Words and Photos by Jai Williams
While most Americans choose coffee as their caffeinated beverage of choice, DC resident Nadia Stevens would prefer a spot of tea any day.
Her passion for afternoon tea is a love affair that began when she regularly visited family in London as a child and with relatives in Antigua and St. Thomas who enjoyed hosting traditional teas. Years later, as an adult, she completed a 10-month stint in London after graduate school and, with her cousin, popped into places like Harrods and The Dorchester for afternoon tea.
But when Smith returned to the States, she missed the ritual of gathering over afternoon tea and decided to start hosting her own.
Starting small, her first party only had a few attendees, but Nadia knew she was on to something as guests loved the ceremony of afternoon tea and the opportunity to connect with others while winding down after a long day. She did more research locally, with tea trips to Washington hotels the Willard, the Hay Adams and her local favorite, The Henley Park Hotel. She decided she was ready to make her tea parties larger and more elaborate.
Walking out onto Nadia’s deck in DC’s Bloomingdale neighborhood one beautiful Sunday afternoon, revealed a scene reminiscent of The Secret Garden. Bright orange campsises popped from under lush green vines that intertwined down the stairwell to a patio area formally set for guests who would soon be arriving. Invitations are sent to a rotating list of accomplished women who range from tenured government officials to prominent attorneys.
Nadia’s tea party is now in its ninth year. Previously held in the spring, she has shifted hosting to the cooler autumn months. Guests arrived in their Sunday finest; the styling and setup elicited “ooohs” and “aaahs.” Inspired by the host’s upcoming cruise to the Mediterranean, Grecian blues and whites permeated the space. White plates sat atop fine silver chargers from a collection amassed over many years, as are her four tea services. Delicate Turkish teacups were accompanied by matching spoons with a Nazar Boncugu amulet within their handle, thought to protect from bad luck.
Delicately folded lace napkins and quotes from writers like Henry David Thoreau with individual bottles of Blanc de Bleu de Cuvee Mousseux and bouquets of purple cockscomb celosias created an elegant ambience at place settings. Local soprano Chinwe Enu was on hand to begin the tea with a spiritual rendition and for those few minutes even the youngest guest, age 2, listened to her angelic voice without interruption.
With a Mediterranean influence based upon her upcoming travels, the menu displayed extravagance. An autumn salad composed of English cucumbers, mixed greens, French lentils, shaved Italian black truffles, drizzled with a champagne vinaigrette appeared as edible art. Next, well-portioned sandwiches were passed around by the host herself. Selections ranged from pan-seared Branzino with mock Romesco mayonnaise to koftas scooped into flaky puff pastry cups topped with a refreshing choban salad and tzatziki sauce. Though all were tasty, the roasted capon with sage pesto, apple and Cambozola on a croissant and fried Halloumi cheese paired with basil, Turkish orange eggplant on Asiago focaccia left many speechless.
Smith loves jasmine green tea, Irish blended tea and Earl Grey for her personal use, and for her tea parties she has been making her own blends. Sage tea is very popular in Greece, so for this party she blended sage tea and apple teas. Light in color and subtle in flavor, its herbaceous and fruity notes required no sugar.
Once the sweets were laid out, everyone’s eyes got round as an impressive smorgasbord fit for royalty sat before us. Greek lemon rolled wafers, Turkish apricot and crème fraîche scones, Manchego cheesecake, mini palmiers and pomegranate pound cake were complemented with mock Devonshire cream, lime curd and limoncello marmalade. Thinking of everything, pastry boxes awaited guests who couldn’t take another bite.
What inspiration keeps this busy attorney to keep hosting these glamorous parties? She explains, “Simply put, it is creating the connectivity through food and atmosphere. I invite people that know each other, encourage them to bring one or two guests. My seating chart places a person between a guest they know and one they don’t, which creates great conversations and energy among the group.”