English tea for jet lag

By Stephen Addison
This item appears on page 24 of the September 2020 issue.
Ready for tea at <i>ROBA Bar & Restaurant</i> in London. <i>Left to right:</i> Stephen Addison, Ann Hustis, Nick Assad and Paula Owens.

It was on Boxing Day, the first day of our 2015 trip to London, that we finally, and inadvertently, discovered how to substantially alleviate the jet lag that had plagued our previous 30 trips to Europe.

Time in the UK is “only” five hours ahead of the time at our home in Charlotte (versus six hours for most of the Continent), but we suffered from jet lag just as much in the UK as in the rest of Europe. On our first European trip, we learned the benefits of spending the first day outside on our feet, but that practice was far from a cure.

• For this UK trip, Paula insisted that we schedule an afternoon tea service one day. We’re both avid tea drinkers and had enjoyed tea service at the Fairmont Empress (721 Government St.; fairmont.com/empress-victoria) in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, and at The Peninsula Hong Kong (Salisbury Road; peninsula.com).

She had discovered a website called Afternoon Tea (www.afternoontea.co.uk), which provides a comprehensive listing of (and booking for) tea services at dozens of venues across the UK at many different price points.

The website is well organized, includes menus and is very informative. My only complaint is that its booking engine won’t function with my PC’s default browser (Chrome), which I’ve configured to be extra secure. Other browsers that I checked did function properly.

In advance, we booked the “Festive Afternoon Tea” at the 5-star London Marriott Hotel Park Lane, an upscale, formal venue in Mayfair.

After flying into London in the morning, we devoured a full English breakfast in our hotel before setting off on a day of sightseeing. As planned, we skipped lunch and snacks.

We began our afternoon tea shortly before its scheduled 5 p.m. start time. For the next hour and a half, we savored two or three pots of tea, finger sandwiches, an array of sweets and a glass each of champagne.

All that sugar and caffeine brought us out of the first-day-in-Europe doldrums! The quality of the food was excellent, though the service left something to be desired. It seemed the servers were focused on what appeared to be more lucrative customers than a couple of folks who looked like they had just disembarked from a coach-class flight from the US.

We returned to our hotel, unpacked, took much-needed showers and crashed around 9:30. The next day we felt fine, and our jet lag was minimal the rest of the trip.

The price of the tea service was £39 per person or £45 with a single glass of champagne. We opted for the glass of champagne. (An option of “free-flowing champagne,” while normally appealing, sounded like a bad idea for one’s first evening in Europe.) On the booking site, the currently offered “Botanical Afternoon Tea” appears similar to what we had and is priced at £32 (near $42) per person or £48.50 with free-flowing sparkling wine.

• Two years later, we returned to London and executed a similar routine to see if our previous success was a one-off. This time, again at afternoontea.co.uk, we booked the “Signature Afternoon Tea” at a more modest venue, the ROBA Bar & Restaurant (34 Norfolk Place), in Paddington and near our favorite London hotel, St. David’s Hotels (June ’16, pg. 14).

Again, on our arrival day in London, we followed the same meal routine, then met friends at the restaurant at 4:30 p.m. The menu was similar to the London Marriott Hotel Park Lane’s, albeit less fancy, but it was tasty and provided what we needed. The service was excellent.

On afternoontea.co.uk, the current price for ROBA’s afternoon tea is £15.95 per person plus £6 for a glass of champagne. (As of late July 2020, ROBA was apparently not taking bookings due to COVID-19.)

Our experiment was a success! The next day we felt fine, and we suffered minimal jet lag for the remainder of the trip. We’ll try to schedule a good afternoon tea on the arrival day of our next trip to Europe.

• We have also unintentionally found a way to reduce jet lag on trips to the Far East. We really suffered during our first two trips due to the 13-hour time difference. As luck would have it, our next two trips both involved leaving Charlotte in the early morning (6:05 and 7:40) on 2-hour flights to Chicago, where we connected to departures for our Asian destinations.

Both times, we got little sleep the night before our departure. Consequently, we slept well (in United’s Economy Plus) for most of our long, transpacific flights.

Getting decent sleep is usually rare for us when flying. On these two trips, starting the trips exhausted worked to our advantage, as jet lag ended up being much less of a problem than on our previous trips.

Charlotte, NC