Pittsburgh may have some of the best coffee shops around, but if you’re looking for a way to catch up with friends or to celebrate a holiday (reminder, Mother’s Day is coming up), don’t overlook getting a nice cuppa tea.
There are plenty of great tea shops in town, such as Squirrel Hill’s Dobrá Tea and Té Café, but for something extra special, treat yourself to high tea.
High tea, or afternoon tea (we use the term interchangeably in the U.S.), is the British tradition of having a light meal that will hold you over until dinner. Served as brunch or lunch, it’s a chance to get dressed up and put yourself in the shoes of your favorite “Bridgerton” or “Downton Abbey” character.
Most of the tea services we recommend have been serving Pittsburghers for decades, and many found ways to pivot during the last two years, serving takeout and changing business models. Unfortunately, a longtime tradition, the tea service at the Palm Court in the Omni William Penn Hotel, was a casualty of the pandemic. Luckily, another favorite, the high tea special events at Adda Coffee & Tea House, have just announced their return for Mother’s Day.
In the meantime, the tea services at each of these locations throughout the Pittsburgh area put their own spin on the classic afternoon tea.
The Inn on Negley, 703 South Negley Ave., Shadyside
Nestled among the mansions of Shadyside, the Inn on Negley provides an experience that allows you to feel like a member of elite society, even if it’s just for the afternoon. The tables are prepared in the parlor and dining room of the restored 1884 Victorian inn. Guests of the bed & breakfast and locals alike can take advantage of the high tea service.
With a set menu, the only choice that you’ll have to make is what kind of tea to partake in. The tea list is extensive with everything from traditional Black teas to oolong and herbal or fruit tisanes. The loose leaf tea steeps in individual pots while the afternoon meal is presented by chef Nick Krug.
A three-tiered stand includes a trio of delights on each tier. The menu changes weekly, but guests will always get to experience signature items, including a cucumber finger sandwich made with pesto and whipped chèvre served on whole grain bread, lemon parsley chicken salad on sourdough and a warm vanilla cream scone. The rotation of recipes — such as homemade gougères, petite quiche, lemon madeleines and French macarons — utilizes fresh and seasonal ingredients.
For those with dietary restrictions, the Inn offers vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free menus with as much care put into the variety and quality as its traditional menu. Dishes include a cucumber sandwich with mashed avocado and vegan mayo, a toasted and grilled asparagus sandwich with sautéed spinach, as well as cherry orange scones and desserts such as mini chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting, petite vanilla bundt cake and dark chocolate brownies.
The Inn on Negley also offers a children’s menu with options such as PB&J finger sandwiches and cookies.
Reservations are required by phone at 412-661-0631 and can be made for Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. The price is $42 per person and $18 for children 12 and younger.
The Café at the Frick, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze
Set in a quaint cottage, steps away from the historic Clayton mansion, home of Henry Clay Frick and his family, The Café at the Frick offers a delightful afternoon tea service.
The Café was closed for much of the past two years during the height of the pandemic and recently reopened with a new model. Rather than table service, you can expect a fast-casual meal with a pared-down tea option, as well as a luncheon menu of flatbreads, sandwiches and picnic fare featuring charcuterie and cheese boards.
The tea service, though smaller than what the Frick family enjoyed in the Gilded Age, features the classics such as cucumber finger sandwiches, an egg salad croissant and your choice of scone with house-made clotted cream and jam. The menu is fully vegetarian.
Specialty loose leaf tea from Harney & Sons is presented in single-serve teapots. As visitation increases, the plan is to bring back full-service high tea in the late afternoons.
Reservations are not required, so seating is first-come, first-served, but as the weather warms up, there are plenty of options for enjoying tea al fresco. In its current iteration, the afternoon tea is the least expensive option on our list, coming in at just $17. The Café at the Frick is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Flowers in the Attic, 7505 Saltsburg Road, Plum/Monroeville
For 25 years, Flowers in the Attic has been serving tea in a restored turn-of-the-century home on the border of Plum and Monroeville.
The space, which also houses a floral business and a gift shop, is welcoming and almost as comforting as being in a family home with eclectic antiques and good smells coming from the kitchen. On cold days, tea is served fireside in a vintage Ciera fine china tea set, along with a three-tiered tray where each tier is more delightful than the last.
Diners can begin with a blueberry and white chocolate scone that is served warm from the oven, a cucumber dill finger sandwich, the popular chicken salad croissant and a generous Caprese baguette with mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil. The dessert tray features rich treats such as petite turtle cheesecake, homemade banana bread pudding with caramel sauce and a chocolate brownie topped with raspberry and coconut.
The menu changes seasonally and there is a vegetarian option and a kid-friendly menu — just ask for their Princess Tea when making your reservation. Pre-pandemic, the shop hosted extravagant tea parties, with themes such as the Titanic, where they recreated a menu from the first-class dining room, as well as Alice in Wonderland, Harry Potter and Wizard of Oz.
Reservations are required by phone at 412-798-2200. The Attic also serves tea Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the price is $30.