The Carolina Inn, located in Chapel Hill and part of the University of North Carolina's campus, is as rich in history as it is amenities and this extends to afternoon tea. Billing itself as "The University's Living Room", it's clear once you enter the grounds, the Inn's welcoming staff makes you feel right at home in the comfort of elegant furnishings. Restaurant Coordinator, Karolina (pronounced Care-o-leena) Hooker, assists in making afternoon tea not only beautiful and delicious, but an experience catered to the personal needs of her guests.
Hooker, who has been at the Inn for two years, grew up with an appreciation of tea. As a child, she would have tea with her grandmother every afternoon until they finished the pot. "Sometimes we'd even make another", says Hooker with a warm smile. Tea represents more than just a drink to her. It's comforting and brings people together. "To me, tea is like a big bear hug", Hooker adds.
That sentiment is shown in every detail of The Carolina Inn's afternoon tea. Hooker along with the Inn's executive chef and pastry chef, plan the tea menus which include savories and freshly baked sweets prepared daily on-site. The "Classic Tea" includes a selection of three tea sandwiches, two scones and a trio of miniature desserts, all served on a three-tiered tray.
On our visit this week, we sampled two scones (plain and gingerbread) and a large sample of the Inn's dessert offering, which, incredibly, is new every day. The latter included chocolate-covered strawberries, tiramisu, miniature cheesecake, a chocolate granache tart and white chocolate chip cookies.
The scones were the perfect balance of taste and texture, a delicate treat that was served with fresh lemon curd, Devonshire cream and jam. Each pastry was delicious and beautifully presented. The chocolate-covered strawberries, served at room temperature, allowed for the full impact their delightful flavor.
There's a separate tea menu, too, which allows guests to choose from an assortment of black, white, oolong, green, herbal or rooibos. All teas come from Elmwood Inn teas or Republic of Tea. We sampled the former's Carolina Blueberry, a cup of powerful, but not overbearing fruitiness that is as much fun to inhale as it is to drink, and Earl Grey, a delightful version of the traditional afternoon tea drink.
Tea is served in either the Inn's grand lobby with its elegant chandeliers and upholstered chairs alongside antique tables and chests or in the Piedmont Dining Room, a more private area with cream-and-rose-hued walls and chairs with matching toile cushions in the same color scheme.
In addition to the Classic Tea, The Carolina Inn offers a "Royal Tea", which is the classic afternoon tea with a glass of sparkling wine, and "Little Prince and Princess Tea" for the younger set. Bridal Teas are also offered, which allow guests to make their own selection of sweets and savories to be served.
With a degree in Psychology, various positions in the hotel and restaurant industry, and a penchant for detail, when asked why she likes her job planning events and tea at The Carolina Inn, Hooker says, "You get a chance to make someone's day special."
At The Carolina Inn, there's no question - afternoon tea is special, indeed.
The Carolina Inn is located at 211 Pittsboro Street, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For more information on afternoon tea at the historic venue, visit their website, The Carolina Inn.