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Tour: Afternoon tea in metro Atlanta

Most Americans have been getting our tea terminology all wrong. In Britain, “high tea,” hoity-toity though it sounds, is pretty much an after-school snack. A few biscuits and a hot, homey pot of brew.

What we think of as tea — with the tiered trays and the crustless sandwiches and the clotted cream — is actually called “afternoon tea,” in the queen’s English. And that is very posh indeed.

Or … is it? It’s the rare Southern lady who hasn’t toasted a wedding or baby bump at a shmancy afternoon tea, often found at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, the Four Seasons or the St. Regis, where afternoon tea costs $40 per adult and $22 per child.

But, there are less costly teas to be had in Atlanta.

At most of the following places — alterna-teas, if you will — not only is the price tag considerably lower, but all fussiness is ironic, and giggling is practically mandatory as you sip with crooked pinky. (However, reservations are required.)

And you’ll still get the real deal — chicken salad every which way, lemon curd and clotted cream, crustless sandwiches and teeny-tiny tarts. So. Many. Scones.

Such dainties were delightful at all our afternoon teas, but the tea itself was the centerpiece — creatively flavored, brewed with precision and served with such reverence, you just might crook that pinky as a gesture of respect.

Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party. 1645 McLendon Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-474-1402,

This Candler Park cafe is pretty much an Amy Sherman-Palladino film set. No quirky, grungy detail is missing. There are the tatty needlepoints on cracked plaster walls, the parasols and paper cranes dangling from the ceiling, the old books everywhere, and, oh!, the vintage china — all mismatched and artfully chipped. Even our server felt cinematic in his black T-shirt, porkpie hat and Brooklynish accent.

What he served was unabashedly all-American: A full-bellied pot of tea from a 70-flavor list that includes options like caramel apple rooibos and cucumber mint white tea. Sweet potato scones were massive and paired with equally generous dishes of clotted cream and strawberry jam. The sweets were almost aggressively everyday: brownies, vanilla mini cupcakes, chocolate chip cookies and a tiny scoop of ice cream. Only the sandwiches were delicate — pickle-laced egg salad and a very spicy and very orange pimento cheese composed on small rounds of very soft white bread.

This “high tea” is served only 3-5:30 p.m. and costs $17.50 per person. Dr. Bombay’s also offers simpler teas throughout the day. Any “Gilmore Girls”-style banter, however, is up to you.

ZenTea Tea Bar and Meditation Room. 5356 Peachtree Road, Chamblee. 678-547-0877,

When you walk into Zen Tea, a boxy storefront across from the railroad tracks in Chamblee, you’ll see endless shelves of shiny gold packages, each stuffed with precious, flavorful leaves. It’s pretty much the Fort Knox of tea.

But, if you’re at Zen for afternoon tea, you don’t stay in this sun-drenched space. You’ll head to the back room, where a few chandeliers and some tchotchkes dress up what is the store room — stacked banquet chairs, cardboard boxes and all.

Another surprise: This place, with its soft Eastern music and Buford Highway-adjacent location, serves a tea that’s as Western as it gets, from the chicken salad on croissant to the quiche to the cream-filled pastries and sherbet.

But, really, the tea is the thing here (and probably the reason for the $24 per person price tag). Each diner gets two pots — one to go with the savories, another for the sweets. Your server will help you navigate the 160-plus options by bringing tins for you to sniff. Make sure to inhale with eyes wide open. Many of the teas, like the silver buds called White Pearl, are as beautiful as they are fragrant.

But, close your eyes as you sip, breathing in intense flavors like strawberry mango and silken, floral ones like that White Pearl, because that’s the Zen part, and it’s lovely.

Tipple & Rose Tea Parlor and Apothecary. 806 N. Highland Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 678-705-7995,

You know that stylish friend who mixes a vintage coat with a sleek, modern blouse and her 10-year-old ankle boots and somehow elegantly pulls it all off? That’s Tipple & Rose, where everything is chic and delicious and well put together, and it all looks effortless.

Victorian velvet chaises and thrones are placed around an otherwise sleek, modern space, warmed up by ancient hardwood floors and shelves cozily stocked with tea pots, bath salts and jarred yummies.

Oh, and by the way, the whole joint is filled with the sumptuous, savory smell of baking.

Which is to say, this tea is chef-driven, from the aromatic smoked salmon-boursin sandwiches to the light-and-flaky walnut scones to the exquisite macarons. There are 140 teas on hand, and if you arrive before your reservation, you can sniff every one at a brilliantly organized bank of tins in the back of the cafe.

Going along with Tipple’s thoroughly modern bent, you can opt for a vegan or gluten-free tea, if you like. There’s also Southern, traditional, brunch and childrens’ teas, with prices that range from $15 to $35 per person.

No matter which tea you take, it’ll end with a digestif that includes locally made kombucha, served in a glass flute and garnished with a sprig of thyme. Because, the chic and unexpected? That’s just what Tipple & Rose does, making it all look easy.

Tea Leaves & Thyme. 8990 S. Main St., Woodstock. 770-516-2609,

Going to Tea Leaves & Thyme is like stepping into your favorite children’s book. Or, at least, my favorite children’s book. The roof shingles on the historic Woodstock tea house are green.

Anne with an E, my bookish daughter and I agreed, would love this place.

So did we. Each sweetly frumpy room is filled with knickknacks and silver and tiny tables layered with formal linens. There is a hallway filled with lacy frocks and old-timey hats that you’re welcome to don for added atmosphere. The china and silver are winningly mismatched, but never chipped.

Of all our teas, this was the most elaborate. My “classic” afternoon tea ($16.50 per person) included so many tiny treats, I lost track. But, among them were a creamy, smoky ham salad sandwich and pineapple cream cheese on cinnamon raisin bread

My daughter’s goodies, from the Mad Hatter Children’s Teas ($12 per person), commingled with mine on our triple-tier tray, and a good thing. I stole blissful bites from her chocolate-dipped PBJ and a tiny mouse made from a chocolate dipped cherry with slivered almond ears.

We were charged with choosing just one tea flavor from a multi-page menu, so we went with something that seemed appropriately old-fashioned, Southern and sweet — a creamy concoction called Lemon Soufflé. Our young and ever-smiling server confided, “Oh, that one is a best-seller.”

Of course, it is.

<<QUIZ: What kind of tea are you?

<<RELATED: More places for tea in metro Atlanta

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