While the custom of afternoon tea has fallen largely by the wayside in today's busy world, it remains quietly, elegantly alive in old-fashioned restaurants such as Latz's by the Bay in Somers Point.

Andrew Latz, of the well-known restaurateur family which used to run Latz's Inn just across the road, has partnered with Ann Laltrello, who used to have a tea room in Margate called Sweet Mag-nolia. Together they came up with Tea at the Top, an elegant affair taking place Thursdays through Saturdays on the second floor of the bluish-grey Victorian house on Bay Avenue. Laltrello selected 32 varieties of loose-leaf tea to offer alongside pastry chef Robyn Speed's delicate sweets, scones and finger sandwiches.

From among exotic names such as Jasmin Yin Hao and lemon souffle, Laltrello chose a white raspberry rooibois as Latz's signature blend.

"I chose a white tea because it's the rarest, it's organic, Fair Trade. And I wanted Latz's to have the most special tea on the menu as its signature," Laltrello says. "It's actually not even a tea. It's a South African red bush and the health benefits are comparable to green tea."

The rooibois also has no caffeine, so it's fine to bring the little ones along to introduce them to the elegant custom of afternoon tea. If they aren't big eaters, they can try the "Heddy" tea service, named for Latz's childhood nanny. It offers child-friendly sweets such as chocolate chip cookies, cake pops and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with decaf tea served out of a cute little pot into miniature china.

The custom of afternoon tea in England dates back to Queen Catherine of Braganza, who brought her fancy accoutrements as well as the tea itself from her native Portugal in the 1660s. By the early 1800s, British and Irish ladies had fully adopted the social habit of gathering between lunch and dinner to sip tea over sweets, scones, sandwiches and most important, gossip.

For the grownups, there's the Evelyn service, named for Latz's great grandmother. The most traditional option, it includes scones with clotted cream and lemon curd; savory sandwiches including a whimsical take on the classic cucumber sandwich, a tiny BLT with egg salad on rye bread and a sun-dried tomato and fontina quiche with a flaky crust that's as light as a cloud; and those intricate dessert pastries, including a white chocolate ganache bonbon infused with the signature tea in a jam.

An elegant three-tiered tray showcases enough small, rich treats to stuff the bellies of two adults each drinking from their own four-cup pot of tea. But if you are feeling especially hungry, the Allah - for Latz's Grandmother - offers the addition of a soup or sandwich. And the Elaine - Latz's mother - gives diners the option of savories or desserts along with the traditional scones.

Laltrello also gives lectures on specific dates, sharing her formal training in tea and etiquette while participants relax in the cozy space. A May "First Ladies" tea will offer anecdotes and recipes from "First Ladies from Martha Washington to Michelle Obama," Laltrello promises. And if you want a souvenir to remember the afternoon, tea things, canisters of the loose-leaf teas and other gifts are available for purchase.

Contact Felicia Compian:


Tea at the Top

Held noon to 3 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays at Latz's by the Bay, 801 Bay Ave., Somers Point. Call 609-788-8838. Restaurant hours: Lunch

11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays; dinner 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 4:30 to 8 p.m. Sundays; brunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays

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