Tea-d Off

Don't be so bourgeois, people. Know that there's afternoon tea, and then there's High Tea. No, we're not talking about the mushroom kind that you scored last summer in Amsterdam. Back in the day, before a fabulous little invention called "lunch," British folks ate just two main meals -- breakfast and dinner. Eventually, they established not one but two tea times to refuel during the day. Afternoon tea was a fashionable social event that took place around 3 p.m., while High Tea was served around 6 p.m. and included a substantial helping of sandwiches and scones for men who'd come in from plowing the fields.

Leave it to us bloody Americans to bastardize the traditions. We always mix up "High Tea" and "Traditional Afternoon Tea." Regardless, the fine folks running tea houses throughout South Florida know what you want and will hook you up accordingly. You want scones with preserves and Devonshire cream served on dainty mismatched china. You want finger sandwiches filled with yumminess like cucumber spread or egg salad with olives. You want a tray of delicate petits fours (iced cakes) and cookies. And of course, you want your very own teapot filled with your choice of tea.

If you think that no one takes tea anymore except little old ladies, well -- you'd kinda be right. We can't say there was a whole lot of testosterone flowing in the tea shops we scoped out. But don't let that stop you from sauntering in to shake things up a bit. Each of the establishments listed below offers a regular menu in addition to the three-course traditional tea:

The Little Tea House, 3627 12 S. Dixie Hwy., West Palm Beach. This shop is tucked into a hidden alleyway, and its 70 types of tea come from "a secret tea source." Traditional Afternoon Tea: $14.50. Reservations recommended. Call 561-832-5683.

Serenity Gardens Tea House, 316 Vallette Way, West Palm Beach. A favorite of little girls and drag queens because you can dress up in gloves, beads, bows, and hats that are on hand and have your Polaroid taken. Plus, it's got 78 kinds of tea. Traditional Afternoon Tea: $14.50. Reservations required. Call 561-655-3911.

Tea at Lily's, 3020 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. The only South Florida tea room run by a real live Brit. The vibe is decidedly "not Victorian" -- it's lighter and brighter. Ten kinds of tea. Traditional Afternoon Tea: $15.95. Reservations required 24 hours in advance. Call 954-565-1144.

Reading, Etc., 700 S. Rosemary Ave. (CityPlace), West Palm Beach. This shop is owned by the publisher of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books and decorated with an Egyptian theme ("because papyrus was the first paper and Egyptians were the first scribes"). Ten types of tea. High Tea: $20 per person. Reservations required two days in advance. Call 561-835-0162.

The Riverside Hotel, 620 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Two types of tea served at this Old Florida property. Traditional Afternoon Tea: $20 per person. Reservations required one week in advance. Call 954-467-0671.

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Deirdra Funcheon