Tea rooms offer trip back to Victorian era

These days, many of us are used to enjoying our tea after rushing out the door with it in the morning and then sipping on it as we sit in typical bumper-to-bumper New Jersey traffic.

However, thanks to local tea rooms, some tea drinkers are now taking their tea to Victorian digs where they can sample homemade teas in an elegant, refined environment.

“Visiting a tea room is an experience,” said Kathleen Hippeli, owner of One Steep at a Thyme, an intimate Jamesburg tea shop that offers a two-hour tea service by reservation only four days a week at two seatings per day. “You come in and enjoy the ambiance of a Victorian home, have a seven-course tea service over two hours and enjoy a simpler way of being social.”

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One Steep at a Thyme, which opened four years ago, serves 125 types of tea in a 100-year-old Victorian home and seats 25 guests at a time with about 100 weekly visitors ranging from the young to the not-so-young.

“Our guests are generally 50 years old and older, but I have been finding that those guests are influencing younger ones to appreciate a finer dining experience and maintain traditions of elegance and etiquette,” said Hippeli.

The same can be said for Teaberry’s Tea Room of Flemington, a 12-year-old tea room housed in a two-floor Victorian mansion that features six dining rooms with different themes, a renovated carriage house boutique and homemade comfort food served for lunch and a menu offering services ranging from $15 to $46.

~Courtesy of Teaberry’s Tea Room

“We’re for everyone,” said Sara Peterson, Teaberry’s manager. “We do children’s birthday parties where girls bring their dolls, 19th birthday parties, bridal showers, wedding and everything in between. I love the recent Sweet 16s where girls dress in Victorian clothing and have a very refined party.”

Mulberry House Restaurant, however, a 3-year-old Westfield tea room, is a little bit different. Besides being a full-service restaurant, Mulberry House also features modern decor with stands, teapots and decor utilizing different patterns, colors and sizes rather than sticking with a vintage theme and a tea service with an average cost of $25 and brunch with an average cost of $12.

Jenna DeLorenzi, owner of the Mulberry House, said, “You’re not going to go to a tea house and have a burger and fries. It’s about different food and different combinations that you may not normally try, but at a tea house, it’s all about presentation and that can change your take on just about anything.”

~Courtesy of Mulberry House

At the Mulberry House, which can accommodate 50 guests and receives anywhere from 20 to over 100 guests per week, tea service is also personalized — each guest selects their own soup or salad, tea sandwiches, scones and sweets, all of which are from local farms and shops.

However, similar to other tea rooms, Mulberry House, which offers about 35 types of tea, as well as Teaberry’s and One Steep at a Thyme, bring in guests of all ages, especially for baby and bridal showers, cocktail parties, birthdays, engagements, baptisms and anniversaries.

So what’s making people — from 9-year-olds to 90-year-olds — stop and enjoy a nice cup of tea? According to Hippeli, it’s only natural for a day and age when people are constantly busy.

~Courtesy of One Steep at a Thyme

“Tea is soothing and it lends itself to a relaxing quality of life,” she said. “People are looking for something that allows them to slow a down a bit and to have a simpler experience, and tea is a way to bring people together.”

Hippeli said that the two-hour tea seatings go by very fast and many of her customers like to linger on the porch and continue to chat, long after their seven-course meal is over.

“If you enjoy sweets, a tea house is definitely something you must check out,” said DeLorenzi. “It’s all about calming down, relaxing and not being in such a rush, where you can enjoy a good cup of tea, scone and savory item without having to run out the door after 15 minutes.”

~Courtesy of Teaberry’s Tea Room

At Teaberry’s, customers and staff often joke that a visit to the destination, which receives 300 to 1200 weekly guests and can seat 100, is like a “mini vacation” where people will drive up to three hours to visit and spend the day as well as choose from over 100 types of teas.

After seeing the restaurant, enjoying a meal and shopping at the carriage house and boutique, which sells everything a customer needs to re-create their tea experience, a visit to Teaberry’s is a complete day out, said Peterson.

“Tea as a beverage is really catching on due to its health benefits,” said Peterson. “Plus, people are so busy and they just want to hit pause for a minute in a relaxing, beautiful surrounding where they can linger.”

One Steep at a Thyme

Where: 170 Gatzmer Ave., Jamesburg

Contact: onesteepatathyme.com, 732-641-2570

Seatings: By reservation only at noon and 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday

Teaberry’s Tea Room

Where: 2 Main St., Flemington

Contact: teaberrys.com, 908-788-1010

Seatings: Open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Reservations recommended. 

Mulberry House Restaurant

Where: 415 Westfield Ave., Westfield

Contact: mulberryhouserestaurant.com, 908-233-3562

Seatings: Open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday for tea service and lunch and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for brunch. Reservations recommended. 

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