Why beautiful Boston is just our cup of tea
As the city celebrates 250 years since taxes on its brew sparked a revolution, JANE KNIGHT discovers the delights of Boston’s rich history
By Jane Knight
THIS was clearly no ordinary cup of tea. The liquid flowing from the china teapot was cough-medicine pink and gushed around the large block of ice in my teacup, reminiscent of a tea chest. Although one of the ingredients was mountain berry tea, it had been infused in Bombay Sapphire gin for two days, given more flavour with lime juice and thyme, and then topped up with prosecco to create The Destruction of Tea – a cocktail with a kick.
Served in the new Coterie bar of the Four Seasons Hotel Boston, this power-packed treat is named after the initial term given to The Boston Tea Party, an event that sparked the American Revolution.
They’ll be raising more than a cup of it this coming Saturday, the 250th anniversary of the most famous tea party in history. It promises to be filled with processions and performances along with the dumping of yet more tea into Boston Harbour.
The celebrations will remember the night of December 16, 1773, when colonial men, fed up with being taxed on their tea, sneaked on to three schooners moored in the harbour, destroyed 342 tea chests and threw 92,000lb of East India Company tea into the water. The cargo was estimated at $1.5million in today’s money, and its destruction prompted George III to send troops across the Atlantic.
But the Tea Party hasn’t put the Bostonians off the beverage – you can still enjoy an excellent cuppa in the city, often accompanied by delicious afternoon teas.
In search of the best of them, my son and I set off on a tea trail, digesting nuggets of history as we went. Although Boston trades on its past, this city of 650,000 residents – with a hefty proportion of students and businessmen – is far from stuffy. It’s also incredibly easy to walk around, as you take in everything from the buzzy harbour area to the upmarket Back Bay neighbourhood. We started in the Boston Tea Party Ships And Museum, whose two reconstructed boats we could see from the windows of our room at the Intercontinental Hotel. The excellent interactive museum features the only known surviving tea chest from that inauspicious night, used over the generations as a doll’s house, a container for kittens and to play games (one is scrawled on its surface). In the teahouse we tried all five types of tea that were thrown overboard, including two green teas. Although our guide, Priscilla, told us that ‘Young Hyson tea was the most expensive, and a favourite of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’, I preferred the bog-standard black tea, Bo-hea.
There are scones at the teahouse, but for a proper afternoon spread we walked to Boston Public Library, the first large and free municipal library in America, with a fancy tea-room downstairs. Be sure to dress up for this superb feast that started, unusually, with burrata and celery soup.
Fuelled for some learning, we hit Boston’s Freedom Trail, which details the fascinating story of events leading up to the Tea Party. We take in the meeting house where the Bostonians decided to act, and Granary Burying Ground, which holds the grave of a certain Paul Revere. He made a midnight 12-mile dash on horseback to Lexington to warn revolutionary leaders Sam Adams and John Hancock that the British were en route. Hancock and Adams’s graves are also in the cemetery, opposite the Beantown Pub. ‘They say they’re the only place where you can sink a cold Sam Adams while looking at another cold Sam Adams,’ joked our tour
guide Jeremiah Poope (‘Yes, it’s my real name – you can imagine the fun I had in school.’)
It was at Lexington, the site of a skirmish between British and colonial forces on April 19, 1775, that the first shot of the American Revolutionary War was fired.
Minutes from the green where the fighting took place, and where seven of the first eight men who were killed by the British are buried, we settled into rocking chairs on the porch of the charismatic Inn at Hastings Park – a Relais & Chateaux property – to enjoy yet more tea, along with strawberries dipped in chocolate, cannoli, blueberry scones and an array of tempting sandwiches and cakes. Better still, this tea is served early, from 11.30am, which meant we could consider it brunch.
You need to leave room for lobster in Boston – I devoured warm lobster tails at Smith & Wollensky and a spicy lobster pasta at rooftop Contessa, while looking out on to the golden dome of the Massachusetts State House.
It wasn’t always thus. As Jeremiah told us, in puritans’ time, you could be whipped, fined and put in stocks for eating lobster in public. ‘To the puritans, it was a giant cockroach from the sea. Only the prisoners ate it.’
Thankfully, you can now enjoy lobster rolls anywhere and anytime, including at afternoon tea. They featured in our favourite stop, at the Four Seasons’s One Dalton Street, with its beautifully crafted cakes and delectable sandwiches. Not only that, these goodies were also accompanied by champagne, liqueur and of course, plenty of tea.
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