Afternoon tea is hotter than ever in Chicago. From the glittering hotels along Michigan Avenue to the friendly tea stores of the suburbs, residents and visitors alike can be seen drinking tea all day long. Tea is everywhere, and served any way you desire: hot or cold, fast or slow, green or black, in porcelain teacups or paper mugs.
It’s obvious why tea is having a renaissance here. Chicago weather can be frightful in the winter and tea is the perfect antidote to ward off the cold winds swirling in from Lake Michigan.
Plus, tea and high culture seems to blend as well here as they do in Paris or London. Chicago has earned its reputation as world-class city — with a Midwestern attitude. It has an incredible mixture of museums, public art, architecture, food, theatre, and shopping. Did I mention shopping? The Magnificent Mile, formally known as Michigan Avenue, has one of the largest collections of name brand stores outside New York City. Fortunately, the kettle is on along the avenue so that tea lovers are never more than a few steps from a great cup of tea – served with style.
Here are my Top Three Afternoon Tea Rooms in Chicago.
London’s historic Langham Hotel claims to be the birthplace of traditional afternoon teas. Now with locations across Asia, Australia and the United States, this hotelier has teamed with Wedgwood to recreate a classic teatime in all Langham venues. I’ve visited the Boston, Pasadena, and London properties in recent years, so I was interested to see what the new Chicago addition to the Langham family had to offer.
The spacious second-floor Pavilion is home to The Chicago Langham Afternoon Tea, featuring Wedgwood’s proprietary Langham teas served in Wedgwood porcelain and accompanied by an outstanding array of sweet and savory bites. My writing partner Jane Pettigrew traveled from London to train the staff here and every detail is attended to perfection when it comes to the tea service.
The courses all blend together to create a relaxing and pampering afternoon diversion – accompanied by live music – while you watch the tourist boats float by on the Chicago River.
Executive Chef Anthony Zamora and Executive Pastry Chef Scott Green will put a spring in your step with their seasonal afternoon tea menus that combine interesting combinations of ingredients found nowhere else.
I don’t know about your taste in tea rooms, but I love to be surprised with innovative and colorful flavor combinations. The Langham Hotels – in all parts of the world – never disappoint.
330 North Wabash Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 923 9988
The Drake Hotel Palm Court
Michigan Avenue has, for nearly a century, had a common living room. It is simply known as “The Drake.” The classic 13-story hotel with its mammoth rooftop sign has been an icon on Chicago’s famous lakefront since 1921.
The heart of the hotel is the opulent Palm Court, located off the lobby and up a short wide flight of stairs. During tea time, a harpist is perched at the top of the stairs and her music mystically lures guests into this palatial setting lit by a fantastic crystal chandelier that casts a golden glow its light reflects off the mirrored ceiling.
The focal piece of the Palm Court is a fabulous antique urn fountain in the center of the room. Stone cherubs and dolphins frolic around its enormous floral arrangement. The urn looks as if it has always been a part of the Palm Court environment, but the 270-year old antique was purchased from New York thirty years ago and the room was redecorated around it.
Chicagoans often choose this sanctuary to mark the passing of time. Celebrations regularly unfold here as children enjoy birthdays or couples toast an anniversary with a champagne tea. This is a place where memories are made.
The familiar strains of “As Time Goes By” often drifts from the harp and wafts its way across the room as guests enjoy afternoon tea. Diners are safely tucked away from the crowds and noisy traffic of The Magnificent Mile. Time does “go by” here — just a bit slower than the rest of the bustling city.
140 East Walton Place at Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Ask anyone along Michigan Avenue for directions to the Peninsula and they might simply say, “Turn right at Tiffany’s.” But while Tiffany & Company is linked to a made-for-movie breakfast, The Peninsula is synonymous with a more glittering meal — afternoon tea.
Since the first Peninsula opened in Hong Kong in 1928, this legendary collection of exquisite hotels has been known for outstanding afternoon tea service. And the Chicago property continues to set the gold standard for hotel teas along the Miracle Mile.
Tea is celebrated every afternoon in The Lobby, a palatial gold-encrusted room filled with light from a wall of 20-ft windows and bejeweled with crystal chandeliers and golden wall sconces. The ethereal setting is made more serene by the music of violinists perched on a curtained balcony above the diners.
The tea foods created for this setting are delicately crafted and skillfully balanced so that no one item overwhelms the palate or the appetite. But the secret to the success of this world-class hotel — after the glorious setting — is the staff’s attention to details. They are keenly attuned to the needs of every guest and they make sure the tea service unfolds as smoothly as a Noel Coward play.
It’s no wonder that international guests seek out Peninsula hotels wherever they travel throughout the world. We can be thankful there is hope for the rest of us. We need only travel to “The Pen” and escape, for an hour or two, to a magical setting where, over a pot of tea, we can pretend to be any character we desire.
108 East Superior
Chicago, IL 60611
All photos copyrighted by Bruce Richardson. Portions of this story originally appeared in TeaTime magazine.