Afternoon tea might have a hoity-toity reputation, but ask regulars what they love most, and it’s often the same thing: “It’s about getting together with friends. It’s a chance to relax and to catch up without distractions,” says Barbara Chavez, who opened Amanda’s, A Shabby Chic Tea Room & Boutique early last year in Palm Desert.
Chavez spent decades visiting tea rooms, accumulating teacups, pots, and accessories along with vintage furniture. She put that collection to good use to create a whimsical tea party vibe at the venue, complete with mismatched ceramic tea sets and decorative chandeliers above each table. “People come in decked out in hats and gloves and really enjoy it,” she says. “It’s just a happy place.” (No hat? No problem. There’s an assortment of festive options for guests to borrow on the way in.)
The menu presents various combinations of finger sandwiches (think smoked salmon or goat cheese and apple), soups and salads, petite desserts, and scones — served with clotted cream, lemon curd, and preserves. She changes up the housemade offerings each month. Out of the 30 loose-leaf tea blends available, made by Piper & Leaf Artisan Co. in Alabama and Summit Tea & Company in Redlands, the herbal Briar Patch Brew and the Jardin Bleu, a fruit-and-flower fusion of Chinese and Indian teas, are most popular. Staffers have been trained to measure exact amounts into silk bags and monitor steeping time with stopwatches. “It’s definitely an art,” Chavez says.
Mollie Casey, food and beverage director at the Sands Hotel & Spa in Indian Wells, runs a very different type of tea service at the resort’s restaurant, The Pink Cabana, but has similar sentiments about the experience. “I love tea service,” she enthuses. “It’s something that allows you to linger with friends that feels a bit elegant and fun and special.”
When Casey decided to develop a unique offering for the property, she worked with executive chef Jason Niederkorn to create a Moroccan Mint High Tea service that takes place on the restaurant’s pool-facing, pink-walled patio. Since tea has been ingrained in Morocco’s culture for thousands of years, both felt it was the perfect complement to the Moroccan-influenced resort. The focus here is on a traditional gunpowder green tea blended with fresh mint and raw sugar that’s meant to taste a little different with every sip. To elevate the experience, servers have learned the tricky task of the Moroccan pour: raising the pot high above the cup to create an eye-catching arc.
Niederkorn’s high tea menu of savory and sweet bites features traditional Moroccan items with a modern spin. “I thought, let’s do something really outside of the box that also ties into the backbone of the food here,” he shares. There are croissants filled with Merguez-style sausage that he makes in-house; toast points served with preserves and amlou, a Moroccan argan- and almond-butter spread; honey-rosewater chebakias (cookies that took plenty of trial and error for the chef to perfect); and almond-stuffed local dates. The service also includes unlimited champagne because, as Casey points out, “bubbly just makes it feel like a special occasion.” We’re not going to argue with that.
Executive chef Jason Niederkorn.
Alfresco service at The Pink Cabana.
Discover the desert’s version of high tea.
The Pink Cabana
Service includes unlimited tea and sparkling wine and a tiered offering of bites.
Need to know: $89 per person; weekends only, 48-hour notice required.
Amanda’s, A Shabby Chic Tea Room & Boutique
Choose from eight different experiences during your 90-minute seating.
Need to know: $15 to $35 per person; reservations suggested.
Joshua Tree National Park Artists’ Tea
Join a new guest artist each week for a spot of tea at Cap Rock. Organizers supply tea from Grateful Desert Herb Shoppe & EcoMarket in Joshua Tree, but please bring your own mug.
Need to know: Park admission required; takes place weekly on Sundays through April 14 (resumes again in October).
When this international tea shop closes for the day, a traditional Chinese Gongfu ceremony is available by appointment.
Moroccan mint tea comes with a spread of pine nuts, pistachios, dates, orange slices, and ginger snaps sure to spoil your dinner.
Need to know: Complimentary, for guests only.