By Judy Garrison
Anna’s stomach began to growl midafternoon. The evening meal was served at 8 p.m.—an eternity from this moment. She summoned food and received tea and slices of bread with spots of butter. Soon, butter was complemented with other delicacies. It became such an enjoyable experience, Anna invited friends to join.
This was England 1840—the beginning of the quincentennial English custom of afternoon tea. Anna, the seventh duchess of Bedford, served as Queen Victoria’s lady of the bedchamber from 1837 until 1841.
Soon, upper-class women donned their big hats and bigger skirts, slipped on white gloves and sat together. Tea was poured from silver teapots. Tiny cucumber sandwiches balanced on silver tiers, and scones were served on fine china.
Then came the debate over Devonshire cream tea or Cornish cream tea. Did the cream go directly on the scone or on top of the jam?
What about etiquette? Is the pinky straight up or tilted? What goes first, the tea or the milk? Is the tea bag’s string wrapped around the spoon to squeeze the bag? Lemon slices or wedges? Is lemon needed when milk is added?
There is a difference between high tea and afternoon tea.
The English define high tea as dinner or traditional offerings that are on the heavier side and include savory selections.
Afternoon tea is served in the late afternoon, in the living room on low tables such as a coffee table. Generally, there are three layers to this ritual of filling the gap between lunch and dinner: first, savory finger sandwiches; next, scones with jam and cream; and finally, sweet pastries, all served with a pot of tea.
The practice caught on at The Savoy in London shortly after the duchess of Bedford began her tradition. For more than a century, The Savoy’s afternoon tea— served beneath a glass-domed atrium—has been on many a tea lover’s bucket list.
Although English in origin, tea—and all that comes with it—carries a fierce universal audience. Discover these stops in South Carolina for your next spot of tea.
Shortcake Bakery and Tea Room shortcaketearoom.com
“Meals and memories are made here,” says Jessica Short Carr, co-owner and chef of Shortcake Bakery and Tea Room in Camden.
This tea room in a quaint older home in the downtown area features two small rooms and three tables.
“The kitchen staff is only one person: me,” Jessica says. “The servers are only two people: my daughters. The food and service are consistent every time a customer visits. My customers often tell me the house and family atmosphere make them feel as if they are dining in someone’s home. I have even been asked to sit and join them.”
Jessica grew up in a small town in Tennessee. She, her grandmother and aunt spent summer Saturdays visiting antique stores, looking for discarded china teacups and plates. Once purchased, they would go home and cook something fitting for their new acquisitions and enjoy afternoon tea.
A tea room was always Jessica’s dream.
After she retired from the Navy, she attended culinary school and began sharing her creations with her community. After COVID-19 closed down her initial attempt in Columbia, she rebounded. She and her husband found the house in Camden, made restorations and opened in 2020.
“Not many people can say they are living their dream, but I can,” Jessica says. “And I get to do it with my family beside me.
“There have been hard times. Since I have no kitchen staff, the responsibility lies with only me. God has made the way, and we are still chugging along. As the military taught us, you must adapt and overcome. With God’s help, that’s what we try to do day by day.”
Relaxation and enjoyment come handin- hand with the scones. Afternoon tea is served Wednesday through Sunday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., by reservation only.
Twilight Tea—an evening tea service— begins in June.
“Enjoying a quiet tea service at the end of a hectic week with a group of close friends or a partner just seems dreamy to me,” Jessica says.
Tea selection includes tisanes— herbal teas—and local South Carolina Charleston Tea Garden teas.
Laura’s Tea Room laurastearoom.com
Find the best and biggest hat. Pull on the gloves. Pick the vintage dress.
Meet your friends at Laura’s Tea Room in historic Ridgeway. If you don’t have the right hat, there is a selection to peruse at the tea room. The choice of a tea cup might be overwhelming—the selection exceeds 100—but fun soon takes over, and tea time has arrived.
Served in cups and on plates from a lifetime of collecting, high tea is served Tuesday through Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. It is a full meal served on a high table. Afternoon tea is lighter fare, and selections change with the seasons.
Reservations are required.
The Gallery Tea Room
Offering more than 53 flavors of tea, including seasonal selections, The Gallery Tea Room in Newberry serves up everything for the tea lover. Favorites are hard to narrow down. Owner Meri Ellen Ringer says it definitely depends on her mood, “but if I had to pick, Buckingham Palace Garden Party tea or Raspberry Lemon Verbena.”
