Queen for an afternoon | VailDaily.com

Queen for an afternoon

Cassie Pence
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyKate Sheldon sips some tea during the new afternoon tea and pastry session at The Wildflower in Vail.

VAIL – “Do come in for a cup of tea.”This is the favored form of invitation for afternoon tea, a British tradition traced back to the seventh Duchess of Bedford in the early 1840s. Dinner was traditionally served late, not until 8:30-9 p.m., and the Duchess grew so hungry in the late afternoon she would order a small snack of breads, butter and other delicacies such as cakes, tarts and biscuits with her tea and sneak it back to her boudoir.

When the Duchess’ secret was exposed, it was celebrated, especially by the queen, and drinking afternoon tea grew into a popular English custom.Executive Chef Steve Topple, originally from England, has brought the tradition to Vail every afternoon from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at Wildflower, located in the Lodge at Vail in the village. “It’s about time we have a real tea,” said Ursula Fricker, who was enjoying tea with her friend Kate Sheldon Wednesday, the restaurant’s first day of tea service. Sheldon wore a vintage yellow dress and white gloves for the occasion, and Fricker was done up in pearls.Wildflower’s afternoon tea is as close to the British tradition as you’ll find anywhere in the United States. It’s served in the restaurant’s atrium, a bright sun room enclosed by big picture windows. The walls are painted tangerine, and flowers bloom everywhere – on the china, on the booths’ upholstery and on the embroidery stitched into the linen tablecloths. It feels like you’re sipping tea in an English garden.

“We can call it the tea room if this takes off,” said Topple.There are about 11 varieties of tea to choose from, supplied by Vail Mountain Roasters, ranging from the UK’s No. 1 tea, P.G. Tips, to the Phoenix Dragon Pearl Jasmine, one of the finest aromatic jasmine teas from China. The loose leaf tea is served in an individual French press, allowing each guest to customize steep time. You press the leaves to stop the brewing process. Tea is served with goodies on a curate. Three tiers of china are loaded with finger sandwiches, scones, mini cookies, cream puffs and chocolate eclairs.

“This is the best scone I’ve had since Australia,” said Fricker. “It’s so fluffy and nice.”The scones were indeed the highlight of snacks, thanks to Lodge at Vail head baker Ken Goestch’s recipe. “We used to joke about my auntie’s scones and call them rock cakes. The were terrible. Ours are fluffy and light. It’s because the baker really beats the sugar and the eggs together,” said Topple.The scones are served with house-made preserves and Topple’s special English Devon cream, made with mascarpone cheese, vanilla and sugar. It’s traditional to layer the scone with the buttery cream and then preserves.

Tea is a customary time to share intimate conversations, celebrate or to simply enjoy the afternoon with good company. Wildflower’s staff adheres to this tradition.”There’s no hurry,” server Nathan McMullen said to his tables. “Would you like to relax a little bit longer?”Americans should take note from other countries that do take the time to slow down and bask in life’s pleasures. So clink your tea cups and say, “cheers.”

Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or cpence@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado

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