Welcome to our blog....here we will share all our afternoon tea adventures with you...the good, the bad and the wonderful!

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Time for Tea....an afternoon tea adventure with a frustrated tea-loving American

Hello there,

Welcome back to Tea With Me and Friends - we hope you've had a tea-riffic week!

As you know, we love to feature the afternoon tea adventures of our readers as they enjoy a spot of tea....wherever they are in the world! Earlier this summer I was really excited to meet Valarie from Portland, America....we enjoyed a spot of tea at The Goring and Valerie promised to let me know when she went on her next American afternoon tea adventure. Valerie did warn me about the lack of tea drinking opportunities at home....she packed an impressive amount of London afternoon teas into her visit over the summer!

Well guess what.....today we have a wonderful post from Valarie and her recent afternoon tea adventure at Heathmans, describing an experience most British afternoon tea lovers would shudder at....

The Heathmann Hotel, Portland

The afternoon tea at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Oregon, serves mascarpone with their scones. Not clotted cream - mascarpone. And yet, I've returned to this tea many times, and am already looking forward to the next visit.

Afternoon tea scone - The Heathmann, Portland

Let me back up.......

If you've ever seen the TV show Portlandia, which pokes fun at our "farm-to-table" food culture, you might assume that, somewhere among all the food carts, pop-up restaurants and bike-powered smoothie bars, someone would have created an afternoon tea that emphasizes fresh, local produce and artisanal breads to be enjoyed in some kind of fun or funky environment. Sadly, you would be wrong. 

The U.S. is coffee country. If a friend here offers me tea, my options are almost exclusively herbal, green, Lipton's (east coast) or organic black tea that looks and tastes like dishwater (west coast). (Assam tea and breakfast blends are my jam.) And Portland is ground zero for American coffee culture, with more coffeehouses per capita than any other U.S. city except Seattle (home to Starbucks), a short (in west coast terms) three-hour drive north. 

Valarie enjoying a spot of afternoon
tea at The Goring

But there are other matters that complicate the procurement of a quality afternoon tea here. Portland is a young city (founded in 1851) that offers only one Fortune 500 business; since we don't have the history and wealth of economic and political centers like New York, Boston or Washington D.C., we don't have the kind of opulent, traditional hotels that are most likely to host an afternoon tea in the U.S.

We also have very little sense of ritual out here. Weddings are far more likely to be outdoors as in a church; they typically last just slightly longer than it takes for the bride to toss the bouquet. Funerals might consist of a traditional service, but they could just as easily be a memorial held a month - or even a year - after the loved one has died ... if an event is held at all. In many ways, I particularly enjoy this kind of freedom from the past, but there are times when I miss the formality and tradition I experienced growing up on the east coast, just north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

The few teahouses we do have in Oregon are mostly in Portland's suburbs and are either Asian, featuring snacks like dumplings and edamame, or precious, fussy, Victorian-style parodies, overflowing with doilies and offering hats that women can dress up in for their tea. Well, no thank you.

So when I have tea at the Heathman Hotel, a classic hotel with a tea court that features an elegant Austrian hand-cut chandelier and a roaring fireplace, you may understand why I'm willing to overlook transgressions such as the mascarpone scone spread. 

My dearest friend-in-tea Becca and I have been going to the Heathman's tea for years to enjoy the many things that I do like. Their buttermilk scones (with currants) have a toasty outside that I love. 

Afternoon tea - The Heathmann, Portland

They send out a selection of savories that not only feature a variety of textures but also pull back on the carbapalooza at most teas, offering one sandwich (cucumber) along with creamy goat cheese on crunchy crostini, a sun-dried deviled egg, smoked chicken salad in a small pita and smoked salmon profiteroles, which could use a little more oomph (perhaps salt? capers? dill?). The desserts are also quite delish, offering a similar variety of textures, even if chocolate dominates. I particularly love something called a feuilletine, which is a sort of napoleon that features a nice little crunch amidst layers of smooth chocolate and peanut butter. There is also a lovely chocolate mousse, a marshmallow, a devil's food cupcake and a lemon tart, which brings a welcome acidity to all the sweetness.

Afternoon tea savouries - The Heathmann, Portland

But there are still things I wish they would change, and I'm not just talking about the mascarpone. For one thing, the tea itself, made by a company called Fonte (the logo on the menu says it's a "micro coffee roaster"), is weak and uninspired. In a town like Portland, why not feature some local teas, particularly the spectacular Steven Smith brand? (Steven Smith makes a tea called Brahmin that is the only American tea I know of to rival its English cousins.) Becca and I also frequently wonder about the banana bread, which is placed on the same tier as the scones. It's tasty, but unnecessary, and we both agree that we'd rather have an extra scone or savory in its place. And one small thing: the cucumber sandwich should be placed on the tier with the savories, not on the same tier as the scones!

Afternoon tea sweets - Heathmann, Portland

Becca has also wondered if the Peter Rabbit tea ("for littler sippers") couldn't offer a more traditional tea for her small children. While she's grateful they have an option for children, she wishes it could be just a smaller version of adult teas, rather than things like cheese slices, Goldfish and carrot sticks. 

Most of all, I wish they would change up their menu, which has been essentially the same for years. What about featuring seasonal teas? The place is mobbed for their holiday teas (which, incidentally, features exactly the same menu as their non-holiday tea), so why not give people reasons to keep coming back? With Portland becoming known as a foodie town, why not have a local chef curate a week of teas? What about tying it in to big events, such as Portland Fashion Week? The Heathman Hotel has a renowned library, with many first editions signed by authors who stayed there for readings given at Powells (the world's largest new and used bookstore). Why not use the week before Wordstock, the city's giant, one-day literary celebration, filled with workshops and readings with local and international authors, to host a literary tea that ties in with their library?

I appreciate the Heathman's teas and the effort they put into the occasion. With just a few key changes, they could honor the tradition of afternoon tea while celebrating the uniqueness of Portland. If they would just think a little more creatively, it could be something special.

I know how much Valarie appreciates a great cup of tea and a well thought out afternoon tea....so it makes me sad to think her local tea houses and hotels don't offer her the kind of tea experience she craves for (Valarie - you will just have to start planning your next trip back to the UK!).

A big thank you to Valarie for sharing this afternoon tea adventure with us, if you've had an afternoon tea you'd like to share with us please get in touch.

Thank you for popping by today,

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