When it comes to feeling pampered, not many restaurant outings can compare to an afternoon tea. There’s something special about pouring a steaming hot brew from your own pot into a delicate, beautifully patterned cup and being presented with tiered trays stacked with scones and clotted cream, bite-size pastries and the most adorable sandwiches. Washington hotels and tearooms are putting their own spin on this quintessentially British tradition, which began as a way to ward off hunger between lunch and dinner. Here’s a list of tea services so you can find your exact cup of tea.
When you’re looking for . . . a classic British cuppa
It’s a splurge, but you can live out all your “Downton Abbey” dreams with a weekend afternoon tea service in the Willard InterContinental’s historic Peacock Alley walkway. Lady Mary would feel right at home in this handsome hallway off the lobby, with its ornate carpets and music from a harpist. (The ladies of “The Real Housewives of Potomac” have hosted a drama-filled outing here, too.) Choose from nearly 20 J’enwey teas, including bourbon vanilla rooibos and the Willard’s signature blend of Keemun and Pu-erh black teas. Treats such as mini pimento BLT sandwiches and dried Maine blueberry scones with lemon curd are arranged on tiers of elegant plates.
For a more budget-friendly, scone-filled afternoon, try the Henley Park Hotel, which serves a traditional tea every day in the front parlor of its restored Tudor-style building on Massachusetts Avenue NW. The service starts at $14 per person for warm butter and dried-fruit scones with preserves and Devonshire cream, and a choice of tea from Harney & Sons.
Willard InterContinental, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $68-$75. Reservations required.
Henley Park Hotel, 926 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Daily, 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. $14-$35.
When you’re looking for . . . something to impress your hippest friends
Head to . . . Brothers and Sisters at the Line hotel.
At Brothers and Sisters, the bustling restaurant within the lobby of Adams Morgan’s Line hotel (which was once home to a church), it’s obvious from the start that this isn’t your typical afternoon tea. Once you’ve debated between Darjeeling or oolong, a server presents a wooden tray stacked with vintage-looking cups in all sorts of patterns. “It’s always funny to see which one everyone picks,” she says, right before she brings out a simple metal teapot with a doughnut rubber eraser dangling off the tea strainer.
The tiered wooden serving plate that arrives next is covered with stylish snacks from Brothers and Sisters chef Erik Bruner-Yang and pastry chef Pichet Ong. First, tackle the warm items — such as a takoyaki hush puppy or delicate wonton — then continue with savory bites like a roe-embellished cucumber-and-cream-cheese sandwich and an avocado salad with ribbons of carrots. Sweets here include a gooey chocolate-chip cookie topped with a matcha-flavored Rice Krispies chunk — complete with a slice of one of Ong’s acclaimed pies and cakes.
1770 Euclid St. NW. Daily, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. $40.
When you’re looking for . . . a girly, pink-hued afternoon
Head to . . . Lady Camellia in Georgetown.
You don’t have to head to a hotel for a proper afternoon service. Tucked away on Georgetown’s Prospect Street is Lady Camellia, a lovely tearoom that feels like a grown-up version of the party you used to throw for your stuffed animals. Pink is the color of choice here, on the toile wallpaper, the macarons and the floral china nestled on white tablecloths. (The most overheard phrase here might be “This is so cute!”)
Get ready to make a lot of choices when it comes to ordering at Lady Camellia, which offers an array of classic menu items such as smoked salmon sandwiches and pastries as well as heavier fare like beef bourguignon pie. The list of tea options is just as long, from smoky Earl Grey to vanilla jasmine.
3261 Prospect St. NW. Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. $18-$38. Reservations are recommended because the tearoom is small.
When you’re looking for . . . a special-occasion spot with an equally special menu
Head to . . . the Mandarin Oriental’s Empress Lounge.
The Mandarin Oriental’s serene and sun-drenched Empress Lounge gets even fancier on weekend afternoons with the arrival of the teatime set. Dressed-up guests for bridal showers and birthday parties settle into the comfy couches, banquettes and patterned armchairs for a traditional afternoon tea with a bit of a modern twist.
There are more than 10 teas to choose from, with helpful tasting notes on each (the Darjeeling Second Flush is “light, crisp and soft textured,” while the black currant and hibiscus evokes “tart berry and sweet floral” flavors). You’ll find scones, pastries and sandwiches on the menu, naturally, with curveballs in the form of yuzu-lemon tarts or chive crepes with smoked salmon dressed up with micro tangerine, cucumber, chives and lemon cream cheese. In the spring, there’s yet another draw here: Look out the window and you’ll see flowering cherry blossom trees in the hotel’s lovely garden.
1330 Maryland Ave. SW. Friday through Sunday, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. $38. Reservations required.
When you’re looking for . . . an afternoon outing with the little ones
Head to . . . the Ritz-Carlton in the Pentagon City shopping mall.
The Ritz-Carlton’s Teddy Bear Tea is geared just to children: Not only does the weekend service include a toy bear for each child to take home, but the mall’s hotel also serves a special brew fittingly called Little T, featuring such flavors as “pixie pink punch” and “twisted watermelon” (instead of grown-up English Breakfast). The $20-per-child outing includes sandwiches in flavors kids can appreciate, and sweets. For adults, tea with accoutrements like lemon-accented scones runs from $42 to $50 per person, depending on whether you add an adult beverage.
1250 S. Hayes St., Arlington. Saturday and Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m. $20. Reservations required.
When you’re looking for . . . an afternoon tea mixed with a boozy brunch
Head to . . . the Four Seasons in Georgetown.
The champagne keeps flowing at the Four Seasons’s Saturday afternoon tea, which relaunched in February after a decade-long hiatus. D.C. Tea, as it’s now dubbed, features a DJ with a Euro-lounge playlist, bottomless glasses of champagne and a cocktail list with tea-infused martinis (you can order a Blackberry Earl Grey Teatini with Four Roses bourbon at an additional cost). Ikaati tea is paired with snacks — such as Maryland crab on a brioche roll with grilled avocado and Old Bay aioli — from the hotel’s British-born executive chef, Andrew Court. The treats are presented in glass-top boxes, encased like jewels, a fitting display for gilded chocolate praline opera cakes.
2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Saturday, 2 to 4 p.m. $60-$75. Reservations required.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the Ritz-Carlton. The hotel is in Arlington, not Alexandria. This version has been updated.