The shop offers three teas: luncheon, which includes soups or sandwich with scone, tea and dessert; classic, with tea sandwiches, scones, sweet bread and desserts; and English tea, which is more on the hearty side. A themed event this month celebrates summer.
Reservations are suggested, but the tea room accepts walk-ins if space is available.
“It’s a great place to relax, refuel and reconnect with family and friends,” Meri Ellen says.
Cornwallis House Tea Co. (cornwallistea.com)
Cornwallis House Tea Co. blends tea for sale, but also offers café service with items that highlight the history and culture of the Olde English District.
Eight hot brews draw on the area’s history: a time, place or person. The company uses only the finest handcrafted teas and blends them with flowers, spices and dried fruits.
The tea room is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Online ordering is available.
East Bay Meeting House Bar & Café (eastbaymeetinghouse.com)
East Bay Meeting House Bar and Café in the heart of Charleston’s French Quarter is a marriage of a European café with Southern hospitality. It is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner.
Served daily at 3 p.m., afternoon tea can be complemented with a glass of champagne. Reservations are required at least 48 hours in advance. Options include black, green and herbal teas, plus a large sandwich and pastry selection. Homemade clotted cream makes the experience richer.
Cosmic Rabbits Tea Co. (cosmicrabbits.com)
“A cup of tea makes everything better,” proclaims Cosmic Rabbits Tea Co. owner Allie Combs.
This tea bar and gift shop specializes in sustainable, ethically sourced premium loose-leaf tea, brewed loose-leaf, bubble tea and more. It’s a fun gathering place to choose a favorite tea, order a smoothie and shop for the perfect gift for tea lovers.
The mother-daughter duo owners dealt with health issues early in life and turned to the natural mending of tea to solve them.
Cosmic Rabbits Tea Co. hopes to become a source for information and open discussion, and empower others to make choices to live better and smarter while they drink something delicious.
The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 1:30 to 6 p.m.
26 Divine Dinners and Tea Parties (twentysixdivine.com)
Husband and wife dup Enan and Jenn Parezo create show stopping private culinary experiences.
Enan’s Kitchen offers personal chef service for private parties, but it’s Jenn’s tea parties that elevate her to the pastry queen of Charleston.
Jenn’s tea party, Tea Time & Top Hats, proclaims “Let’s get fancy together.” She serves tea sandwiches, petite desserts, scones, curd and jams, along with The Charleston Tea Plantation hot teas.
To top the experience, don a hat during tea time by Charleston’s own milliner Julia Pagán Handmade Hats and enjoy afternoon tea the way the English intended.
Tea service is Wednesday through Fridays for private groups of six to eight. Tea Time with Jenn is offered for parties of eight or more for special occasions, by reservation only.
Charleston Tea Garden (charlestonteagarden.com)
America’s only tea garden is on Wadmalaw Island. Surrounded by live oaks in the low country, Charleston Tea Garden provides a firsthand look at tea production.
As a working tea farm, it educates as well as offers a fresh cup of tea to visitors. Trolley tours provide an up-close view of the tea bushes. A guide teaches how this American-grown tea makes its way into a cup.
The garden’s products can be bought at the farm, throughout the state in various retail outlets, and is served in many tea rooms. Online ordering is available.
Top Hat Special-Teas (tophatspecialteas.com)
Top Hat Special-Teas is a whimsical gem nestled in the heart of downtown Florence’s historic district. Owner Laurie Crouse thought it was a dream she would never have until the right location became available and she opened up shop in 2000. Before then, she worked for the state and did catering on the side.
The lure is that of relaxation. “The calmness of the experience and the gentleness of the tea provide a pleasure of comfort,” Laurie says.
She serves a bustling lunch crowd Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aside from a four- or six-course tea—reservations must be made in advance—the regular menu consists of items Laurie’s mother and grandmother used to make.
Laurie also offers weekly specials that include whatever she is in the mood to cook that week.
Alongside lunch, there are more than 30 flavors of tea steeped in house, served hot or iced, and some are available for sale. Don’t forget to order a scone before you sit down. It will be warm out of the oven when you’re finished with lunch.
It’s a casual atmosphere where guests can enjoy everything from English Breakfast tea to Lavender Butterfly to Farmer’s Market Kettle Corn, as well as homemade favorites, such as chicken salad, quiche and shepherd’s pie.