What is afternoon tea, you ask? In essence, it's an excuse to dress up and gossip with your friends while eating delicate crustless sandwiches and scones heavily loaded with cream. And drink tea, naturally.
According to the Jefferson Hotel, this is a tradition that dates back to the 1830s, when Anne, Duchess of Bedford, invited others to join her for afternoons of light sandwiches and bitch fests about that slut who always comes to court in a too-tight corset. I'm not really sure what the 1830s equivalent is of dishing with your friends about how your ex-boyfriend got fat, but I imagine it's something like that.
This time of year can get hectic for many folks, which is all the more reason to find a few hours to devote to quality time with friends. And with all the holiday merriment, it's nice to throw an occasional sober event into the mix.
I've had tea at several locations around D.C., and most recently at the Jefferson Hotel, which holds sessions in its lovely greenhouse room:
About.com has a fantastic summary of where you can go for tea in the D.C. area. Next on my list are the Four Seasons and the National Cathedral, which apparently conducts a guided tour and tea session on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I tell you, I'd sure go to synagogue a lot more if tea and scones were involved.
Prices vary across locations -- the Jefferson will run you $39 a person, which seems to be average -- but generally you will find the same offerings throughout: a generous pot of the tea of your choice, light sandwiches, scones with jam and cream, and an assortment of pastries or other desserts. In other words, it's enough food to constitute a legit lunch or dinner.
IF YOU GO: You'll need a reservation at nearly all locations. Especially around the holidays, seats go fast, so be sure to call early.
WHAT TO WEAR: Anything but jeans. Most ladies dress up at least a little bit, as teas are generally considered more formal affairs than, say, tequila shots atop the bar of Madhatter. Ridiculous hats only required if you are a member of the royal party.
Feel free to bring them along to Madhatter, though.