Tea. It’s a mysterious drink. As a little kid, tea meant “iced tea” (or as we called it in Texas, Ice Tea.) People drank coffee or ice tea. I wasn’t aware of the concept of hot tea until childhood was behind me.
When I think of what I missed! Even when I reached the teen years my introduction to a cup of hot tea consisted of a tea kettle of water heated on the stove, and poured into a cup containing a Lipton tea bag. No wonder I never took to it! Later on I discovered herbal teas and some flavored teas, but it was still always dispensed in a tea bag.
At some point I must have experienced tea brewed with just the leaves, but it never seemed impressive enough to do it that way myself…until recently.
Last year I found my way to the St. James Tearoom. I’d heard of these places but never experienced one. The occasion never presented itself, and with my lukewarm appetite for tea, it didn’t seem likely I would ever make the effort. But things have a way of coming together, in just the perfect way and the ideal time, to launch us into new adventures. The day I walked in to the tearoom last October, the ambiance of the place and the lovely people I met propelled me to arrange an outing for the next week.
We have a dear friend who visits us a couple of times a year from Maryland. On his trip last October he was in search of fine teas for his daughter. He did some research and found two tea shops in the area that he wanted to visit. The first one we saw didn’t impress me that much. They sold loose tea, tea pots and accessories, and served lunch. But it was more like a small cafe that also sold tea. Nothing special, and certainly no atmosphere.
The next stop took us to the St. James Tearoom, and I fell in love. When they discovered we were unfamiliar with their operation, I was offered a tour. To walk through the door is to step back in time and place. You are in Victorian England, and the furnishings and decorations quickly make you at home in that era.
The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, and tea is served during two-hour sessions. Reservations are required. You and your friends are seated in your own private room, where the table is set for you with elegant tea cups and saucers, matching china plate, and dainty utensils. A pot of tea, complete with a tea cozy, is brought to you for starters. The menu for the day is explained, and when they bring in the three-tiered tray and set it down you know you are in heaven. They explain you will be served three different teas, one for each of the courses on the tray, and that you have the room for a luxurious two hours.
Everything is so delicious I’ve had to learn to pace myself. In this day and age we are all used to hurrying through a meal so we can move on to the next thing on our list. At the St. James you learn to slow down and experience a more genteel time. From the first I’ve been accompanied by two dear friends. Although we see each other and talk together often, it’s different at tea. We’ve found we engage in conversations that are more meaningful, and learn more about each other than we ever had. After about our third visit, we decided the place must be magic, because each visit is more enchanting than the previous one.
We try to go once a month. At first it seemed like an expensive indulgence, but now it’s an investment in mental health. Actually, you can purchase one of their “Passports” which gets stamped each time you visit. After your eighth visit, you earn a free tea time. This week we cashed in for our free one, and we’re looking forward to going seven more times to earn another free experience.
A happy overflow of this tearoom experience has been buying some of the loose teas to take home. My wonderful husband and I started our own evening tea time. It’s a chance to stop and unwind, and it’s a soothing break in the evening. I’ve learned how to properly brew it and serve it in some charming cups I picked up at the tearoom.
I’m glad I found out what I’ve been missing all these years!