Posted by: Shirley | September 24, 2011

Boston Tea Series: Boston Public Library at Copley Square

This is the first of our reviews of Greater Boston places that serve traditional, British-style afternoon tea.  This post also appears at What About Second Breakfast?


The main branch of the Boston Public Library at Copley Square sure sounds like the perfect place for afternoon tea: historical architecture, a courtyard complete with fountain, murals by John Singer Sargent, scores of books for Austen lovers like us.  In general, it did not disappoint.


The atmosphere was more casual and relaxing than the local hotels that serve tea.  You don’t have to dress up much, or sit up very straight.  There is no maître d’ or harpist.  The room is beautifully and classically decorated.  But on a Friday afternoon few of the tables were occupied so most of them were not set, leaving the room feeling slightly empty.


The polka dot china was cute, but the plain white teapots, sugar holder, and creamer were a disappointment.  The food was good, and the caterer is new-ish.  At $22.50 plus tax and tip (the 18% gratuity is included in the check), it’s more affordable than tea at most hotels, though it seemed like less food.  But after more cups of tea, I felt positively full.


The watercress sandwich with lemon aioli was surprisingly and pleasantly fragrant.  The caper on the smoked salmon was a nice touch, the apricot chicken salad sandwich was all right, and the cucumber and herb cream cheese was traditional but always a favorite.  The crumbled bacon and tomato sandwich was an unusual addition to tea, but so good.


The blackberry and peach tart had the perfect balance of sweet and tart in a crisp pastry shell.  The raspberry and lemon cream tart was simple but delicious.  I’d been wondering, “What the heck is a chocolate sinclair?”  It turned out to be an ultra-rich and dense chocolate cake, and the small size was just right for the intensity of the chocolate.


The currant scones were served with Devonshire clotted cream and four fruit marmalade.  The only problem with them?  I wanted more.


I had the Ceylon tea and was happy with it.  Kirk’s peach and ginger tea smelled good.  Erica and Karen seemed to like their teas, but I forgot to ask for their verdicts.


In my personal ranking of Boston-area tea venues, this one is around the top.  The food at the library wins over Hallowed Herbs in Quincy and the Four Seasons, is about the same as the Langham, and almost as good as the Taj.  The ambiance is better than the Four Seasons, Hallowed Herbs, and Langham, but not the Taj (if going by the room alone).  But for a more relaxed and unfussy feel (and Kirk was a fan of this), the library wins over the Taj.  The service was good.  The company is always excellent.  😉  My verdict: Visit it!


Others’ thoughts?


A side table is decorated with a map of Quebec


Chandelier in the cafe


Balcony in the courtyard


Fountain in the courtyard


Artwork in the room



  1. Wonderful review Shirley! I agree! My tea(it was a black tea) was more peach than ginger in taste, which was fine by me(lol, I’m more peach than ginger, err more of a fan of Marianne(ok Maryanne is the common spelling, but as this is a Jane Austen bookclub..,) than Ginger). Yes, what a wonderful nose the tea had! Maybe that was the ginger. I thought I had the best seat in the room. To my right eye, the corridor and courtyard.To my left, the delightful company. 🙂 Speaking of the corridor, it was amusing when two women stopped in the corridor to check out what we were eating and waved at us! That certainly added to the relaxed feeling I had(try that at the Taj). I don’t normally like to be observed eating, but it was perfectly fine there. I was impressed that the manager was willing to do a Tea only option for one member of our party who wasn’t sure about eating. I certainly enjoyed the food…did have a slight “reaction” to the cucumber(lol, Rebecca’s was much better last Sunday!). I agree about the bacon and tomato. Loved the salmon and caper as well. I would be delighted to go back in a couple months!

    • Aw, you two are so cute together! Yes, the women waving were pretty funny. And while I was excited at the inclusion of the cucumber sandwich, I agree that Rebecca’s are far superior.

  2. Great review, Shirley! Thanks so much! I can’t wait to try it myself… repeat! repeat! I have one observation though; the map on the table does not seem to be of Europe, but of Quebec.

    • Sounds like a repeat is definitely in the cards. I am embarrassed, but thanks for correcting me!

  3. The pictures are beautiful, too!

  4. Awesome review Shirley! Everything looks amazing! I am dying to give tea at the BPL a try now! Those sandwiches and scones have my mouth watering. :o)

    • I have a feeling we’ll be going again at some time in the future. Hopefully you can join us!

  5. Great review Shirley!! -Karen

    • Thanks!

  6. Wish I could have been there; hopefully I’ll be at some weekend teas when they arise in future, on a nice cold day, which would be nice to imagine on such a miserably tropical day as this. I respectfully disagree with Kirk that “Maryanne” is the more common spelling! I (and Austen, and France) prefer “Marianne”

  7. Thanks Shirley! I asked Erica if she liked her Tea and she said yes. Lol, I tried her Tea and didn’t like it. Although I didn’t put sugar in it(had just a small amount of the Tea).

    Lol, I prefer the way you spell it Marianne! However, probably “Mary Ann”(without the e) is more common.

    • Haha Now I’m curious: did you remember which tea she had?

  8. It was the Darjeeling that Erica tried.


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