It’s never easy to upset a decade’s old tradition, particularly one as deep-rooted as afternoon tea, but several years ago, after decades of hosting winter tea service in its grand Lobby Lounge, the Pfister Hotel moved the service upstairs to its 23rd-floor Blu Lounge. “We heard some negative reactions from longtime patrons who were used to having their tea in the lobby by the huge Christmas tree,” explains Juan Rodriguez, who began serving as the hotel’s tea butler in 1983. “But once they got up to Blu and experienced its beautiful atmosphere and its view of the lake and the city, they just loved it.”
With its modern décor and a striking color scheme that lends the lounge its name, Blu may be an interesting setting for an otherwise traditional tea service where tea is served in 18th-century replica self-tipping silver pots, but it’s a fittingly comfortable environment for a ritual predicated on relaxation.
The service begins with a tableside presentation during which Rodriguez introduces each tea, explaining its ingredients, its origins and how it was harvested. Most of the nine varieties come from Sri Lanka. “We pass the jars around to people so they can smell their aromas, which makes it easier for them to select the teas they’ll be drinking,” Rodriguez says. “It’s a lot more informative smelling them than it is reading about them on a menu.”
The Pfister offers several packages of sweets, sandwiches and cheeses to accompany each tea selection. The $18 sweets package includes chocolate-dipped strawberries, shortbread cookies, madeleines and macaroons, an opera torte and scones with mascarpone, lemon curd and strawberry preserves. The $30 Victorian tea package includes those sweets and adds a feast of Scottish smoked salmon, herb-roasted turkey pinwheels, curried quail eggs and other savory snacks. And for kids 12 and younger, there’s a tea-free option with hot chocolate, cider or milk that includes ham and cheddar finger sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly scones and madeleines. Some of those kids will grow up to become annual guests, Rodriguez says.
“I recall some kids who could barely crawl on the couches, and now they come back and they have gone to college and some even have children of their own,” Rodriguez says. “We have regulars who have been coming for tea service for over 20 years; they like to keep the tradition.”
The Pfister’s tea service runs 3-4:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through March 24. Reservations are required.