Afternoon tea is one of life's great luxuries -- a restful break from daily routine, a carry-over from an age when time (and calories) could be spent in sheer self-indulgence. Especially at Cafe MoZU in the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

That's where a three-course tea is served just off the main lobby in an elegant and understated space overlooking the Washington Channel and Potomac Tidal Basin. The food is pure guilty pleasure: a first course of very modern finger sandwiches -- lobster salad on toasted brioche, prosciutto di parma with fig on brioche; a second all-scone course with jams, clotted cream and passion fruit cream; and a third course of cakes, pastries and dainty pots de creme, followed by chocolates.

And then there are the teas: more than 30 of them assembled by the hotel's very own tea sommelier, who has divided them into helpful categories (classic blacks, premium oolongs, classic and scented greens, tisanes, for example), identified them as caffeinated or not, rated them on a scale that details their quality and rarity and provided explanatory notes for each tea. (Who knew that Long Jing tea -- in English, Dragonwell Supreme -- is a wok-fired, hand-rolled green tea with herbal notes and a nutty flavor? And that it came from a village in Zhejian and is named after a benevolent dragon said to have lived in a local well in the West Lake district of the province?)

In fact, the cost of the tea service, ranging from $30 to $40, is determined by the availability of the type of tea, whether it comes from a single source and just how much of it is grown. Add a couple of pleasant hours overlooking the water, and, as luxuries go, the most expensive teas are virtual bargains.

Cafe MoZU in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is open all day, but serves tea only between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. Reservations are recommended. 1330 Maryland Ave. SW; 202-787-6868.

-- Judith Weinraub

Afternoon tea service at Cafe MoZU in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.