despont’s 2013 renovation, which reflects the lush greenery of Central Park, it’s an even more elegant place to dine.
Afternoon tea options include the kid-friendly Eloise’s Afternoon Tea, named after the children’s book character and fictional Plaza resident. Grown-up patrons will enjoy The New Yorker Tea, with, of course, classic cheesecake, or our favorite, The Champagne Tea, with delectable nibbles including ingredients such as foie gras, lobster and caviar, in addition to a flute of bubbly.
The classically styled Midtown Peninsula is located in a 23-story Beaux Arts-style building on Fifth Avenue. Afternoon tea is served in the gracious Gotham Lounge, where guests can enjoy warm scones, finger sandwiches or petits fours while sipping Champagne and a variety of carefully selected teas. If you really feel like indulging — and why not? — enhance the traditional tea experience by ordering The Grand Afternoon Tea, which includes a bottle of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Champagne and your choice of American Sterling or Ossetra caviar.
After enjoying the neighborhood around the iconic Carlyle — the most desirable part of the Upper East Side, a block from Central Park and near museums, galleries and specialty shops — afternoon tea at The Gallery at The Carlyle is just the thing. Legendary designer Renzo Mongiardino drew inspiration for the décor of The Gallery from the sultan’s dining room at the Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. With deep red wallpapers, banquettes upholstered in antique kilims and red-fringed velvet chairs, the room feels warm, intimate and exotic all at once.
In addition to expected English teas, more unusual options like Assam, lapsang souchong and verveine are on offer. Or skip tea altogether and opt for rich Stumptown French press coffee alongside the English scones with Devonshire cream and strawberry preserves.
Located opposite the Museum of Modern Art on East 53rd Street, the sophisticated Baccarat Hotel partners with the French gourmet tea company Mariage Frères to offer a truly one-of-a-kind tea experience in the opulent Grand Salon. Beneath the 64-arm Baccarat chandelier, guests can sip specialty blends brewed by the hotel’s tea sommelier with pairings of exquisite canapés and petits fours. Ensuring a decadent experience, each tea menu has a royal theme, ranging from Louis XV’s “French Tea at Versailles” to Czar Nicolas II’s “Caviar Tea at Tsarskoye Selo.”
Conveniently located along Midtown’s Fifth Avenue shopping district, the St. Regis is a perennial Harper favorite. After visiting Tiffany & Co., Valentino and Henri Bendel, stop in for a spot of tea at the hotel’s chic and convivial Astor Court. Relax with a glass of Veuve Clicquot and the St. Regis Tea, or choose from the extensive selection of green, black, oolong and herbal infusions. Tempting treats include macarons, lemon tartelettes, lump crab salad and Gruyère-and-chive quiches.
Another longtime Harper favorite, the refined Lowell hotel stands between Madison and Park avenues close to notable galleries and stores, including Hermès and Barneys. Arrive on the hotel’s second floor to find The Pembroke Room, one of New York City’s best-kept secrets. Mr. Harper lauds its traditional English-style tea, particularly its “proper” cucumber sandwiches and homemade scones with lemon curd and Devonshire cream.
Not on the High Tea Society list, but certainly on ours, the Crosby Street Hotel is a visually striking boutique property on the eastern edge of Soho. Owned by the British company Firmdale Hotels, the Crosby takes afternoon tea seriously, serving it all day in The Crosby Bar or on the outdoor terrace in the summer. For those who may require it, the hotel offers a Detox Afternoon Tea menu free of gluten, dairy, eggs and refined sugar. Treats include a roasted banana-walnut trifle, steak-and-Stilton Cornish pasty and a pear-and-Camembert tart. Other highlights include tea made with whole chamomile flowers that impart a sweet, subtle flavor.
Of course, hotels aren’t the only venues serving high tea in New York. These standalone tearooms present pastry towers and tea menus that compete with the best in the city.
Mr. Harper calls this Victorian tearoom “a real New York classic.” Consistently rated the most romantic tea salon in New York City, Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon a must for tea enthusiasts. Set in Gramercy Park within a Georgian brownstone, the salon could easily be mistaken for yet another exclusive residence, were it not for the simple teacup engraved on a plaque outside. The five-course tea includes a variety of finger sandwiches, fresh-baked scones with clotted cream and jams and a large selection of fine teas.
The New York Times has called The Russian Tea Room a “czarist fantasy,” so if you’re looking for an over-the-top high tea experience, this is the place. Some critics suggest that the food has room for improvement, but it doesn’t seem right to leave this iconic tearoom off our list. Amid opulent Russian décor, it offers four afternoon tea menus, including traditional, royal, gluten-free and vegetarian, all influenced by the mother country (think blinis, Russian caviar, smoked sturgeon and more).
On the seventh floor of Bergdorf Goodman, the BG Restaurant is a picturesque spot to stop for a post-shopping pick-me-up. Enjoy traditional petite pastries and tea sandwiches in addition to your choice of Dammann Frères teas (or a flute of Veuve Clicquot). Tea highlights include the complex Nuit à Versailles, a green sencha tea with bergamot essential oil, kiwi, yellow peach and orange and violet blossom. You can also order the Anji white tea from the eponymous region of China, harvested over only one or two weeks each year.