American "bed & breakfast" tea-culture

mbanu
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Sat Oct 03, 2020 2:27 pm

It seems like the U.S. struggles to support formal tearooms outside of unique markets, but there is a widespread "bed & breakfast" culture that has adopted tea as part of the package, which I find fascinating.

Does anyone know more about this? Gail Greco wrote a couple books on the subject, "Tea-Time at the Inn" and "Tea-Time Journeys", but these mostly just collected recipes. They were relatively well-known at the time, I think, because she had a popular cooking show on public television that focused on country-inn cooking.

Any suggestions for further leads? How did tea become a thing at these bed & breakfasts?
mbanu
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Sun Oct 04, 2020 4:21 pm

It looks like when a lot of the B&Bs in Greco's book changed owners, the tea-skills didn't transfer over -- most of the ones still in business seem to do "afternoon wine" now instead. There are a few that still do tea, though. Here's an example, if anyone was looking for context: https://www.fearrington.com/afternoon-tea/ This one is a little odd, in that it seems to have survived by buying neighboring businesses, making it more like a resort than a true B&B, though.

Are there a new crop of tea-hosting American B&Bs, or is this tea-culture going extinct?
mbanu
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Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:10 am

A few interesting connections -- Harney & Sons was apparently started as a collaboration between a semi-retired British tea packer, Stanley Mason, and John Harney, the operator of a bed & breakfast, The White Hart Inn. The inn was used as a packing and storage space as the business was mainly mail-order. According to his son, Michael Harney, this would have been around 1970. Then in 1983, Harney & Sons proper was established, after Mr. Mason retired for good, with the White Hart still in operation in Salisbury, Connecticut. I think that these two may be connected, although there is a little confusion as everyone seems to claim to have come up with the idea of doing afternoon teas at B&Bs independently. :) In one of Greco's books, the owners of the Bee & Thistle Inn in Old Lyme, Connecticut mentioned that they had been serving afternoon tea since 1983; maybe they were getting it from John Harney? However, their son was a chef at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston, so perhaps it was instead the grand hotel tea simply moving to smaller premises.

Another pair, Cliff Rudisill and Ray Wilson, who ran The Village Inn in Lenox, Massachusetts, claim to have been two of the first to experiment with tea-service when they took over the inn in 1981 or 82.
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LeoFox
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Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:49 am

What led to the rise of british style afternoon tea culture in the 1980s usa?

Was there a surge in anglophilia at that time?

Was it really about the tea, or some fetishization of pre-WW Britannia?

Was it mainly among the WASP conservative establishment? In this way, does it contrast with the more eastern-centric western tea drinkers of today?
mbanu
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Mon Oct 05, 2020 3:21 pm

LeoFox wrote:
Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:49 am
What led to the rise of british style afternoon tea culture in the 1980s usa?
I wish I knew! It is good to remember the "style" part, though -- it was British-style like Hong Kong milk tea is British-style, in that it was inspired by the Brits but if you were to sit a British person down at an American afternoon tea with Constant Comment and finger sandwiches made with cream cheese it would not be familiar, any more than sitting them down at a Hong Kong diner with a cup of milk tea and some peanut butter toast would be familiar.
LeoFox wrote:
Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:49 am
Was it really about the tea, or some fetishization of pre-WW Britannia?
It could have been either, as there were multiple different tea subcultures in the U.S. at the time, with different motivations. The California crowd that centered around James Norwood Pratt and his friends claimed that their love of tea was a gourmand thing related to chasing fine flavors, but of course a person always wonders when the finest flavors always seem to be exclusive or expensive whether there is some euphemistic language going on. :) There were also the Victoria-magazine crowd, which were into escapist fantasy that often used pre-WW Britannia for its fuel. The true fetishists I think came after the 80s, as the culture was fading -- the "gothic lolitas" who seemed just a little too interested in children's tea, the steampunks and their Mad Hatterisms...
LeoFox wrote:
Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:49 am
Was it mainly among the WASP conservative establishment? In this way, does it contrast with the more eastern-centric western tea drinkers of today?
That's a good question I don't have an answer to. Many of the B&Bs started their life as summer residences for WASP families, but I don't know if they were also the customers of these old country houses as they were converted into inns.

There were also eastern-centric tea subcultures in the 80s that were not really connected to the B&Bs, like the drinkers of Japanese bancha that were part of the Macrobiotics "Zen diet" movement.

