Tea, My Father, and Me

Lizzie Poteet (seated) with her father, Sam, (center) and other members of her family standing behind her at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Poteet.
By Elizabeth Poteet

To me, there’s nothing more magical than an afternoon tea. To be fair, though, like many who enjoy the casual civilization and elegance of an afternoon tea, my love of little sandwiches and scones started young. So really, it’s my parents’ fault—specifically, my father’s. My wonderful, serious lawyer of a father has a secret love of high teas, afternoon teas, and iced teas. Instead of drinking coffee black, Sam Poteet drinks Irish Breakfast. Instead of ordering tomahawk steaks and potatoes, he orders delicate chicken salad sandwiches and mini beef Wellingtons. Instead of planning trips around whiskey and Scotch, he plans our vacations around afternoon teas—and golf. Mostly golf, but he always has a tea booked if our hotel serves it.

The first time my dad dragged the Poteet clan to tea was at the historic Waldorf Astoria in New York when I was a mere babe of eight. There I sampled for the first time slightly sweet scones with clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches, and beautiful little desserts accompanied by a big girl cup of sweet, creamy black tea in a beautiful china cup. I was hooked. I felt like a princess. Fancy, pretty dress? Check. Miniature pretty foods? Check. Fancy, pretty setting? Check.

The following year, my father had a conference across the pond and carted the whole family over to London, where the highlight of the entire city was afternoon tea at Harrods. Tea was such a huge success with us that we went back twice. From London, we jumped to Ireland, where, again, everything seemed magical. Our home base was Adare Manor, a fantastical country house in a little town filled with thatched roofs. To me, it was a castle worthy of a Disney movie, and while my father and older brother spent their days golfing, my mother, sister, and I spent our afternoons taking tea every day. My poor mother was left with two highly caffeinated little girls, but we loved it.

It has been more than 20 years since my first big girl cup of tea, and since then, my father has taken me to some amazing places. We’ve had tea in San Francisco, Quebec, New Zealand, Banff, Chicago, and Maine. And after every tea, he says, “Okay, rank your favorite teas.” We can sit there for hours going through the pros and cons of each location. He has his favorites. I have mine. Sometimes we don’t agree. For example, Quebec is a fiercely contested tea. He ranks it in his top five, while it doesn’t make my top twenty. I think all afternoon teas should have sugar cubes over sugar packets. He values lemon curd over jam. We both agree a good scone is key. My mother and siblings play along with our ranking game, but they don’t care about the details as much as the experience. Dad and I care about both.

And now as I’m getting older and he’s getting ancient-er, the mantle of Tea Diviner has fallen to me— something I’m happy to take on. What was once his sharing this thing he loved with me and delighting in seeing my joy and discovery has now become my sharing new experiences with him.

In the past few years, I’ve started hosting my own family teas, experimenting with my own flavors. Dad now says, “Your scones are better than these,” even though they probably aren’t. I’ve also started searching out new tearooms for the Poteets. We’ve explored little shops in strip malls and historic houses and been to teas in Albuquerque, Tampa, New York’s Plaza Hotel, and even in our home state of Tennessee. In Albuquerque, The St. James Tearoom provides a selection of hats and a rotation of literary teas. In Tampa, we sat in a sunlit glass conservatory with industrial modern tables and lush plants all around us. In Tennessee, my father promised my scones were far superior to the little tea shop we found. We still rank our favorite teas. My mother, cousin, and I wear as many hats as we can. I still hate sugar packets. As the Poteet kids grow into adults and marry, we introduce the spouses to our teatime traditions. In a busy world where everything is rushed, for two hours, it’s just us, three tiers of delicious nibbles, and numerous pots of tea. No cell phones, no TV blaring, no 24/7 news, nor distractions. Just our family, and if that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.