Paula McKenna of Ri Ra Irish Pub: Life is like a cup of tea — it’s all about how you make it

Editor’s Note: Our sincere thanks to the guest columnists who filled in for Robin Leach during his two months of annual summer travels. Robin has returned from Mexico, and on Sunday we’ll have his story of the 100 new restaurants and vineyards that have sprung up north of Ensenada. We’ll continue with our columnists until his return here for Labor Day Weekend.

Today, one of our guest columns is by Paula McKenna of Ri Ra Irish Pub at Mandalay Bay who keeps the tradition of afternoon tea alive and well. It’s not always about champagne! In our other guest column, we turn the spotlight on the incredible work of The Children’s Heart Center of Nevada. Let’s settle back with a spot of tea with Paula, Ri Ra’s assistant general manager:

By Paula McKenna

The Irish tradition of afternoon tea is very much alive on The Emerald Isle, which is why we wanted to bring Irish history to Las Vegas by offering a traditional afternoon tea. Did you know that Ireland has the largest tea consumption per capita? This might not be a surprise to most people, as we Irish are well known for loving our “cuppa” and take our tea very seriously.

Our history with tea dates to the early 1800s. Ireland’s first imported tea came in 1835 and quickly became popular among the wealthy. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that it spread to rural people, and all of Ireland was hooked. Throughout the country, small grocers began opening, and they started exchanging butter and eggs for tea and sugar.

Legend has it that in 1662, Catherine of Braganza of Portugal married Charles II of England and brought with her the preference for tea, which had already become common in Europe. As tea was her temperance drink of choice, it slowly gained social acceptance among the aristocracy. After some time, she had replaced wine, ale and spirits with tea as the court drink.

The actual drinking of tea in the afternoon developed into a new social event between the late 1830s and early 1840s. Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford and one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, is credited with “inventing” afternoon tea. This came about when she became hungry around 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

With her household evening meal beginning at 8 o’clock, the duchess began looking for a small meal between lunch and dinner. To satisfy her appetite, she would ask for a tray of tea, bread and butter and cake be brought to her room during the late afternoon. Over time, her afternoon tea became a daily part of her routine, and she invited friends to partake in the festivities.

Queen Victoria began hosting her own parties as a way of re-entering society after the passing of her beloved husband, Albert. Other women started hosting their own afternoon tea, and quickly the new social event spread like wildfire across the country.

Here at Ri Ra, we keep the tradition alive by serving our afternoon tea every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Our menu includes delicate, savory and crustless finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones served with Irish preserves and fresh cream, miniature sweets and loose-leaf teas.

We also make sure to follow tea etiquette very closely to ensure that our guests have an exceptional experience. Guidelines include order of the meal, correct tea decor and proper placement of utensils. Afternoon tea is in our blood, and we love sharing a cuppa with guests.

After all, life is like a cup of tea: It’s all about how you make it.

Be sure to check out our other guest column today from Steven Eisen, CEO of The Children’s Heart Center of Nevada, and the incredible work being done at the center by “big hearts for kids with tiny hearts.” Robin was very busy over the weekend on overseas phone calls to Macau and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for stories from the Asian gaming capital and upcoming Summer Paralympics, respectively, that we’ll have in Friday Neon of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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