The last few periods on Friday seemed to drag on forever. I stared at the clock in each class, silently hoping that the hands would somehow start to move faster. This wasn’t just because, like every other student, I was ready to go home on a Friday afternoon. This was because of the little adventure me and three of my friends were going on after that last bell rang at 3:28. As soon as we’d heard about this English project, we’d all immediately gone up to one other and asked to set up a date to go to Alice’s Tea Cup. Despite being in different classes, we all knew that unless we all went together, the chances of us keeping this topic and going alone were slim.
Anyway, the short hand on the clock finally hit ‘28’, and everyone in my class rushed out of the room. I somehow made my way through the crowded hallways to my locker, quickly grabbing my jacket and any folders that I would need for the weekend. The stairwell was filled with students walking into the brisk air. I met with my friends and we made our down the sidewalk and to the Union Square Station. Swiping through the turnstiles led us to the somehow even more crowded platform, music of people with hats or cups our in front of them filled our ears as we made our way down to where we could get on the 6 train. It was boiling below the ground, especially in comparison to the frigid air outside. But the train ride seemed to take no time at all, but things typically go by fast when with friends who can chat with you for what seems like forever. The train came to a halt, and the four of us pushed through a crowd of people about twice my height to get out of the station. The cold air that hit my face stung my eyes as we walked against the wind. We had to walk for only a few blocks before finding out destination.
The honking of the cars and the sirens from the ambulances and the wind that made it feel like it was 10 degrees outside all melted away as we walked inside to the cozy tea shop. The smell of different spices and sweet pastries hit me as strong as the cold air had. We checked in and was led to our table, which was up the stairs that were adorned with different paintings and pictures of fantastical characters from Alice in Wonderland. “Look! The Cheshire Cat!” I exclaimed as we walked past a large painting showcasing the somewhat creepy kitty. We were taken to a small, somewhat secluded room in the back. The brightly colored walls drew my attention, forcing me to look at every piece of art that covered each part of them. I was bewildered by all the decorations, as I’d never been there before. My friends and I were given menus, and the three of them told me what I should get. We ended up settling on a pot of Moroccan Mint and two orders of chocolate cake with ice cream. The drinks came quickly, the slight aroma of mint filling the air around our table. We all poured some of the tea into our teacups, which were all different and adorable painted. We chatted, took some photos, drank some tea and ate some delicious chocolate cake. The time that we spent inside Alice’s Tea Cup seemed warped in a way. It felt like no time at all had passed, while still feeling like we’d been there forever (in a good way). The bright and inviting atmosphere made everyone feel warm and welcomed.
The tea ceremonies and just general tea drinking that Alice’s Tea Cup bases it’s entire theme around date back to around the fourth century. Green tea was known to have been brewed and served in China for quite a bit of time before the seeds were traded to Japan during the Tang dynasty. After that, tea ceremonies started up in the eighth century and, while things have changed since then, they’ve continued up until now (Japanese Tea Ceremony). There are different kinds of tea ceremonies all around the world. England, India, Russia, Japan, and many more places have different ways of drinking tea. But today will be focused on England, as that is where Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland take place.
Tea in England was first made popular “during the 1660s by King Charles II and his wife the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza”, but the idea of afternoon tea was not brought about until the the mid 1800s. A women named Anna, who was the seventh Duchess of Bedford at the time, popularized the concept of having tea and a snack in the afternoon. It is said that she would begin to get hungry at around four o’clock in the evening, as dinner was served so late, at about eight o’clock. Anna “asked that a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon”, which soon became a tradition that spread throughout England (Johnson).
When thinking of tea, most people’s minds go straight to the posh and upper class in England, drinking their cups of tea with a biscuit on their plate. Perhaps they think of fancy citizens rushing to high tea. But, “high tea”, was actually something that the aristocratic did not really partake in. During the day, the working class were, well, working. The time that afternoon tea happened was well before regular people could sit down and enjoy a nice cup of tea and some scones. And thus, high tea was created. It was later in the day, at around five o’clock to seven o’clock in the evening, and consisted of a much “heartier [dish] which [was] substantially more than just tea and cakes” (Lemm). After a hard days work, people would need a way to unwind and replenish themselves, the same as the upper class did. The name throws some people off, as it has a more posh connotation, but it’s obviously quite the opposite. The upper class and elite would sit in low, more comfortable chairs in the garden or the parlor, while the majority of the working class would sit at a table in a chair with a high back. This is where the name “High Tea” comes from. And while high and afternoon tea seems like a somewhat far off idea, something that really only happens for people like the Queen of England, there are dozens of places just in New York City, like Alice’s Tea Cup, that can give just a regular American the feeling of being in England and relaxing with a nice cup of tea.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has a recurring theme of tea. Of course, the book was written in England in 1865, which was practically the prime time for afternoon and high tea. Multiple pictures of a tea party are depicted in the book, one being on the cover of the Barnes & Noble Classics version of the book. On page 80, another illustration of the tea party is shown. Alice sits at the head of the table, sitting on a large chair and scowling. There are multiple, but presumably empty tea cups on the table, surrounded by equally empty plates. This is strange for a tea party, or high tea because tea is almost always accompanied by scones, biscuits or something of that nature. One thing that may lead someone to believe that the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, Dormouse and Alice are partaking in high tea rather than afternoon tea is the time. Time is another recurring theme in this novel, coming up quite a bit whenever the White Rabbit is around. As stated before, high tea is served between five and seven o’clock in the evening. While the actual time is never stated, the White Rabbit’s broken watch says that “‘it’s always six o’clock now!’” (Carroll 83). Even young Alice, who was shown as not always the brightest yet always very sure of herself, was able to catch on and asks the White Rabbit if that was “‘the reason so many tea-things are put out here?’” (Carroll 83),to which the frantic Rabbit responds with an exasperated “yes”.
High tea was, as mentioned before, something that was put in place for the working class. While the characters that are placed at the table probably think quite highly of themselves, just based on their personalities, they are still subject to the Queen of Hearts. Almost everyone in Wonderland is below the Queen of Hearts, meaning that they would all technically be sitting down for high tea in the early evening. Adding on to that, on the cover of the book, the tea party is depicted by a different illustrator then throughout the book. This version shows each character sitting in a high back, seemingly uncomfortable chair. This further proves the integration of high tea that Lewis Carroll used throughout his novel.
Alice’s Tea Cup has made an entire business off of tea parties and Alice in Wonderland. The names of the drinks and foods are all based on certain moments or characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The bright colors that surround you as you enter and sit down really encapsulate you and bring you into the world of Wonderland. The pictures on the wall and the drawings on the menu and even all the different tea cups and saucers for each person let you slip away from the noisy and crazy New York City world. Alice’s Tea Cup can be to everyone else what Wonderland was to Alice.