I love afternoon tea. J and I both do — for which I’m deeply grateful. We find places for tea even while we’re on vacation; the picture here is from tea with my dad and sister the day before my brother’s wedding.
Maybe my love for it began with an affinity for British historical dramas a la Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Downton Abbey, or Persuasion. The affection was cemented with my first real tea experience at Brit’s Pub in Minneapolis.
Sipping a hot cup of tea and sampling fancy little finger foods while communing with family and friends is a delightful way to wind down an afternoon.
And so, here’s a list of our favorite places to go for afternoon tea in the Twin Cities. Sadly, my favorite places don’t appear to have gluten-free options. However, there are a couple of places that do (The Mad Hatter in Anoka and Lady Elegant’s Tea Room in St Paul).
If you’ve got other suggestions for where we should check out, leave a comment and let me know.
Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis was my first experience with afternoon tea, and this is still my favorite place in the Cities to go. Generally tea is only served Monday through Friday between 2:00 and 3:30 PM, and reservations are required. Every fall, my mother-in-law makes reservations for the annual Christmas tea; advanced planning is critical for getting in at Christmastime.
When our reservation day arrives, we all get bundled up to meander along the shops on Nicollet before arriving at Brit’s for tea. Carolers dressed in Victorian garb visit each table and take requests. They’re pretty hard to stump for those of you who like to throw out obscure songs.
The crowd here for Christmas tea tends to be somewhat dressed up — along the lines of business casual. Some ladies like to wear hats for the tea. I like hats, but I don’t wear them to tea here. Just saying. You go ahead and do what you like.
The tea plates generally come with scones, lavender tea bread, assorted fruit, cheeses, finger sandwiches, and mini-desserts. They are delicious. For those of you curious about bringing kiddos, they do have a separate tea menu tailored for children’s palates. And yes, you can bring home leftovers. We often do. Even though those individual items are little, there is a lot of food.
Café Latte would be my pick for the combination of price and flavor. When we want afternoon tea, we most often show up here. For under $15, you get a pot of loose leaf tea, Sonoma-Basil cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, a scone, two shortbread cookies, a slice of one of their single layer desserts (selections vary), and a chocolate heart. All this carbohydrate laden goodness is accompanied by Creme Fraiche, berry preserves and lemon curd. This is a pretty fabulous deal on afternoon tea! Seriously.
No reservations are needed either, so this is a feasible choice if you’re not one who likes to plan ahead. Also, if you’re with someone who’d rather just have a normal sandwich or soup, you can both win by coming here. Added bonus: casual wear is totally cool for this experience.
Their tea plate is a little heavy on the sweet side, and you’re limited to finger sandwiches with cucumber in them. If either of those is problematic for you, then tea here might not be the best choice.
Here’s a couple of tips on how the system works since ordering afternoon tea here feels a bit like an insider trick. Head to the back register counter where the bulk of the bakery desserts are displayed. If you also see the signs for the pizza and wine bar, you’re in the right place. When it’s your turn to order, ask for the afternoon tea. The staff will walk you through your options for tea and the dessert slice. After you order, grab a table, and they’ll bring your tea and food out to you.
Last pick is the Saint Paul Hotel. They serve afternoon tea in the lobby on weekends. This is a maybe once every few years pick — if that. Planning is crucial. Reservations fill up months in advance, so calling way in advance is necessary — particularly for specialty tea events. I’m not much of an advance planner, so this is a bit of nuisance for me.
This is a fancy pants lobby, and people dress up for the afternoon tea. I either wear slacks or a dress. I don’t recommend jeans, hoodies or t-shirts. You’d likely get funny looks.
Tea here is also pricey. It is significantly more expensive than the other two places I mentioned. It’s an event. Tea takes two hours — during which time you’ll probably drink well over a gallon of tea out of your dainty china teacup without even realizing how it happened.
Courses are served separately over those couple of hours, instead of all at once like the other places I mentioned. There’s typically a course here that includes a warm savory food — not just cold sandwiches and desserts.
My preferred time of year to go is during the summer months. This has less to do with menus or the tea itself, and more to do with people watching. During the summer months, wedding party after wedding party with elaborate flowers and clothing wander through on their way to event venues or to meet up with photographers in Rice Park. Watching the fashion and the bouquets is a quite a hoot.