A Literary Afternoon Tea at the Boston Public Library

Afternoon tea is a longstanding tradition for my mom and I. We've been keeping up with this tradition since I was young enough to still be ordering the "kids" tea- that is, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a pot of kid-friendly hot chocolate.

Over the years, we've tried all manner of afternoon teas. From traditional (dare I say "stuffy) ones to ones that offered more trendy bites. And while I can easily say that I've been to at least a dozen different afternoon teas between the US and the UK, there's one particular spot in Boston that we seem to always gravitate towards.

The Boston Public Library is an oasis of calm in the middle of downtown Boston. And while the famously photogenic reading room and sundrenched central courtyard might be teeming with snap-happy tourists, if there's one way to escape the hustle and bustle, it's to spend a gentle afternoon at the Courtyard Restaurant.

Perfectly purple from floor to ceiling, the Courtyard lets its decor set the vibe for this bright venue. While some afternoon tea spots can come across as overtly-fancy, the Courtyard does an impeccable job at balancing the elegant feel that accompanies this midday meal with the comfort that restaurant-goers seek in the modern day. The Courtyard invites you to dress for the occasion at your own discretion, but there is no set dress code. Diners can feel free to walk in after a day of sightseeing as is or turn their afternoon tea into a more fancy affair.

While the Courtyard restaurant is not set among the bookshelves of the library, they still make an effort to bring in that literary flair through a few small touches. Vintage, hardcover books replace traditional-style menus, and the individual tea strainers are set on a laminated newspaper clipping. These little details have a big impact, without feeling too kitschy.

Afternoon tea and a glass of bubbly are a match made in heaven. Having just recently turned 21, I was eager to embrace my newfound freedom. My mom and I were each served a glass of crisp, apple-y sparkling wine from the Languedoc region (coincidentally, the region of France I just visited!).

Soon after cheers-ing to my first afternoon tea as a proper, legally-drinking adult, our tea selections and three-tiered tray of savories and sweet treats arrived. Ever the traditionalist, I went for my go-to tea of second flush Darjeeling. Because it's quite mild, but more interesting in its flavor than an English breakfast tea, I always prefer Darjeeling to pair with my food. My mom ordered a blue-flower ear grey, which tastes as good as it sounds!

With afternoon tea, you generally work your way up from the bottom tier to the top. Naturally, that means savories come first. While I'm a sweets girl through and through, the savories at afternoon tea are always my favorite part. I won't go through each and every bit, but my personal favorites were the mushroom cream sandwich (if only because it matches the room so well!) and the shrimp salad on a crispy, buttery toast.

The scones are always a point of contention when it comes to afternoon tea- do they come before or after the sweets? The tier system would say after but I tend to throw caution to the wind and say before. After all, you should always end on the sweetest note (and that's definitely not scones). With two each of the plain and the currant scones, my mom and I could only manage to eat one each, saving room for dessert. While smaller than most British scones (which, for the record are gargantuan), these fluffy bites certainly held up to the Devonshire cream and apricot jam between them.

For a sweet ending to the meal, we started off with a thumbprint jam cookie, chocolate macaroon, and tiny tropical fruit tart. One of the best things about the sweets at afternoon tea is that they're often not the kind of desserts you would make at home (bar the thumbprint cookies). But the favorite of the day had to be the chocolate sinclair- a decadent mouthful of chocolate cake coated in silky ganache. If that isn't a perfect way to end a meal, then I don't know what is.

So the next time you're in Boston, remember that the library isn't just a pretty building that's filled with books. It also just happens to be your next relaxing afternoon tea destination!

Thank you to the Courtyard Restaurant at the Boston Public Library for hosting the two of us! Check out their website for a sample menu and more information.  

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