Whenever I have a day off, I always plan my schedule to include a cup of hot tea with a little milk and sugar, a few freshly baked cookies or scones, and either a cozy mystery audiobook or a murder mystery on the tele. Throw in some cross stitching, LEGO construction, or crochet, and you have the absolute perfect day.
When Barb excitedly called me one day in October to tell me about a combination murder mystery + afternoon tea party, I was too excited to speak. Did I want to go? Of course. However, now that we’re in our adult years, you can’t just agree to every awesome sounding event at the drop of a hat. You have to wait for your work schedule, see if there’s any pressing appointments on the calendar, check if a family member’s birthday is on that day, etc.
Unfortunately, after responsibly checking everything and confirming we could attend the event… it sold out. I was extremely bummed,but I think Barb was even more bummed. She’s not only a book lover, but also a librarian. She introduced me to several cozy mystery series and she also loves food (just like me) including afternoon tea. You can imagine how sad both of us were to miss the event.
However, in November… I received yet another excited call from Barb: the event was coming back! The event, hosted by Scrawl Books of Reston Town Center and The Elden Street Tea Shop of Herndon, Virginia (recently moved to Reston, Virginia) would be on November 11th, 2023 at 12:30 PM and include the following:
- An afternoon tea party at The Tower Club in Tysons Corner, Virginia
- A meet and greet with local mystery authors
- An interactive murder mystery to solve
This time, Barb and I had to attend. Being a responsible adult can wait. We had a murder to solve!
Although Xak is my afternoon tea partner for life, I knew he would be just fine with cozy mystery loving Barb accompanying me instead. We made plans for him to drop me off at The Tower Club and then meet up later for Pokemon Go raiding and dinner.
November 11th was going to be a great day!
About the Event
Each ticket cost $57~ which included the food, drink, and the experience. This is in line with other afternoon tea rooms in the Northern Virginia area, except those teas don’t have a bonus immersive experience. After purchasing the tickets, I received an email that explained logistics and even included a video about how to access the event location.
The email included some more details such as free parking validation for two hours, alcohol available for purchase, local authors attending, and also a section mentioning that “dress up” was highly encouraged. By dressing up, however, they didn’t mean formal wear. They meant dressing up as your favorite cozy mystery character or famous detectives.
Sadly I don’t own a deerstalker, a trench coat, or anything that resembles Jessica Fletcher’s wardrobe. I would have to find something decent and boring from within my closet. If anyone asked, I’d just tell them I was an amateur sleuth food blogger. 😏
Since I’ve never been to an event like this before, I didn’t really know what to expect and lay in bed thinking about some very important questions:
- Would I have to talk to strangers?
- What does “interactive event” mean?
- What if nobody in the room could solve the mystery?
- What would Xak and I get for dinner tomorrow?? 🤔
Parking and Finding the 17th Floor
The next day, Xak and I headed to Tysons Corner so I would arrive 15 minutes early. The email was quite clear that the event would start at exactly 12:30 PM and I did not want to be late. As we pulled up to the address, I realized I would be in the familiar “shopping bag” building that almost every Northern Virginia resident would recognize.
Xak pulled into the parking garage for me to get out and we exchanged goodbyes. As he headed over to Caffe Amouri for his solo adventure, I looked around and realized I had no idea where I was and cursed myself for not fully paying attention to the attached video.
After walking around the practically empty parking garage, I found a sign pointing me to some doors which I entered and found a hallway. It looked like the basement of a corporate building. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, nobody was around and it felt a little eerie and unsettling. Is this what they meant by “interactive murder mystery”??
Luckily, I found the elevators, but I still had yet to see anyone. I quickly pressed the Lobby button and after what felt like forever, I entered a room with a very large chandelier and most importantly, other people!
Unfortunately, Barb was not one of the people in the lobby. As I stood looking out the window waiting for her, a mother and daughter pair approached me and asked if I was going to the tea event. I explained I was waiting for someone, but I was 95% sure we were in the right location.
I watched them head over to the elevators and nervously watched the clock. Knowing my luck, the elevators would go out and we would have to climb 17 flights of stairs. I finally saw Barb’s car pull up into a parking spot conveniently located in the front of the entrance. I quickly waved her over and she rushed inside.
Once we got to the elevators, we headed to the 14th floor and then had to step out and find yet another elevator which required walking down another hallway, hitting “17” and then FINALLY (three elevators in total), we arrived at the Tower Club on the 17th floor! Good thing I watched that video…
The tower Club
The Tower Club is a private venue for business and social gatherings. Imagine networking career events with cocktails and delicious passed hors d’oeuvres; that sort of vibe. I realized I was pretty underdressed. I would really have to sell this “amateur sleuth food blogger” persona if anyone asked.
We approached the event entrance in a private room and saw a line of attendees waiting to scan their tickets. As we waited, there was a table full of books set up by the Scrawl Books employees. Barb excitedly looked through the titles set out on the table and commented on all the ones she recognized or owned (meaning all of them).
