The History of Tea
Drinking tea as a fashionable event was introduced in 1662 by Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, wife of King Charles II, who brought a large chest of tea to England as part of her dowry. Tea became all the rage
at court, complete with a tea service. But the tradition of afternoon tea was actually started in London in the mid-1840s by Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, in an effort to stave off hunger between meals—which, at that time, meant the long hours between a late breakfast and an early dinner. It started with a tray of tea and bread and butter and quickly evolved into a popular social event, made elaborate with formal attire—or tea gowns—the addition of bone china, and an increasing array of culinary delicacies to accompany it. The humble sandwich, the brainchild and namesake of the Earl of Sandwich, became an obligatory starter, after which you could move on to the sweeter delectables.
The Tea Room at The Plaza
Evoking the splendor of European lobbies and gardens, The Palm Court was originally referred to as the “lounge” but was quickly dubbed the “tea room” by guests. In fact, The Palm Court was not officially named until the mid 1930s—and by then, traditions were cemented. While credit for tea time might be given to the English, “tea,” as it came to be known in the 1920s, was very much a Plaza original. Prohibition brought tea dancing—or thé dansant—to prominence. Often tea dance lines would snake in and out of The Plaza in celebration. This afternoon or early evening dance made tea time the new standard by which to start evening celebrations. And today, Geoffrey Zakarian brings those traditions full circle with his announcement that The Palm Court will first extend its tea service hours to 12 noon to 5 p.m. and then stay open for cocktails and light fare until 1 a.m.
A beautiful circular stand, made exclusively for The Plaza, sits on the edge of the table to allow guests to converse uninterrupted by a tower of food. Small tables, reminiscent of purse tables, placed adjacent to your own are for the pots of tea to sit on. “Usually there is so much clutter during a tea service. This way, the table can breathe a little,” explains Geoffrey Zakarian. There are no tablecloths, and the customized napkins were made in Italy. “Bernardaud designed an exclusive line of china specifically for The Plaza.”
Geoffrey Zakarian on The Quintessential New Yorker’s Tea
After a week of eating and drinking tea in London, Geoffrey Zakarian was convinced he needed to do something a little different. “I wasn’t blown away by the food selection in London. It was mostly sweets, and in New York people just don’t eat that way. Instead, we came up with the idea of doing a tea from the New York side of things with more savory items. Lobster rolls instead of the traditional cucumber sandwiches. Variations on the smoked salmon and turkey sandwiches, only more interesting and focused. Whereas in London it’s pretty much the same, here it’s going to be different. I put a lot of New York touches on the menu, specifically because I want New Yorkers to come here!”
Now The Palm Court tea menu offers a Fitzgerald Tea, a Champagne Tea, the Eloise Tea, and a New Yorker Tea—all simplified and made a little more New York–centric. “This is going to be the go-to place for tea in the city, if not the country.”
Palais des Thés: Distinctive Teas for Special Occasions
When it came to choosing a tea partner, Geoffrey Zakarian knew the art of the tea service was a big part of the overall experience. For this reason, he chose Palais des Thés, known not only for their exceptional tea blends, but also for the knowledge they provide.
Founded in 1986 in Paris, Palais des Thés prides itself on sourcing the freshest selection of teas from the world over: China, Japan, India, and Sri Lanka. All the teas are selected at the source by their team of tea tasters, who travel extensively and often to small plantations in remote locations. They then channel that passion that starts with each tea leaf into creating experiences that last beyond the cup by bringing their knowledge of tea to consumers through a tea school in Paris and private lessons in New York.