Also groups that I don't quite know how to place, such as the "church tea" folks, who like the Zen folks rolled their tea-drinking into their spirituality. With them the fixation was on the "Christmas teas".
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Bok
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Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:32 pm

Do we know what kind of teas were/are actually served in these establishments? I would expect the usuals like English Breakfast, Early Grey and some kind of Darjeeling? Mostly teabags? Flower scented teas?
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hopeofdawn
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Tue Oct 06, 2020 3:11 am

There's an English tea place in a nearby town that I enjoy going to every once in a while--they serve a wide menu of flavored teas (rose, jasmine, strawberry, etc, etc.) along with a few unflavored standard blacks, greens, white, etc. Nothing exceptional as far as the tea is concerned, but then that's not why I go. I go because sometimes it's nice to dress up a little bit, go sit in a nice historic house and be served an assortment of delicious small snack foods and desserts on vintage china, all while sipping tea and having good conversation with a few friends. :) It's not cheap, so I don't do it a lot, but it's a nice little retreat, especially for women.
mbanu
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Tue Oct 06, 2020 8:10 am

LeoFox wrote:
Mon Oct 05, 2020 9:49 am
Was it mainly among the WASP conservative establishment?
It looks like the answer to this may have been yes before the 1980s, but it isn't clear if it was true afterwards. The Deerfield Inn in Deerfield, Massachusetts was recorded as hosting afternoon tea in a 1973 inn guidebook; Deerfield Inn seems like it was mostly a place for parents and prospective students to stay who were visiting Deerfield Academy, a WASP prep-school.

However, there is a difference between individual B&Bs having unique customs and them spreading from one B&B to another -- there doesn't seem to be any suggestion that someone from a B&B heard about afternoon tea at the Deerfield Inn and decided to do it at their own B&B in the Carolinas, for instance, or even if they were the same style of tea.

It's looking like the root of this all was likely John Harney at the White Hart, although I need to look a bit more to clarify. Relevant quotes from a January 1983 article in the New York Times, suggesting the type of tea-culture that was being created, blending the existing Constant Comment American spiced tea culture with English style afternoon tea service:
John Harney takes his tea seriously--with lemon, no sugar, please. And he has little regard for tea leaves that drift to the surface of the brew--"floaters," he calls them with disdain--nor for tea that looks "muddy" or tastes "flat."
Mr. Harney's mentor was the late Stanley M. Mason, an Englishman who in 1959 founded Sarum Teas. The son of a tea broker, Mr. Mason was apprenticed to the tea trade as a boy in London. He came to the United States in 1926 to work for Bingham & Company, a New York City tea concern. Thirty years later he and his wife, Mildred, retired to their country home in Salisbury.

In response to requests from friends, Mr. Mason began blending and packaging teas there under the name Sarum, which he took from the name for ancient Salisbury in England.

"Stanley was a perfectionist," said Mr. Harney, "and he taught me to be one, too."

In 1971, Mr. Harney purchased Sarum Teas, retaining Mr. Mason, who died two years ago, as a consultant. He moved the small operation to the basement of the White Hart, a 19th-century white clapboard restaurant and inn on the town's green. For 22 years until this month, when the inn changes hands, Mr. Harney has been its part owner and innkeeper. Sarum Teas, to which he now plans to devote most of his time and attention, will remain at the inn until a suitable new Salisbury location is found.
And he learned that he should "never economize luxuries," a comment, attributed to the early 20th-century English novelist, Angela Thirkell, that is printed on some of the tags of Mr. Harney's Sarum tea bags.

For example, he could buy the oils that are used to scent his tea leaves for much less, he pointed out, but Mr. Harney pays $49 for a bottle of oil of bergamot, which comes from the rind of a Mediterranean citrus fruit and gives his best-selling Earl Grey tea its distinctive yet delicate flavor and aroma. Small rods of cotton batting are soaked in the oil and placed in a box of the tea, which is then sealed. Six weeks later, the box is reopened and the tea is packed in formal black-and-gold canisters.

When he first began blending teas, Mr. Harney suggested to Mr. Mason that they create and market a spiced tea, a suggestion that Mr. Mason greeted with horror, Mr. Harney recalled.

"He reacted as if I was about to prostitute the stuff," he said.

Even so, Sarum spiced tea, a blend of Ceylonese and Indian teas, scented with essence of lemon, clove and cinnamon, and containing ground nutmeg and dried, ground orange peel, became one of Mr. Mason's favorites.