The room was quite packed already and I wondered where Barb and I would be placed since we were only a party of two. Guests were escorted to tables and I noticed that all the tables for two were already taken. Great, we would have to sit with strangers. 😐
Once we got to the front of the line, I showed our tickets and we were taken to the farthest table in the very back of the room. We walked by other tables full of happy, chattering people who seemed to know each other. I noticed that other guests had indeed dressed up for the occasion, either with more formal dresses, hats, and some elaborate costumes. Good thing the view from the Tower Club is impressive enough to distract from your insecurities 😅
We were dropped off at a table that already had two other guests. I realized it was the same mother and daughter pair I had run into downstairs. As we formally introduced ourselves, I learned that I was sitting with Lily and Margaret, also Northern Virginia residents, meaning they too recognized the building we were in from years of driving past it.
This was also their first time at an event like this, but they appreciated afternoon tea and wanted to check it out. We pleasantly chatted about our various afternoon tea experiences and exchanged names of local tea rooms we recommended.
To answer question one from my sleepless night: Would I have to talk strangers? Yes, but it was actually kind of nice.
The Tea Table
Our table of four was elegantly set with tea cups, saucers, fancy napkin rings, glasses of water, salt and pepper shakers, and sugar cubes with tongs. Among closer inspection though, I noticed that the sugar cubes were actually sugar skulls!
I also noticed that I had a thin slip of paper underneath my plate. I looked at Lily, Margaret and Barb’s place and saw nobody else had one.
The paper read “7. Journalist Olivia Mitchell: An investigative journalist seeking the next big story. 1” I was alarmed. What did that mean? Was this a clue? As we all puzzled over why nobody else at our table received a slip of paper, the event hostess (and owner of Elden Street Tea Shop) came by our table to ask if anyone had a piece of paper at their place setting. I cautiously raised my hand and was informed that I would be taking part in the murder mystery!
Hostess: “When the time comes, you need to mention that you overheard a heated argument between Senator Carter and Mr. Thompson.”
Me: “Uh…. ok”
For sleepless night question #2: What does “interactive event” mean? It apparently means saying you heard arguments between people you don’t know!
As the four of us at our table wondered what exactly I would have to do, the event began. Introductions were made including announcing the teas we would be served. In total, we would have three teas specially blended by Elden Street Tea:
- Celebration Tea – a Vanilla black tea with clove and cinnamon. It looked very pretty in the cup since there were gold sprinkles.
- Blood Orange Tea – a non-caffeinated tea with apple hibiscus, rose hips, and safflower petals. The crowd (including me) “ooohed” excitedly since this was chosen to go along with the Murder Mystery theme.
- Dragon Well Green Tea – a light Chinese green tea
During the event, servers came by each table with pots of tea to pour into cups. However, because we were seated so far in the back, by the time the servers came to our table, the pots were already mostly empty, and the server would leave to brew another pot. Then they would go around the tables again and we would be last and the cycle repeated!
Noticeably missing from our tables were milk, spoons, and a way to clean out your cup in between different teas. Since the Celebration Tea was a black tea, Margaret and I wanted to put milk in, however since no milk was at our table, we had to request it and wait for it to arrive. After a long delay, it finally came but the tea was very cold at that point. Poor Barb requested a refill and never received it. At one point out of desperation, despite none of us being big green tea fans, we requested the green tea just because we wanted something to drink!
While the two teas I drank were quite delicious, particularly the Celebration Tea, the tea service overall was sadly very spotty and we maybe only had two to three cups max. I made a mental note to purchase the Celebration Tea afterwards.
The Three Tiered Tray
After taking a few cold sips of tea, the three tiered trays came out and were placed on our tables. Before we could ask any questions though, the servers walked away and we were left to identify the food on our own.
The food appeared to be the following:
- Egg salad Croissant
- Spinach Quiche
- Blueberry Scone with strawberry preserves and butter
- Fruit tarts
- Red velvet cupcake
- Chocolate Covered strawberry
At most of the tea rooms I’ve visited, there are usually a variety of 3-5 savories and sandwiches. For here though, there were only two. This was a little disappointing because the savories are my favorite part of tea, however I was quite hopeful with the selection.
The egg salad was mustard based and served in a quarter of a soft croissant. Barb liked this one the best.
The spinach quiche was quite tasty. It had a pastry crust base and good flavor.
The savories weren’t bad, but I do wish they were either a bit bigger or that there was more for each person. I think this was the very first tea I’ve attended without a cucumber sandwich!
The blueberry scones were sprinkled with sugar crystals and served with mini jars of Dickinsons strawberry preserves and little balls of butter. None of us opened our jars since the scone was more like a coffee shop scone than something you would slather Devonshire cream on.
The scone itself was a little dry, but had good flavor and was sweet. I was also glad it was on the larger side.
I do think one of the joys of scones during tea is lots of cream and jam. I made another mental note, this time to see if Xak would be willing to bake a batch of his cream scones later.
We worked our way up to the top tier in record time.
