Can someone please explain to me why Americans don’t have an afternoon tea? Like, why don’t we take a break mid-afternoon, sip on some tea, and eat cake? My husband says that Americans have coffee breaks, which I guess is true. But running out to grab a coffee or simply grabbing a cup in the office break room just doesn’t feel the same. Maybe it’s because I’m just so tired of sitting at my desk all day and rarely taking breaks anymore (no coworkers to talk with around the “water cooler”), and I’m really in need of picking up some traditions that will force me to take some breaks. Like an afternoon tea, perhaps.
This spark of interest for afternoon tea came from a visit to Brooklyn High Low, a new tea room located in Prospect Heights. On Saturday I went with a few of the girlfriends in my COVID “bubble” and we had a morning of tea, scones, tea sandwiches, shortbreads, chocolate mousse, macarons…I mean, come on. Doesn’t that sound like something you need in your life?
First, let’s talk about the tea room. My two friends and I were actually their first ever customers and they gave us a little gift—a tea spoon with some tea to brew at home. I almost cried by their kindness. You can order three tea experiences at Brooklyn High Low, which offer different variations of tea and treats. We went with the “Brooklyn” which we found to be perfect for the three of us, and sat in their cozy patio outside in the back. The steaming tea kept us warm as we enjoyed the early Saturday morning breeze, feeling incredibly thankful for the mere gift of friendship, food, and what felt like a new sense of freedom after spending so many months apart. Going from seeing each other two or three times a week to once a month is quite a shock to the system…so we already decided on making frequent trips to Brooklyn High Low in the future.
Second, let’s talk about tea. The Spruce explains the difference between afternoon tea and high tea well—which Brooklyn High Low nods to in the name of their establishment. Afternoon tea, also known as “low tea” was a tradition in the upper class dating as early as the 19th century, where people would take a break sometime around 4 p.m. to enjoy tea and sweet treats. High tea was celebrated by the working class, people who endured a hard day of labor and need tea and a satisfying hot meal to revive their spirits. It’s called “high” tea because typically the meal was celebrated around a table with high-back dining chairs, versus a comfortable afternoon tea in lower parlor chairs. Both traditions are celebrated in the experiences at Brooklyn High Low—but not exactly with the corresponding chairs. We ended up choosing the option for afternoon tea…at 10 a.m. We treated it more like breakfast…those treats were super filling!
Now onto my biggest pet peeve…why don’t we do this? I mean okay, if I really wanted an answer, it’s kind of obvious. The tradition of taking a tea break was established after the United States became its own country. There wasn’t enough time for the tradition to be infused (ha!) into American culture. And while some people will carry the tradition because of family association or what have you, it’s not highly celebrated here.
My craving for tea and cakes in the afternoon is proof that taking an afternoon tea is simply a tradition I need in my life. No…it probably won’t be as elaborate with three tiers of trays filled with delicacies. But it may look like a cookie or a brownie (or blondies!) with a large cup of tea—preferably black—and actually stepping away from my computer. And I’m thinking around 3 p.m., which is usually when my craving for sweets hits. Enough to revive my spirits to get me through those last few hurdles in my work day.
What do you think? Do you want to start a tradition of afternoon tea? Let me know below! And if you’re in the Brooklyn, you really should check out Brooklyn High Low. You can make reservations online or contact them directly to get something.