With the seasons changing and with the approaching cold and dreary days in Chicago, instead of desiring a lukewarm cup of hot chocolate or glass of spiced apple cider, the one the thing I crave most is a simple cup of tea. My very first visit to the UK totally converted me into a tea fanatic. Not only is afternoon tea a tradition in Europe, but it is also a daily ritual for people of all genders and ages. Children as young as three years old to men that are in their eighties all gather in shops and restaurants for the same reason, for the tradition of tea. For those visiting from across the pond or are just European lovers as I am, it’s unfortunate to realize that Chicago only offers proper high tea at a few locations. From locations such as the Drake, to the Palmer House, to the Lobby at the Peninsula Hotel, one of my favorite places to sip tea and frankly get more bang for my buck is on the Pavillion at the Langham Hotel.
Located on the Langham Hotel’s fourth floor, next to main lobby and Travelle, afternoon tea is held in the Pavilion Wednesday-Sunday from noon-4 p.m. Decorated with soft colours of grey and beige, the ambiance resembles a welcoming space to converse and relax in, while being casually chic. Hanging from the ceiling are multi-coloured fixtures and the furniture is classic and simple, yet enjoyable. Although some of the seating is overlooking the hustle and bustle of State Street, the soft notes of the grand piano and serene setting transport you into a peaceful and elegant European escape.
Browsing through the bountiful list of teas, ranging from floral tasting to robust and full bodied flavours, our kind and gentle waiter, Joseph, recommended the Langham’s signature tea, the Palm Court and his personal favourite, The Children’s Tea. After a few moments and arriving wearing a full smile, Joseph returned with our first pot of tea and an accompaniment of little bites. Slowly streaming the beautiful pink liquid into our cups, it was clear that Joseph had presented us with the Palm Court. Enchanted by its light, playful, pink color and its soft scent of fresh and clean florals, I was immediately reminded of a blooming garden of roses on a sunny, warm Spring afternoon. Sipping the flirty pink tea, the first thing I noticed was how much of a palate cleanser the Palm Court was. Combining the straight forward Chinese white tea with subtle hints of rose hip and rose petals made its underlying layer of hibiscus tickle your tongue with flavour and wash away any prior taste you had in your mouth. Paired with the chic platter of carby- filled nibbles of food (note, going to afternoon tea is NOT a day to be watching those calories), the Palm Court was a perfect beverage to sip on. Because the Palm Court’s flavour was not as intense or overwhelming, each ingredient in the food was able to shine on its own. Between the minty watermelon gazpacho, the Big Eye tuna crudo, summer corn and zucchini tart, and the oven dried heirloom tomato nibbles we were given, my favourite by far was the tuna. Served over two oyster crackers and layered with chili and avocado, the flavours of the tuna and the garlic aioli were so light and refreshing that it made my tongue do a happy dance. Afterwards, the tickling linger of chili was washed away with a quick sip of the Palm Court – A perfect pairing, in my opinion. The Palm Court is a perfect partner for a light platter of afternoon tea treats or even a beverage during a casual get together with friends.
After finishing our last drip of the Palm Court, Joseph revisited us with a tea pot of his favourite, The Children’s Tea as well as freshly toasted lemon currant and traditional scones and bite sized decadent desserts. Opposite from the Palm Court, The Children’s Tea was a much more bold and potent flavoured tea. Made with indigenous South African Rooibos (red tea) and including a teaspoon of almond milk (as recommended by Joseph), the first sips of The Children’s Tea were smoky and nutty. The aromas are not only sweet, fruity, and smooth, but its rounded balance of flavours allow the tea to pair well with nuts, fruits, and sweet desserts. Speaking of desserts, one word to describe the scones and desserts we had was incredible! Not being a fan of sweets or chocolate in general and not “technically” supposed to be eating bread (by living a Paleo lifestyle), I was blown away by how delicious these little delicacies were. Out of all of the desserts and pastries, my favourite was hands down the lemon currant scone. As other Paleos can attest to, eating a bread item at all is considered a treat in itself, and this was no exception. While munching on the buttery flakey outside of the scone which encased a moist and soft doughy center, the lemon flavour baked within lightened up and justified the concept of consuming a handful of bread. Not to mention that lathering the pieces of scone with the Devonshire cream and fruit preserves just elevated the deliciousness, further sending me into a carb-happy place. Washing down each bite with The Children’s Tea and tasting the nutty almond milk was the perfect finish to an incredible experience.
Although both teas were different, I felt that both together resembled the Langham’s personality, sophisticated, yet casually comforting. While the Palm Court embodied itself as the proper and classy personality of the Langham, the taste of The Children’s Tea made its sipper relaxed and feeling able to completely unwind. Out of both teas, The Children’s Tea along with the lemon currant scone is exactly the type of remedy I crave to warm me up during our future cold and windy days.
From the moment we arrived until the moment we had left (Nancy and I had ended up closing down tea service), one surprise throughout our experience was definitely the service that we have received. Joseph, our waiter, was not only hospitable and eloquent, but he was above and beyond polite. Although Nancy and I were slowly sipping and grazing on our delectable items, Joseph continued to constantly check up on us, making sure that we were comfortable and content. He had even offered to replace our hour long pastries with crisp treats, just to make sure we are having the freshest items available. Taking on the indirect caretaker position of afternoon tea, Joseph takes pride in this daily ritual, catering to each patron and ensuring they receive the same level of elegance and class as the next. This is not only apparent by the tone of afternoon tea, but it also visible by the atmosphere of the Pavillion. The level of hospitality we had experienced made my afternoon tea so much more than a feature, it reminded me of the tradition and
Even though most choose to unwind from their hectic week at a bar or lounge with an alcoholic beverage, I would encourage one to embark in afternoon tea instead. The Langham lends itself as an oasis to relax and partake in a daily ritual celebrated by our European cousins. Plus, besides its delicious list of flavours, teas are almost zero in calories and extremely high in antioxidants. Why gulp down a glass of boozy calories when you can let your body recover and prepare for your busy weekend ahead? Plus, you can use the calories you were going to drink towards the delicious menu items that are available instead. Pinkies up!