Here is an excellent article from our second favorite quality daily – after the (perhaps fictitious) Tea Times of course. Back in March, Kaly Soto of The New York Times put together this pretty exhaustive guide to the best spots to sip tea in NYC. Tea & Sympathy features pretty highly, which we’re chuffed about – even more so because of the fabulous photographs. Below, we’ve cherry-picked Soto’s delightfully informative introduction on the tradition of British high tea, her feature on T&S, and a link to the wonderful photos that accompanied the article.
Published: March 10, 2011
SOMETIMES you leave a meal at a New York restaurant more stressed out than when you arrived. You make a reservation, but they won’t seat you until your whole party has arrived. The entree you want is no longer available. Your waiter disappears for a half-hour and returns only to nudge you out of the table so someone else can sit down. But there is a dining experience that will leave you feeling pampered and relaxed: afternoon tea. I recently sampled several afternoon teas, and in every establishment, the sterling service matched the sterling silver of the place settings, which also included beautiful (and often charmingly mismatched) china.
Though much of the fare was to be expected — cucumber sandwiches, scones and clotted cream — the experience was the real treat. Despite the decorous connotations, the teas were more akin to spa treatments than to etiquette lessons. Occasionally a server made a suggestion (like, start eating from the bottom of a tiered tray), but much more attention was paid to whether my teacup was full and I had everything I needed. And at each place I learned a little something, too.
The first order of business was getting the vocabulary straight. What most places in Manhattan offer are afternoon teas, not high teas. Though high tea sounds more formal, in Britain it was originally the tea of working-class men and women, said Lisa Boalt Richardson, who has written two books about tea, “The World in Your Teacup” and “Tea With a Twist.”
“They wanted to partake in tea,” Ms. Boalt Richardson said. “But it is not an afternoon tea; it’s more of a supper tea. They would have it about 5 or 6 and have it around a high table, the dinner table.” High tea might be accompanied by potpies or shepherd’s pie, whereas afternoon teas come with cheese, bread, finger sandwiches and scones…
…Haley Fox was not the only proprietor who spoke of really feeding customers. Nicky Perry, who owns Tea and Sympathy in the West Village, advised patrons to “come hungry.” Her casual establishment has 10 tables and the decided feel of her native Britain, with floral tablecloths and pictures of famous countrymen on the walls. Along with a “proper English scone” and other appropriate fare, Ms. Perry serves more than three dozen British teas, including Typhoo, Yorkshire Gold and Rosie Lee; the English breakfast brews are the most popular. (Afternoon tea here is $35 for one person; $60 for two.)
“The tea in this country tastes like they fished it out of Boston Harbor,” she said.
Robert Litwiller has been going to Tea and Sympathy since the day after it opened in 1991. Mr. Litwiller said he had just moved back to the United States from London when he discovered the shop and proceeded to eat there almost every day for several years.
“It became my little place to bring people,” he said. “It means a lot to me.” But he added that Tea and Sympathy brooked no bad attitudes. “You’ve got to play by the rules.”
Ah, finally, some rules. They are posted at the door and include: “Be pleasant to the waitresses — remember, Tea and Sympathy girls are always right,” and “If we don’t need the table, you may stay all day, but if people are waiting and you have finished your meal, then it’s time to naff off.”
A version of this article appeared in print on March 11, 2011, on page C21 of the New York edition.