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Holiday Guide: Where to Take Tea Like a Champ 

Tuesday, Nov 25 2014
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Like Sunday brunch, taking tea is a way to slow things down, catch up on the latest, and totally feel the prevailing festive vibe minus any grumbling about our consumer economy. And sipping a fine teacup of English Breakfast alongside next to a delicate layered sandwich is a nice way to feel on top of the world, or at least a little fancier than normal.

While afternoon tea's sandwiches are often bite-size, there's more than enough to go around — I've even brought along my red meat-loving dad to a Sunday afternoon tea at Charles Chocolates where the brisket sliders were impressive and filling. Check the latest in holiday tea offerings.

Children's Magical & Holiday Teas

When: Full dates and hours are found on the website (intercontinentalsanfrancisco.com).

Where: Top of the Mark InterContinental Mark Hopkins (999 California)

Cost: $50 (holiday tea), $60 for children's magical tea ($56 with a toy donation)

The rundown: While scanning a restaurant for the best table, we've probably all heard the line from the host or GM that "every table has amazing views." But here, it's true: The city skyline, afternoon sky, and surrounding buildings are all pretty stunning at the top of this tony hotel, which is a historic property that doesn't usually feel too stuffy.

The hotel is offering two types of tea service with bites from executive chef Nenad Stefanovic and pastry chef Phuong Wong. It's a kick to try a pot of loose leaf next to a mini-BLT sandwich; adventurous types may be further drawn to a cardamom-cinnamon tea if the usual Earl Grey does not suffice. The dessert buffet has promise in the form of mini-yule logs, cheesecakes, and fruit tartlets. On Fridays starting Dec. 5, the Magical Holiday tea for kids incorporates magic shows and face painting. A fire engine display debuts on Fridays, and Santa will be in the house on Saturdays.

Scala's Holiday Tea Under the Tree

When: Friday-Sun, Nov. 28 to Dec. 14; every day Dec. 19 to 23; tea runs 1-4 p.m.

Where: Sir Francis Drake Hotel / Scala's Bistro Tea Under the Tree, (450 Powell, 395-8518, sirfrancisdrake.com)

Cost: $45 per child, $75 per adult (includes one glass of Champagne)

The rundown: Youngsters get their own gingerbread cookie to decorate. The sugary fun continues with tea breads (cranberry walnut scones, pumpkin scones, and orange raisin scones served with lemon curd, double cream, butter, and raspberry jam), petit fours, carrot cake madeleines, pate de fruit, raspberry linzer bars, mini-fruit tartlets, vanilla marshmallows, and candy cane meringues, which were a refreshing and definite favorite at last year's tea.

Tea sandwiches are an important tier: Smoked salmon, roast beef, egg salad, cucumber radish, and grilled vegetable all make appearances. There's something magic about eating egg salad under a nice holiday tree while gazing at toy-centric décor — all the better to remember those wish lists scribbled in earnest and mailed off to the North Pole.

Holiday Afternoon Tea and Teddy Bear Teas

When: Holiday tea: Nov. 29-30; Dec. 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 23-24, 28-31. Daily seating at 3 p.m.

Teddy Bear tea: Nov. 29-30; Dec. 5-7, 13-14, 19-23. Seatings at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Where: The Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco (600 Stockton, ritzcarlton.com)

Cost: $65-$110

The rundown: Afternoon tea in the lounge at the Ritz has a luxe feel, meaning you may want to use your inside voice — all the better to hear the live harpist entertainer. Finger sandwiches are a normal part of fine tea service, but an eggnog Ferrero Rocher sweet treat intrigues, along with the more customary gingerbread spice cake. On the savory side, look for lobster and duck confit.

Bring your own stuffed animals to the Teddy Bear tea service, where the pressure's totally off to entertain the kiddos, since an elf and giant teddy bear will be performing. Mr. Ted E. Bear will be available for photo ops, a portion of the proceeds will benefit Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area, and kids leave with their own teddy bears.

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Mary Ladd

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