The fruit tart was topped with glazed strawberry, blueberries, kiwi, and a mandarin orange. Xak is the tart lover between the two of us, but I do love seeing these at afternoon tea because they’re so pretty. Surprisingly, there was chocolate at the bottom of the tart shell. As pretty as the tart was, the shell was thick and crunchy and also slightly messy when actually trying to eat it.
The red velvet cupcake had the expected chocolate flavor and the cream cheese icing. Nothing too memorable or unique, but still tasty enough.
The chocolate covered strawberry reminded me of the fancy strawberries one might receive during Valentines Day: a tempered chocolate shell exterior with a drizzle of white chocolate on top.
The desserts were fine but not particularly special. At this point though, we were ready to get started with the murder mystery!
The Murder Mystery
After our trays were cleared, the authors came around to each table to meet us and talk about their books. Since the room was so large though, only one of the authors came by to our table. Maya Corrigan, the author of the Five-Ingredient Mystery series, dropped by to introduce herself and her books. Barb, of course, already had her books and she asked Maya to sign one of them. Although I hadn’t read the books before, this series definitely looked like my cup of tea (heh) since it features murder, food, and recipes specific to each book.
While Maya and Barb were chatting, the hostess went to the front of the room to announce that the murder mystery was beginning! As everyone filed back to their seats, she explained how it would work.
The room was split up into two and each side would solve separate murders. As the hostess came to our side of the room, she read a quick story that set the scene explaining that someone named Senator Carter (hm…) had died. With that, she then said we had to seek out clues and walked over to the other side.
All of us looked at each other, unsure what was next. With no direction, all the people with slips of paper under their plates decided to read out who they were. There were socialites, senators, a party event planner, an apothecary/herbalist, and a journalist (me).
Not knowing what else to do, I blurted out “I overheard a heated argument between Senator Carter and Mr. Thompson!” Everyone turned to stare at me and I walked over to the character playing Mr. Thompson and then asked “What were you arguing about?” Mr. Thompson then responded that they were not arguing and they were just having a discussion. I demanded to know with whom. After all, that’s what journalists do, right?
At some point though, Mr. Thompson turned it on me and accused me of murdering Senator Carter. Everyone else started nodding along with them. Someone even asked why I was eavesdropping on a private conversation! I then started questioning myself:
However, eventually the conversation went away from me and pointed at others. Unfortunately, no one really knew what we were doing and the hostess came back to see how off base we were. She had to give us hints until finally we realized that Mr. Thompson (the original person who was part of the “heated argument” that I supposedly heard) was indeed the murderer.
So for question #3 from my sleepless night: What if nobody in the room could solve the mystery? Apparently, you get a ton of hints and you start pointing and accusing people until you’re informed that you finally said the right name 🤣
I really love the concept of mashing together two amazing things: cozy mysteries and afternoon tea. I’m glad I had the opportunity to attend, because I know for a fact I would always want to know and would not be satisfied until I attended. With that being said…
The mystery was a little confusing and chaotic because nobody really seemed to know what they were supposed to do or say. For anyone who wasn’t one of the “cast” members, you also didn’t really feel like you were participating due to it being too hard to understand what was going on. Barb, Lily, and Margaret (along with others) ended up staying seated at their table.
For the afternoon tea portion, I did appreciate that we were able to try out different teas, but because we were in the back, we barely tried any. It seemed like the servers forgot about us even after we asked multiple times. The food was fine, but I just wish there was more of it!
I was also disappointed because the Celebration tea Margaret and I enjoyed the most was unavailable for purchase on that day, which I found surprising. I was told to either come by the store to buy it or buy it online. When I went to buy it online later, it was sold out. This was a bummer because I know that Xak would have enjoyed it too.
This event is definitely more of an experience versus an actual afternoon tea. While I did prepare myself for that, I’m still a bit disappointed because we were unable to really enjoy any tea that day.
While I don’t think I’ll attend one of these in the future, I am grateful for the experience. I’m also really happy that Barb and I got to sit at Lily and Margaret’s table. To Lily and Margaret, if you are reading this, thank you so much for the enjoyable experience. It was such a pleasure to meet you. I hope your December tea at home went well and maybe we will see each other in the future!
Bonus: Reunion with Xak
After the event was done, Barb and I went down the multiple elevators to go back to her car and I gave Xak a call to tell him I was ready for him to pick me up. A few short minutes later, Xak arrived car-less and on foot. Apparently he had left Caffe Amouri and went to the Tysons Corner mall a few minutes from my location.
We said bye to Barb and walked back to do some Pokemon Go raids and stop at the Lego store while I chattered on happily to Xak about how I wasn’t a murderer! After several raids, we decided to answer Sleepless Night question number 4 of what we were going to eat for dinner: Super Chicken!
Since we were already in the Vienna area, we also decided to drop by Meadowlark Botanical Gardens to visit their Winter Walk of Lights display. The garden is brilliantly lit up as you walk around for about a half mile taking slightly fuzzy pictures.
As we neared the end of the path, we saw signs to purchase warm beverages. A nice cup of tea or hot chocolate did sound nice. But… maybe we could enjoy it in the comfort our own home, under some blankets, while watching a real murder mystery. Sounds like a good plan to me! 😊