Monday, January 30, 2006

Low Tea, Upstairs on the Square

Read my other review of Upstairs on the Square too (it's below the Central Kitchen review).

You may ask, "What is Low Tea?" It's a great question. I didn't know either until this past Saturday, when my friend Lisa and I went to Upstairs on the Square for their Afternoon Tea. After being seated in an enchanting room with fire places roaring on either end, our waiter explained to us that when we ordered Afternoon Tea there, it would be Low tea (as opposed to High tea) which means that the savory and sweet treats on the three-tiered serving dish would be served room temperature or cold as opposed to High Tea when much of the food is served hot. Fascinating, but unfortunately incorrect.

After doing some informal online research*, I discovered the real difference between High Tea and Low Tea and here's what I discovered. Low Tea is more of an afternoon snack featuring sweet and savory delights, served on low tables hence the name. High Tea is traditionally more of a meal/dinner served later in the day (5 - 7pm) at a high table. High Tea often includes salads, pot pies, cold chicken, sliced meats, cakes, fruit tarts, custards, fresh fruits and again, of course, tea. Interestingly enough, Low Tea is what you will find at most Afternoon Teas, often promoted as High Tea. Whew. Glad I got that worked out.

Anyway, the important thing is that the waiter was half right. They do serve Low Tea. And it was wonderful! We ordered their "Zebra Tea with a Kick" (the zebra is the restaurant's mascot if you will) for 2. Included on the 3-tier serving tray were an array of mouth-watering treats. At the top of the tray were savory snacks such as mini quiches, scone sandwiches with ham salad, chicken salad in profiterole rolls, and salmon sandwiches. Sweet treats included cream puffs, mini cakes, a side of lemon curd that was perfectly tart and was recommended to accompany the mini madelines. The last, most rich sweet we sampled was a peppermint fudge brownie. Wow. Intense. We had our choice of traditional English teas as well as herbal teas. We went with a classic, Earl Grey. The "Kick" in the "Zebra Tea with a Kick" was a glass champagne. Oh so civilized!

We ordered one other item that I just had to include - Gougères - amazing baked cheese wonders. While theirs were tasty, I found them a little on the greasy side. I have included a recipe below for Gougères I got at a cheese class I took at the Boston Center for Adult Education. I highly recommend making these. An amazing appetizer or Sunday afternoon snack.

I couldn't think of a more perfect atmostphere for Low Tea. A lovely but informal room; friendly, unpretentious service; 2 fireplaces; and tables full of ladies (about 95% women) enjoying the company of their favorite friends and family. As you all know, I'm a huge fan of this restaurant anyway (see my earlier review), and their Afternoon Tea offering is no exception. Take some time for yourself and enjoy an Afternoon Tea. Just remember to have a very light lunch so you'll be hungry come tea time, 3-5pm. Those snacks are actually very filling. You want to leave room to taste them all!

* Sources:
Elizabeth Knight: Topics and Expertise: About Tea
Seeds of Knowledge

UpStairs on the Square
91 Winthrop Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge
Afternoon Tea is offered Tuesday through Saturday, 3 to 5pm.


1 cup water
4 ounces butter
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of dry mustard (optional)
1 cup flour
4 room temperature eggs, whisked together
1/4 lb. gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1. In a saucepan, combine the water, butter, salt and spices. Bring to a boil. Add the flour all at once and cook the paste over low heat, beating until it comes together and forms a ball.
2. Remove the pan from the heat and add eggs one at a time (approximately), beating well after each addition (paste should "plop" from spoon); add the cheese.
3. Using a pastry bag (or cut the tip off of a ziplock bag), pipe out 1-1/2" rounds onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Brush with beaten egg.
4. Bake in oven for 8 to 12 minutes (until golden brown and puffed). Remove from oven, take off pan, and poke a small hole in the bottom of each to allow steam to escape. Serve warm. Can be reheated with a few minutes back in the oven.


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