Afternoon Tea in Atwater’s
at The Herrington Inn & Spa in Geneva, IL
Recently The Herrington Inn & Spa announced the addition of Briton Stewart Boynton as the Director of Operations. His experience with prestigious hotels in England is perfectly suited to one of his initial endeavors: to channel the Herrington’s four diamond product and service through the afternoon tea menu that has been offered in Atwater’s restaurant over the past twenty years.
Stewart has had the honor hosting and sampling afternoon tea in some of England’s finest establishments and in sharp contrast has experienced modest, middle-of-nowhere tea houses which have been hosted in the same family manor for over a century. “After having so many years of traditional afternoon tea experience, I want to bring the best of everything to Atwater’s. We are fortunate to have such beautiful, tranquil surroundings, a great service team, and local businesses with which to collaborate. Atwater’s tries to work exclusively with local vendors when possible. “All of our tea selections are from The Coffee Drop Shop in the Berry House here in Geneva,” says Boynton.
The very tradition of Afternoon Tea is said to have originated sometime during the 1840’s by the Duchess of Bedford who would request a small meal of breads and cakes to stave off hunger until the main meal of the day was traditionally served between 6 & 8 pm. The duchess is reported to have invited friends to join her for tea and thus the tradition began. The Duchess of Bedford served as Queen Victoria’s Lady of the Bedchamber for 4 years. They were also lifelong friends. With a smirk, Boynton explains “The Duchess was also married to the Earl of Harrington which is very relative to our appellation.”
Boynton explains that afternoon tea has become a luxury hotel amenity throughout the world, and offering it definitely elevates the reputation of a hotel. Afternoon tea should be an elegant, indulgent, grandiose, and more importantly, a fun, social event.
With the English reputation of being somewhat proper and stuffy, the social element is sometimes lost in translation to tea service in the United States. Proper elements of afternoon tea service are the timing, and menu:
A selection of finger sandwiches all without crusts
Warm scones with clotted cream and preserves
Small cakes and pastries
And of course a selection of freshly brewed hot tea
“When I arrived, my first two changes were to the scone recipe, then adding real clotted cream. After sharing my traditional family recipe with Chef Jason, we had to translate metric measurements. But after two days in the test kitchen, I’m very proud that our culinary staff is now offering truly traditional English scones and an updated tea menu.”
Boynton continues to share his tea expertise: “High Tea” is something completely different; much more substantial served by the European “blue-collar” families as the main meal of the day. In these homes, tea is still used as the main meal of the day at around 6pm. Dinner is what is served at midday.”
Essentially all afternoon teas are similar, and one important element to remember is never to use a tea bag! Tea should be fresh, loose, and steeped to each individual’s preference. We want to create a totally memorable experience from the host, to the china and silverware, all the way down to the table linens. In the future, Boynton plans to expand from offering a single tea each month to offering it several times, as well as a group tea option for private events such as showers, or birthday celebrations.
Boynton was delighted to find that afternoon tea has become tradition for over 20 years at The Herrington. During afternoon tea, the sights and sounds are of friends chatting, laughing, and visiting with one another. We often see mothers teaching their daughters the tradition of afternoon tea for the very first time. “Afternoon tea here is afforded the perfect setting of the very intimate Atwater’s restaurant, and a gorgeous backdrop of the Herrington courtyard gardens and water front.”
Atwater’s currently offers one afternoon tea experience per month. Typically during the month of December, an additional tea is added so that more guests can enjoy our festive décor and experience tea over the holidays.
On the third Thursday of each month, Atwater’s offers seating with prior reservation between 2pm and 4pm. Service includes several options, with an extensive and descriptive selection of loose teas the heart of the menu, accompanied by fresh baked miniature scones, clotted cream, finger sandwiches, and petit fours. For those with a penchant to indulge, there are several ways to enhance your tea experience: Champagne is available by the glass, and Atwater’s Signature Tea offers the addition of quiche, and warm dark chocolate molten cake to the Traditional Tea.