The French Room at the The Adolphus Hotel, where the first tea service in Texas is believed to have been served. Photo courtesy The Adolphus Hotel

If you’ve ever enjoyed a cup of Earl Grey tea, scones smeared with clotted cream, and cucumber and butter finger sandwiches, you can thank an English noblewoman. In 1840, as industrialization pushed the dinner hour later, Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, asked that tea, bread and butter, and cake be served in her bedroom as her stomach grumbled in the late afternoon. And that’s it: The tradition of British teatime was born.

One of my favorite places to partake in teatime is at the Driskill Hotel’s 1886 Café & Bakery in my hometown of Austin. I recently spent a Saturday afternoon there sunk in one of the leather chairs at a table I shared with a longtime friend. Satiating our hunger in those hours between lunch and dinner, we enjoyed this break from the harried world just outside the dining room walls of the hotel, which has a history of its own. My friend and I needed little prompting to enjoy pastries, sandwiches, and bubbly between weekend errands and kids activities.

That’s the thing, a traditional English tea service need not require a flight across the Atlantic. There are plenty of options for Texans wanting a late afternoon spent sipping a cup of tea and snacking on cakes and sandwiches, or upgrading the repast with caviar service (bet the duchess didn’t think of putting that delicacy on her menu).

If you’re new to the tea service experience, Cathy Roach, author of Texas Afternoon Tea, which is broken down by the seven regions of Texas and includes an afternoon tea menu highlighting the flavors of each region, offers some advice. First, don’t call it “high tea,” she says. “It’s afternoon tea—and don’t hold out your pinky.”

Then read the descriptions and ask questions about the tea. “What does it taste like? Sometimes you read a description and you think you know what it will taste like, but be sure to ask questions. Is it sweet? Flowery? Does it have a lot of spices?” Lastly, what tea you choose is most important. “When I’m having food with my tea, I like to have a black tea because it’s a little stronger and it stands up to the food better,” Roach says.

Fortunately, a good tea service pairs foods with the teas. And, as you’ll see on the following list, some come with a Texas twist.

The French Room at The Adolphus Hotel
1321 Commerce St., Dallas

Traditional sandwiches and treats at the French Room’s tea service. Photo courtesy the Adolphus Hotel

According to Ann Warren, director of food and beverage at the Adolphus, the afternoon tea service at the French Room was the first offered in Texas. It began 50 years ago and has become a tradition passed down generations of certain well-heeled Dallas families.

The service includes a three-course menu of sandwiches, scones, and pastries paired with loose leaf teas from Dallas tea purveyor Zatki and a glass of sparkling wine. Guests looking to take their afternoon tea service to the next level can add Regiis Ova Siberian Reserve Caviar, which comes with a house-made blini. The caviar upgrade matches the opulence of the French Room’s marble floor, gilded Louis XVI style chairs, and the twin Italian Murano Glass chandeliers. “In the timeless elegance of the French Room, afternoon tea is a sanctuary where a whole new generation finds solace, sophistication, and a taste of timeless luxury,” Warren says.

Tea service is offered daily 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The cost is $75 per person and reservations can be made here.

1886 Café & Bakery at The Driskill Hotel
604 Brazos St., Austin

Surrounded by Western-themed toile wallpaper and served by staff well-versed in the selection of teas available, guests enjoy a mix of three sweet and savory courses presented on the traditional three-tier serving tray. First up: a seasonal selection of scones with classic accoutrements including clotted cream, citrus curd, and preserves. The second course includes a rotating selection of finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, quiche, and other savory items like prosciutto and honey ricotta on focaccia. The work of the pastry chef is really on display in the third course that showcases a mix of desserts. Ours had a panna cotta, a chocolate ganache tart, and a pistachio cream cake. Sparkling wine is included, as are paired teas for each course, like Austin Breakfast (a Ceylon black Tea) and Texas Sweet Dreams (a decaffeinated floral and citrus blend) from Austin’s Zhi Teas.

Tea service is offered Saturday and Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. (including Mother’s Day). The prices are $90 for adults and $45 for children aged 10 and under. Reservations can be made here.

The Dome Bar at Hotel Paso del Norte
10 Henry Trost Court, El Paso

The only tea service on this list to hold the status of having the “stamp of approval from the Daughters of the British Empire,” this one at The Dome Bar at Hotel Paso del Norte in downtown El Paso stands out for its exquisite setting. Feel as though you’ve stepped onto the set of The Gilded Age as you look up at a 25-foot-high Tiffany-style stained glass dome. Once you settle into one of the leather sofas, you can enjoy a selection of teas from Taylors of Harrogate, as well as sparkling wine or an Aperol Spritz. As for food, a selection of finger sandwiches come with smoked salmon and dill caper or egg and spring onion aioli, followed by cakes and tarts.

Tea service is on Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m. and costs $35. It includes food and tea selection; guests can purchase cocktails or sparkling wine separately. Reservations can be made here.

Afternoon Tea at Tillie’s
3509 Creek Road, Dripping Springs

Taking inspiration from Camp Lucy’s cousin property, The Old Bell Hotel in Malmesbury, England, Afternoon Tea at Tillie’s is a quick jaunt to the Cotswolds right here in Texas, blending English tradition with a Texas Hill Country springtime drive.

Guests of Camp Lucy’s tea at on-site restaurant Tillie’s can enjoy a weekday afternoon feast of traditional English scones (with the requisite clotted cream and jam), savory bites including sandwiches (like Mini Beef Wellington with Charred Horseradish Mash) and shrimp rolls, and tiny sweets like mini bread pudding with whiskey butter or a salted caramel panna cotta, along with premium and traditional teas from Tea Embassy and sparkling wine. Afternoon tea service here feels like an enchanting trip across the globe. That’s because Tillie’s is housed in an 19th-century Vietnamese town hall relocated to Dripping Springs and reimagined with luxe leather chairs and brightly colored, patterned tile flooring.

Tea service is offered Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The cost is $55 per person and reservations can be made here.

Four Friends Tea Room and Gifts
3816 E. Broadway St., Pearland

Just outside of Houston in a 1940s cottage converted into a tearoom and tea-themed gift shop, day-trippers and locals alike can enjoy a selection of teas served with soup, salad, sandwiches, and sweet treats. The last weekend of the month, Four Friends hosts a Princess Tea where kids receive prizes from princesses visiting each table. After tea, patrons can shop for teas to take home, as well as teacups and children’s tea sets. Guests celebrating Mother’s Day with a tea service at Four Friends will be gifted a teacup and saucer.

Tea service is available on Fridays and Saturdays from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Cost is $35 per person and reservations can be made by calling the tearoom at 218-485-6484.

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