There is nothing quite more elegant than going for afternoon tea. It makes me think of bygone eras of refinement and simplicity. A time when no matter how busy the day, or how upside down the household, time was made to take a moment and enjoy a spot of tea. The tradition of afternoon tea however, is so much more than a cup of tea. I learned this recently by attending an afternoon tea in historic Sarasota, Florida at one of the city’s oldest estates.
As a very special treat when I was little, my parents would take the family for tea and scones at a quaint little tea room in our home town. As I grew up, that tea room continued to be one of my favorite spots. We would go regularly and I remember when I was first able to treat my family to tea, I felt so grown up. What I cherish the most about those times was that the ritual of drinking tea had a way of taking you back in time.
The Seagate Mansion was built in the late 1920s, and was designed as a winter home for its owners. As we approached the mansion on the day of our afternoon tea, my family and I felt transported. One of our first observations of the place was the circle driveway. We remarked that this would have been where horse carriages or even the city’s first automobiles would have gone through for special occasions and parties.
After parking our own horse and carriage, we were shocked by the grandeur of the place. A two-story home, which is less common in Florida’s more modern architecture, I gazed up to the second story and admired the beautifully crafted windows. The main floor was spectacular with stone floors and stenciled ceiling rafters.
When escorted to our table, we admired our tea cups and plates, each with different patterns, all neatly placed atop a crisp linen table cloth. It was time for our first cup of tea. That first sip was wonderful, piping hot and steeped just the right amount of time. My fellow tea drinkers and I all looked at each other in enjoyment and joked about the proper way to hold the tea cup and saucer. Two, three, four cups of tea later, I found myself eyeing the dessert tray, debating with myself whether I should go for another macaroon or scone. The scone won, complete with clotted cream and strawberry jam. After enjoying a myriad of tea, finger sandwiches and dessert, we were able to tour the rest of the house and the beautiful grounds of the estate.
We ended our walkabout at the edge of the estate gazing out at the ocean, but remembering to look back at the mansion to admire it from a distance. While feeling completely content, I also felt lost in time. As I looked at the space around me, I couldn’t help but imagine the estate in its prime and how many garden parties or afternoon teas had been hosted on these grounds. I also was in the present, enjoying the company of family and taking time to breathe in the warm ocean air. But most of all, I couldn’t help but think back to that tea room from my home town, my family’s tradition of going for afternoon tea, and how decades later, there we were – renewing our tradition.