Sarum teas are sold loose or bagged (the bagging is done by the Natural Packaging Company in Burlington, N.J.), primarily through mail order at the rate of some 5,000 pounds a year. There are 18 varieties, from Lapsang Souchong, a rare black tea with a smoky tang, and Gunpowder Green, an unfermented tea whose name refers not to the effect it has on the imbiber but to the appearance of the dried tea to the Countess of Salisbury. There is also a blend of jasmine blossoms and Formosa Oolong tea that Mr. Mason created and Orange Pekoe and Pekoe, a popular bagged tea.
(https://www.nytimes.com/1983/01/09/nyre ... -teas.html)

*Edit:

On the other hand, supposedly Sarum was not really a big deal in the 70s and 80s:
JM:How did you get involved because you were not in it originally?

MH: It was in the late 1970’s helping out downstairs in the basement of the White Hart but I then went off to college and studied Hospitality Management and Hotel Administration at Cornell University like my father. Then I ran a hotel in Chicago: I was trying to keep in the hotel business. My father really did not have much of a business in the early 1980’s. The tea company was a curiosity. The people I worked for were shocked when I went to join him. I was one of the youngest general managers in my 20’s and had done that for 8 years. I wanted to move on and do something, perhaps another hotel but I couldn’t find a deal for a couple of years. I did not have Donald Trump’s Deal-Making abilities. I was looking for something to do. My father came into Chicago for a trade show. I went to it. One of the people there said, “Why don’t you go work for your father? ” I started thinking about it and within a couple of months I was working with him.
(https://www.salisburyassociation.org/ar ... ey-michael)
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LeoFox
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Tue Oct 06, 2020 1:59 pm

This is very good information and should be published!
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Tue Oct 06, 2020 7:47 pm

LeoFox wrote:
Tue Oct 06, 2020 1:59 pm
This is very good information and should be published!
As a public forum we pride ourselves as a searchable repository of tea knowledge. In essence this is a kind of publication 🍃
mbanu
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Wed Oct 07, 2020 6:32 pm

The great thing about forums are that they are collaborative; there is always the hope that someone out there can point me towards something new. :)
mbanu
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Thu Oct 15, 2020 12:09 pm

I wish it were easier to find out more info about this magazine; Greco name-drops it, and it seems like it was around for the birth of this tea-culture, but Google has very little to say about it.
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mbanu
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Sat Oct 17, 2020 1:46 pm

One interesting thing is the number of American-style "high tea" recipes (heavy meals with tea). I guess this was to meet the need of "Well, I know you're a bed & breakfast, but I don't have a dinner engagement tonight; do you have anything more substantial than cakes and cream cheese sandwiches that you could serve me with my tea?"

One recipe that I noticed more than once was a "Divan", which is apparently a modified version of a recipe from the Divan Parisien, the restaurant of an old hotel in New York City that was called the Hotel Chatham. It was originally a kind of poached chicken and broccoli in a sherry Mornay sauce, but transformed into a kind of Welsh Rarebit with meat and broccoli in the B&B ecosystem, with "ham divan" on toast cheerfully resting alongside the chicken. :)
mbanu
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Wed Oct 21, 2020 12:50 pm

Another interesting thing I noticed was a "tea and incense" connection. American B&Bs don't use incense, but many seem to use boil pots. The Mainstay Inn in Cape May. New Jersey suggested a mix of pineapple juice, apple cider, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and "pickling spice". I think this may be because they are in dry locations or are dried out due to the heating system, so the boil pot acts a bit like a humidifier.

Also, it seems like there was a split between the old summer house inns and the newer inns. The old summer house inns stuck to a more standard Anglo-American afternoon tea, while the newer inns had a sort of playhouse vibe -- the goal was to use objects unconventionally, such as serving tea out of a ceramic watering can, using a stepladder instead of a tiered serving tray, or using pieces of swiss chard in place of doilies (no, really) surprising the drinkers. Greco's first book from 1989, "Secrets of Entertaining from America's Best Innkeepers" records a lot of these experiments, since it is essentially a collection of short pieces of advice on various subjects from the innkeepers she met as a writer for Innsider magazine.
mbanu
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Fri Oct 23, 2020 10:48 pm

Another split seems to be based on how French-inspired the inn is. On the far end, there were inns that saw themselves as miniature versions of the old grand hotels, where the proprietors tried to make copies of the sort of food made by the French-trained chefs at these hotels. I'm not sure if this is related or distinct to the French influence on American-style flavored tea. Michael Harney is a Francophile, if I recall correctly, and some of their more popular blends, such as Paris, seem directly inspired by the sort of experimentation that the French tea companies like Mariage Freres were doing in the 80s and 90s...
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