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Sip It or Tip It? Celebrating Boston's Infamous Tea Party

Meryle Evans - December 16th, 2013

On December 16, the 240th anniversary of the infamous tea party that helped precipitate the American Revolution, will Bostonians be sipping their tea or dumping it into the harbor? It will mostly be the former, as the British afternoon tea tradition endures in many of the city's venerable establishments, a revered ritual especially during the winter holidays.

At the 86 year old landmark Taj Hotel Boston, the elegant French Room draws such large crowds that there are two seatings every weekend, but during December there are three, starting at 11:30 a.m., usually booked months ahead. Gold brocade walls, crystal chandeliers, and damask drapes provide the backdrop for the elegant second floor lounge, where a violinist performs while waiters pour tea from porcelain pots and serve cucumber, egg salad, salmon/caviar sandwiches as well as lobster profiteroles on tiered trays. Champagne, wine, and cocktails are also available, and for guests who want to add a nip to their selection of 21 varieties of tea, there are cocktails by the pot like the Hot Toddy, made with black tea mixed with Dewar's Scotch, honey, and lemon, served and kept warm in a teapot.

"There are so many young people coming," says Taj bar manager. Javier Morales, pointing out several young couples who look like honeymooners, and families with well-behaved offspring tucking into an array of fruit tarts, petits fours, and macarons, along with the quintessential scones with clotted cream. Small fry may opt for cookie painting at the Teddy Bear Tea, where each child is asked to bring a new toy to donate to a children's charity.

Other posh hotels like the Four Seasons, the Mandarin Oriental, and the Langham also offer elegant teas, as does the handsome 1895 Boston Public Library, designed by noted architect Charles McKim, where tea is served weekday afternoons in the Courtyard Restaurant. In December, the library celebrates the season with a Holiday Candy Cane Tea that features snowflake sugar cookies, mini brownies, gingerbread men, and white chocolate/peppermint cookies.

Down at the harbor, in the recently opened Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, ladies in colonial garb officiate in Abigail's Tea Room. However, on the 16th, not everyone will be sipping from bone china cups. Last month, the museum put out a casting call for "Citizens of Boston" to volunteer for a role in a Tea Party reenactment, where they will "help transport our guests back in time to a tense meeting in 1773 on the eve of rebellion," convening at the Old South Meeting House to protest the British tax on tea, proceeding to Griffen's Wharf, and witnessing the destruction of the tea from the brig Beaver. Citizen/actors are cautioned that they may be stationed outdoors and required to stand, so a nice hot cup of tea will be welcome after the show.