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Time For Tea

I’ve long been a fan of winter. While the reduced daylight hours, chilly weather, and barren landscapes make many folks solemn and melancholy, I find it all wholly invigorating. That said, the stretch of days from New Year’s to the spring equinox can be loooooooong, especially when you work from home, like I do. Owing to that, we try to find ways to shake things up during the coldest, darkest time of year.

My new favorite wake ’em up, shake ’em up activity for winter has got to be, hands down, the English Tea at the Biltmore Estate. About two weeks ago, I received an email from Marissa Jamison, Public Relations Manager for Biltmore. The email detailed a number of activities the estate has going on over the winter, historically their slowest time of year. As I looked over the list, one stood out to me above the rest: the English tea offered daily at the Inn on Biltmore. I wrote Marissa back, expressing my interest, to be met in return with an offer from her to enjoy a complimentary tea for myself and a guest.

Last Thursday, Glenn and I dropped Huxley off at a friend’s house for a play date and headed over to the Inn. The only lodging located on the estate’s property, the Inn is absolutely beautiful, a modern mirror to the Biltmore house itself. Tea is held daily in the Inn’s Library Lounge, between the hours of 2:30-4:30 (reservations are required). We were shown to our table, which was situated beside the library’s floor-to-ceiling windows, ideal for taking in mountain views (or being a voyeur of the guests walking about outside, if that’s your persuasion-it’s mine!).

Our server brought over a lovely wooden box, which housed a variety of teas. We were invited to read the descriptions of the teas listed on the box cover’s interior, and open the jars to examine their contents and smell their aroma. Glenn and I both opted for black teas. I like a robust tea to accompany rich foods and the Provence style Earl Grey I chose was the ideal companion to the meal. Before tea, though, we had cocktails! No toddler + high tea=an excuse/opportunity for daytime drinking! Woohoo! Glenn enjoyed a Bellini while I had a Kir Royale. Both were made with Biltmore Estate sparkling wine and had the double whammy of being delicious while simultaneously making me feel very fine and fancy for a mid-January day, thank you very much.

Our cocktails came in tandem with an amuse bouche. The delectable bite consisted of a prosciutto-wrapped date set atop a puree of black pepper and chestnuts, dusted with foie gras powder. Creative flavor pairings that play well off of one another without feeling forced score big points with me and this little morsel hit every note. This was followed by a plate of “Delicate Bites,” as our menu defined the tiny sandwiches set before us. In the image above, beginning with the cucumber and moving clockwise, were: Shrimp Salad on Cucumber, Curried Vegetable & Goat Cheese on Rye, Herb Roasted Turkey with Cranberry, Cashew Butter with Apricot Jam, ,Smoked Salmon Deviled Egg (Holy! Moly! GENIUS!), Lamb with Lusty Monk Mustard, and Brie with Apple & Walnut.

Up next was a cheese plate of Buttermilk Bleu (drizzled with honey and black pepper, a pairing I hadn’t considered before but now intend to employ frequently), Manchego, and Cheddar. I tried to rein it in a bit on this course, as I knew dessert was coming and I always, always save room for dessert. That blue cheese, though, wasn’t making things easy for me. It was a perfect marriage of creamy, sharp, salty, tangy, and crumbly, making it infinitely easy to take just one nibble more. So, so, sooooooo good.

By the time dessert came around, there was precious little real estate left in my stomach, to put it mildly. Nevertheless, I mustered my resolve, rallied, and went for the jugular. And by the jugular, I refer to the lemon curd. My culinary Achilles Heel, turns out, is lemon curd. Mercy. Dessert arrived on a 3-tiered silver tray, and contained these tasty treats: Maple Raisin Scones (served with house-made jam, Devonshire Cream, and the aforementioned lemon curd), Spiced Fig Poundcake, Orange Macaroons, Chocolate Chess Tart, Amaretto Truffle, and Hazelnut Raspberry Torte.

I can’t really begin to convey just what a pleasant experience the tea was. As a child, I hosted countless tea parties, some attended solely by myself and a posse of stuffed animals, some involving my brother and a friend (one who once pretended to be our butler during the tea, hand towel draped elegantly over his forearm and all), others involving my mom. Tea time is a great segue between lunch and dinner (a light dinner though, understandably!), and a fantastic means of transitioning from the work day to home life (akin to the European notion of aperitif, a word meaning both a beverage and an activity).

