Cherry Blossom Afternoon Tea at the Willard Intercontinental

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In 1912, the people of Japan gave 3,020 cherry trees to the people of America – by way of Washington, DC – in a show of international friendship. U.S. First Lady Helen Taft and the wife of the Japanese Ambassador planted the first two trees on the banks of the Tidal Basin. The promenade steadily grew in popularity, and the first official “Cherry Blossom Festival” was held in 1935. A small three-day affair at the outset, today the Festival has grown into a world-famous celebration spanning three weeks and attracting over one million visitors each year.Β The 2014 festivities got underway March 22 with a sold-out show at Warner Theatre and will culminate April 12 with a parade down Constitution Avenue.

To get into the spirit, Ferreting out the Fun style, we partook of a cherry blossom-themed afternoon tea at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. Opened in 1847 and located one block from the White House, the Willard is as luxurious as it is historic. The hotel hosted the first-ever Japanese delegation to the United States in 1860 and has been visited by nearly every U.S. president since the 1850s. Ulysses S. Grant apparently used to hold court in the lobby, hence the term “lobbying,” or so the legend goes.

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Afternoon tea is served in Peacock Alley, with the seasonal cherry blossom version available March 20 through April 13. A gentle backdrop of traditional music accompanied our tea, with a kimono-clad member of the Washington Toho Koto Society gracefully plucking a koto, a Japanese string instrument from the zither family.

We were presented with a tea menu soon after being seated, with the usual suspects ranging from Earl Grey and Darjeeling to Mint and Chamomile. To embrace the cherry blossom theme, I selected one of the two special blends available: the Japan Kirsch, a delicate green tea with hints of cherry and blackberry flavor. In an interesting innovation, a timer was placed on the table so I knew when my pot of tea was perfectly brewed.

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Peacock Alley at the Willard Intercontinental.

Our tea treats were classically served on a three-tier tray, on china custom-made for the Willard. Cherries or Japanese flavors were playfully incorporated into each bite. Having learned from past mistakes, I started with the sweets on the top tray figuring I would like them least. While technically this turned out to be true, this tray was still a tasty arrangement. My favorite of the bunch was the red bean eclair, surprising since I don’t normally like that flavor. Here it was very subtle, letting the chocolate and flaky pastry shine through. I also enjoyed the crispy green tea shortbread and cherry cake seasoned with brandy. I only wish the latter had been bigger! The least popular flower in the bouquet was the cherry and cream parfait, which seemed to stand in for the Japanese moon cake listed on the menu but was missing in action.

From there I moved onto the scones, one made with dried cherries and the other with ginger. Both were buttery, crumbly and supremely soft. We were given an assortment of spreads to go with them, including a delightful cherry jam of which I mopped up every last drop.

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Of the savory treats, I was most enamored of the smoked salmon with dill cream cheese on pumpernickel, with the dense piece of salmon providing an excellent mouth feel. The creamy tarragon chicken salad with dried cherries was packed with flavor and a close second. I also thoroughly enjoyed the robustness of the goat cheese roulade, complemented by tart cherries and peppery arugula. The egg salad tasted good, but I found it a bit starchy. I had to check the menu to see if it was actually egg or potato.Β While a few of these flowers didn’t fully open for me, this cherry-themed tea made for a blooming afternoon!

The Willard Intercontinental
Address: 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC
Hours: Tea is served Friday - Sunday, 1pm to 4pm
Price: Cherry Blossom Tea is US$48 per person; regular tea is US$45 or 
 US$59 for tea with champagne
*Reservations are recommended

 

Would you like to indulge in the fruity bouquet of this afternoon tea? Have you celebrated the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC?

 

Heather Hall

Heather Hall

Passionate about travel, food, history and animals, Heather brings a curiosity and fun-loving attitude to most any experience that comes along. The Virginia native has lived abroad since 2011, and has visited more than 40 countries. Follow along as she explores the cultures and cuisines of the world on her blog, Ferreting Out the Fun!

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31 thoughts on “Cherry Blossom Afternoon Tea at the Willard Intercontinental

  1. Wow! That looks so good, I’ve never had a Cherry Blossom themed tea, but I’d love to if I get to eat these delicious cheery jam and cakes πŸ™‚

    • My biggest complaint is when scones are dry and these most definitely were not! And though they weren’t warm, they still tasted freshly made. I could have eaten another!

    • It was fun to sit there sipping my tea and think about all the former U.S. presidents holding court in the lobby πŸ™‚

  2. Heather, you made me so hungry right now! This place is so beautiful and posh. I would probably not know how to dress for this place and how to behave properly like a lady :). I’m jealous to see all of these cakes and muffins on your table. Which one was your favourite one?
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    • The salmon with dill and cream cheese on pumpernickel bread was my favorite. The salmon had been smoked with cherry wood and it tasted so good! After that I liked the ginger scone with cherry jam. I could have eaten an entire basket of them!

    • I’m glad you had nice weather for the race! The season can be so unpredictable. It was 70 a few days ago and now I’m looking out my window at a snow storm.

  3. Lovely description of the delights available at this afternoon tea with a flowery twist, Heather! I love the little extra info on the etymology of the word ‘lobbying’ – I find this stuff so interesting! We will miss cherry blossom season in Japan this year, but glad to see you can get a taste of it in other places around the world!
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    • Thanks, Jessica! Growing up near DC, I always took the cherry blossoms for granted so I’m trying to appreciate them fully during our short time back. I still haven’t experienced them in Japan, but it’s on my list! πŸ™‚

    • I’m with you, Rosemarie, I almost always prefer the savory bites. That’s why I’ve decided to start saving them for last and not end on a sugar overload. I hope you find a nice one to go to! πŸ™‚

    • I know, the lobby was so nice I can only imagine what the rest of the hotel must look like! I regret not wandering around a little more πŸ™‚

  4. That green tea sounds great! And I love red beans, I mean I really love red beans, delicious things.

    • I like red beans too, in dishes like chili. πŸ™‚ The Asian inclination to use them in desserts in place of perfectly good chocolate always confuses me. Thankfully the flavor was very subtle here. And the tea was great, very smooth. I wish they’d sold take-away containers!

      • Haha! I meant I love red beans used in sweet foods! It’s definitely the thing I miss most about Asia. I love sweet red bean cakes, breads, milks teas etc. and sweet red bean soup is my favourite (from Taiwan). Most Westerners apparently don’t like sweet red beans though I hear.
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  5. What a great way to spend an afternoon. I love scones.
    Am going to try making them one of these days. What
    a beautiful hotel. To be so old and still be so lovely!!!

    • You should, it’s beautiful! Once they bloom, I’ll do a post about the festival so stay tuned. My advice would be not to plan the trip to far in advance because they bloom at different times every year. Sometimes it’s at the end of March, but if it’s been a bad winter like this year, peak bloom can be as late as mid April. The Washington Post website usually has the prediction, along with the schedule of events.

    • This was such a lovely experience, Lesley, and I just saw on social media that the Willard will offering it again this year. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in DC for cherry blossom season!

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