Going to a tearoom can pose a dilemma: if you don’t know why you’re there, you can’t get the most out of the experience. Is it for a social event where you and your family, friends, or fellow members of the “Red Hat Society” meet? A meal featuring tea and tiny teatime tidbits (finger sandwiches, mini-mince pies, fruit tarts, etc.)? An opportunity to try a new tea? A chance for the Anglophile in you to have a British-style tea without going through airport security checks (not to mention those all-over body scanners)?
Yes. Yes. Yes. And definitely Yes!
You need to determine your purpose for going to a tearoom, since the type of experience you have there is largely determined by that purpose. If it’s social, you’ll be more focused on the people you’re with. If you’re there for a meal, the food may be as, or more, important to you than the tea. Going to a tearoom to try a new tea means you’ll be counting on the staff being knowledgeable about the teas being served there. Those of you wanting that British experience will be looking as much for atmosphere (décor, music, as well as British-style foods) as for that most special way of serving tea.
I’ve done them all. From celebrating life events such as birthdays and anniversaries, to having a quick and light lunch, to just wanting a new tea taste experience, to getting a dose of that special island when the anglophile in me misses the starched white table linens, gleaming dishware, and fragrance of a steaming pot of tea.
As one who lives the “tea life” and continually seeks to learn more about tea, I look to tearooms as a place to learn. Usually, however, I end up teaching my server a bit about the tea I end up ordering. In many tearooms I’ve visited, the staff didn’t know a lot about the tea they were serving, which sometimes overpriced under the circumstances. There was also no thought given to what foods would taste good with which tea (not a problem unless that’s why you’re there).
Tearooms seem to be tougher to run than cafés, diners, or restaurants. For one thing, customers have very different expectations when going to a tearoom than those other places. They seem more inclined to consider the occasion a social one. Some tearoom owners I know get frustrated that their customers think “It’s just tea, why is it so expensive?” They compare the price of fine quality teas served in a true tearoom with the cost of a box of teabags (the lower end kind) in a grocery store. Sort of like comparing a Lexus to a Pinto (the car that could explode if rear-ended) — both serve the basic purpose of transportation, but the former does it with style and comparative safety.
In a tough economy, tearooms face an even harder time of satisfying customers while making enough to at least cover their costs (let alone make a profit). I know of one in our area that had to close after years of operation. Too many people wanted a cheap tea experience but expected the best teas to be served. While most certainly an affordable indulgence, teas are labor intensive and take quite a journey from grower to vendor (or tearoom) to you.
Just a few things to think about next time you visit a tearoom. Enjoy!
Stopping by A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, can often be a real “tea experience” in itself.