It’s true. People here do drink tea. Don’t let that coffee-shop-per-every-block thing fool you.
A recent convert myself, I went looking for places to sit and sip tea and was pleasantly surprised to find a divergent community of tea haunts.
I found places where ladies feast on scones and crustless sandwiches. I encountered tea purveyors carrying 300 varieties of teas, botanicals and tisanes, which are concoctions that don’t actually contain tea, but often are referred to as tea. I found quiet corners to sip, relax and thumb through a book.
My goal here is to introduce you to places where you can simply enjoy a cup of tea.
Have a tea tip? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cream tea. Afternoon tea. High tea. Find myriad tea sets — or tea services, as some call them — at three ladies-who-lunch tea rooms in East Pierce County (plus updates on two former tea rooms). For the uninitiated, tea sets come with an assortment of snacks, ranging from scones and tea (cream) to tiered racks layered with pastries and tea sandwiches (afternoon or high tea).
Consider Secret Garden the finest themed tea destination in the area. That’s largely because of its location inside a beautifully maintained Victorian home (finished in 1890 by hop farmers). Husband-and-wife owners Elizabeth Kleingartner and Mark Elliott opened Secret Garden in 2006. They reside upstairs in a private apartment. Downstairs, a series of pristine rooms are outfitted for tea parties large and small, with a gift shop on the other side of the house. Outside, find resting benches and grounds for wandering.
The decor appeared spot on for an ideal ladies-who-lunch destination, with every detail tended: delicate tongs for sugar cubes, ornate metal spatulas thoughtfully placed for hot foods, elaborate strainers for pouring loose tea with ease.
The Larkspur Luncheon Tea ($26 per person) astounded with the volume of treats. (A tea set can be split, as long as a basket of scones is also purchased.)
A pot of tea for each table member arrived first, followed by scones, baked until lightly golden — but not dry — and served with lemon curd, jam and cream (ask for as many scones as you like).
Raspberry sorbet preceded the big affair: a three-tier tray that was loaded with goodies. I wasn’t surprised to learn that everything is scratch baked by the owners. It tasted it.
Tier one held sandwiches, one wedge each of a delicious cranberry-pecan salad, an egg salad flecked with dill and a cucumber-butter sandwich with pepper thoughtfully dancing up the flavor. Layer two was an array of hot items: a Greek-themed sun-dried tomato quiche; a creamy-centered artichoke popover; a puff pastry filled with a warm onion dip — all flanked by fruit.
Layer three nearly did me in: a red velvet cookie, orange fudge, crunchy shortbread, a chocolate cupcake, a chocolate cup filled with peppermint mousse, and a cheesecake cupcake topped with a cherry. All that was followed up by warm towel service. Just lovely.
STEEPED IN COMFORT TEA ROOM AND GIFT SHOP
Step through the threshold at Lakewood’s Steeped in Comfort and straight into your grandmother’s living room, outfitted with cushioned farmhouse chairs and adorably mismatched floral linens. The charming mismatched theme carried to vintage patterned cups and saucers.
The tea room belongs to Heather Todd and her husband, Benjamin, who bought it eight years ago with Benjamin’s mother, who has since retired.
Lady Grey’s Afternoon Tea ($20.95 per person) started with a pot of tea for each of us, followed by a strawberry-topped tart filled with silky pastry cream. Individual two-tier platters came next, holding crustless finger sandwiches containing straightforward egg salad on white; ham and cheese on an outstanding marble rye; tuna on that same rye; and chicken salad on wheat, kicked up with dill. An eggy wedge of ham-and-cheese quiche was the sole baked offering.
Topping the tier were two large scones with cream, lemon curd and raspberry preserves. One bite proved that Steeped in Comfort baked the best buttery scones.
“I use a lot of eggs, butter and cream,” Heather said. “It’s all real ingredients. I didn’t really care for scones when we were going to start this place. I figured I better come up with a better recipe. It’s somewhere between a cake and a scone.”
Part bakery, part store, part cafe, part tea room. British Bites is an all-purpose destination for anyone wanting a true British experience. Owner Terry Williams hails from England. She started a baking business, then merged with the former T-4-2 on Meridian in Puyallup before relocating to East Main in 2013.
The grocery store is front and center, with the bakery to the rear. To the right is a fuss-free, bistro-style dining room crisply appointed with white walls and matching white linens.
Tea service must be pre-ordered here, which means your food will be ready when you arrive. The Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea ($38.95 for two) started with a pot of tea, followed by a three-tier platter. The first tier held one sandwich each of ham-and-tomato on white, smoked salmon and cucumber on wheat with a smear of butter, and a curry-kissed chicken salad on a flaky croissant. A sausage roll was a two-bite affair. Tier two held desserts aplenty: a tiny gingerbread man; a mini Victorian cake filled with buttercream; a cherry bakewell with an almond backbone; a buttery oatmeal cookie; a lemon tart; and the bakery’s finest creation, buttery shortbread with a satisfying snap. Flaky scones with cream, curd and jam filled the third tier.
I took note of something quite interesting. The tea room specializes in gluten-free tea service, something I’ve never seen. The facility is not gluten-free, although the items served are.
STEEPED TEA ROOMS
These tea rooms sell steeped teas and offer plenty of seating for sipping. The tea rooms all specialize in hundreds of varieties of loose teas, tisanes and botanical/herbal infusions.
It looks just like a coffee house, but built for people who love tea. The front room is flanked by books; the rear is a salon with board games. It’s absolutely the best destination for serious tea drinkers, with 300 varieties of teas, tisanes, botanical infusions and an expert staff. The tea shop is known for its unusual blends. Want to try before you buy? Sit and sip a cup or pot. It is the largest tea room in the area, but also had what I find to be the best price for the product. 1130 Commerce St., Tacoma; 253-441-2111 or madhattea.com.
LOOSE TEA SHOPS
These shops don’t offer steeped tea or seating, but they do have helpful staffers to assist in the exploration of the wide world of tisanes and loose teas.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
FOR YOUR TEA CALENDAR
This might be Tacoma’s best kept tea secret: The first Saturday of every month at 10 a.m., the Asia Pacific Cultural Center explores a different tea of Asia. February’s event focused on tea of the Philippines, and March will feature the tea of Korea. Tea service is $10, or $5 if you’re an APCC member. Find more details at asiapacificculturalcenter.org or call 253-383-3900.