Sitting there, I began imagining all the friends and family I’d love to experience the Inn’s English Tea with. It was quiet and peaceful and nourishing, all at once. I’m hard pressed, really, to think of anyone that wouldn’t enjoy it. A special occasion treat, to be sure, but an affordable one ($26.95 without a cocktail, $38.95 with), if you consider what it costs to go to the movies, get a round of cocktails, or enjoy a nice meal. This winter, I invite you to treat yourself if you’re in the area and take in the tea at Biltmore. Just be sure to wear something with an elastic or unbutton-able waist. Ahem.

Here’s a listing of the other Biltmore winter activities, as detailed according to their PR department:

*Discover more at Biltmore this winter
Available at no additional charge January 13 through March 19, two new audio tours give an updated interpretation of Biltmore’s grand rooms, architecture, collection of art and antiques, as well as true stories about the Vanderbilt family, their guests and servants. For the first time, Biltmore has introduced a children’s audio tour in addition to the standard audio tour, created to give kids an imaginative connection to life in the Vanderbilt household. Biltmore’s curators and hosts narrate the standard audio tour, while the children’s tour is told from the point of view of Cedric, the Vanderbilt’s beloved Saint Bernard. Both tours follow the same route through Biltmore House for families to enjoy together. Travelers won’t want to miss a brand new area to explore in Biltmore House in 2014: the second floor living hall. This is the latest restoration project undertaken by Biltmore’s curatorial staff and reopened to the public last fall.

*Garden walks and orchid talks
More indoor enchantment awaits in the Conservatory. Possibly one of the warmest spots in North Carolina’s mountains in winter, the Conservatory is filled with thousands of tropical plants, including an expansive orchid display at its showiest peak in March. Orchids and Biltmore have a long history; in fact, some 800 orchids were on Vanderbilt’s list to be purchased for the Conservatory in 1894. Through the efforts of Biltmore’s orchid expert Jim Rogers, the estate has procured heritage varieties found on the 1894 list, now on display in the Conservatory. New educational talks are being offered in the Conservatory Mondays through Fridays, January 20 through March 19 at 11 a.m. Expert gardeners discuss the many types of orchids in bloom and topics such as Biltmore’s heritage orchids, the history of orchid cultivation, and details about the Conservatory. Growing tips and general care information will also be offered. Capacity is limited and orchid talks are free with the price of estate admission.

*The South’s “Downton Abbey”
As the fourth season of “Downton Abbey” airs on PBS this winter, fans of the show have taken note of similarities between Biltmore and the period drama hit. Thematic story lines and the era of the show overlap with the time when George and Edith Vanderbilt lived in the 250-room Biltmore House and raised their daughter Cornelia. Parallels between Biltmore and Downton Abbey can be brought to life in two specialty tours at Biltmore. During the Butler’s Tour, visitors discover how Biltmore House functioned, past and present, and learn about the work of the Vanderbilt’s domestic servants. As for the opulence upstairs, it’s easy to imagine what it would have been like to stay at Biltmore (circa 1895 to the early 1930s) with the Vanderbilts as your hosts during the Vanderbilt Family & Friends Tour. Tours are offered daily and advance registration is required. Each tour is $17 per person in addition to estate admission. Finishing an afternoon with English tea at the Inn on Biltmore Estate, complete with traditional English finger sandwiches, scones, fruit breads, and tea pastries, will round out a day in the spirit of “Downton Abbey.”

Warm-up at the Winery
A stop at Biltmore Winery is a delightful way to spend a chilly winter afternoon with free guided tours of the production facility and complimentary tastings. Specialty wine tours offered at an additional price include the Red Wine and Chocolate Seminar and the Biltmore Bubbles Tour.

Special rates at the Inn on Biltmore Estate
The four-star Inn on Biltmore Estate has special winter pricing with savings up to half off. Rooms start at $149 per night.

8 Responses to Time For Tea

  • Rachael says:

    Thanks for the photos! I’ve been wanting to head out there for their tea. Our Biltmore pass is one of our favorite things, with a three year old and a newborn it seems like we spend a lot of weekends feeding ducks, riding bike, walking, and eating at Cedric’s.

  • Eliza Twist says:

    That sounds fabulous! I just had myself a little repose, vicariously, thanks to your write up. Thanks for sharing.

  • oh that sounds quite lovely indeed! we’ve got passes but rarely use them (so silly)- hope to get out there again soon for some exploring, farm animal loving, and maybe even some tea!

  • Georgette says:

    Looks elegant, posh, fun! The food decadently delicious. You are very comfie and relaxed there.

  • lee says:

    This looks like a beautiful, lovely occasion! I appreciated your comment about it not being too costly of an experience, comparatively, too – especially given the delicious assortment of small bites. Thanks for sharing. =)