By Amy Cates
Photography by William Dickey
Whether enjoying afternoon tea against a panoramic view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor or gathering with friends over brunch in a courtyard in Annapolis, taking tea in central Maryland comes in many forms.
These two culturally rich cities—each within a 40-minute drive from the nation's capital—boast distinct personalities. A major seaport town in the 1700s, Annapolis is the state capital and home to the U.S. Naval Academy and more 18th-century buildings than any other city in the United States. Baltimore’s famous waterfront remains a tribute to the city’s seafaring and trading heritage.
Mixed with the area’s rich history, shopping venues, and scenic architecture, these cities offer an eclectic mix of time-honored, as well as revolutionary, tearooms.
Brightons at Harbor Court Hotel
550 Light Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
A short distance from Baltimore’s downtown business district, Brightons at Harbor Court Hotel features exquisite luxury accommodations and ranks as a popular dining spot in the city’s Inner Harbor. The elegant dining area is part of the restaurant’s appeal, but on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, it’s the tea that attracts guests.
Afternoon tea at Brightons is a special treat, featuring warm scones, flavorful sandwiches, and several varieties of teas, from Earl Grey to exotic herbals and fruit teas. An à la carte menu supplements the three-course tea selections, and a view of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor enhances the experience.
Thir-tea First Street Cafe & Tearoom
414 E. 31st Street
Baltimore, MD 21218
This converted Victorian on the namesake East 31st Street in the Waverly area of north Baltimore serves up a fun tea experience in a unique venue.
The upstairs space offers privacy for small gatherings like birthday parties showers, and children’s tea parties. Throughout the house, vintage décor lines the walls and tables. In the first-floor café, breakfast and lunch are prepared fresh daily, and guests may choose from a three-course tea or a full five-course meal. More than 30 teas are available, but one of Thir-tea First Street’s most popular draws is its biscuit course, which includes sweet potato, buttermilk, and cheese varieties. Sunday brunch is by reservation only.
Teavolve Café and Lounge
1401 Aliceanna Street
Baltimore, MD 21231
On Baltimore’s Aliceanna Street, tea goes urban chic at Teavolve Café and Lounge. Customers gather for afternoon tea, nighttime cocktails, a full weekend brunch, or a made-to-order weekday breakfast.
Teavolve serves 48 kinds of loose tea in a casual setting that pairs free WiFi and some of the city’s best food. White, green, black, and chai teas, plus herbal infusions, attract a clientele fixated on tea but not on the traditional tea experience. Well lighted in an open space, Teavolve offers universal appeal by bringing together a broad menu, a casual setting, and something different for every type of tea lover.
Tea by Two
814 S. Main Street
Bel Air, MD 21014
Preference trumps protocol at Tea by Two, a quaint cottage in the Baltimore suburb of Bel Air. A busy Saturday might find guests enjoying tea as early as 9 a.m. “It doesn’t matter to us,” laughs Janet Meyers, who co-owns the shop with Erin Bradley.
Visitors are drawn to the city’s first tearoom and its informal approach to tea. Tea by Two is known for its special events and its daily offerings of scones, soups, and savories. Christmas in July, a chocolate lover’s tea, a Jane Austen tea, and private parties are all celebrated at Tea by Two, and friends gather regularly for the ritual of taking tea, no matter the degree of formality.
“We actually have quite a few regular customers, and when they walk in the door, we already know what they’re going to get,” says Janet.
The Casual Cup Tea Room and Gift Shop
13820 Jarrettsville Pike
Phoenix, MD 21131
The Casual Cup Tea Room and Gift Shop in Phoenix, a short 25-minute drive from Baltimore, is part tearoom, part café, part retail shop. And it’s entirely warm and hospitable.
The smell of fresh scones baking in the oven lures visitors into the shop to enjoy more than tea. Customers buy cakes and pastries off the shelf, order from the menu, or pick up gift items from the retail side. “We have a come-as-you-are atmosphere,” explains owner Wendy Savelle. Despite the informality and the drop-in option at The Casual Cup, tea traditions still hold. Reservations are encouraged for those wanting the full tea experience, and Wendy allows a minimum of two hours per booking. “I don’t rush anybody,” she says.
During tea, courses are individually plated, but traditional tea trays are available upon request. (And they’re always present at children’s tea parties.) The addition of Sweet Stuff, etc., operated by Marta Markline, has quickly become an area favorite for fresh-baked and professionally decorated cakes and treats.
Tea on the Tiber
8081 Main Street
Ellicott City, MD 21043
In Ellicott City, wedged between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Tea on the Tiber is a solid reflection of the area’s heritage, offering a respite from the big city and a delightful step back in time.
The formality of Tea on the Tiber is balanced by its serenity. Terry B. Parkinson, general manager, points out that the Victorian setting reminds visitors of the simplicity of a bygone era. “Taking tea offers an escape from an otherwise busy lifestyle. Our patrons have the opportunity to savor this experience because I try to offer them what I desire when I take tea,” says Terry.
“I first went to Tea on the Tiber as a guest,” she recalls. “I loved the experience so much that now, six years later, I am still here.”
Editor's Note: Since this article appeared in print, Tea on the Tiber has added vegetarian, gluten-free, and low-carb tea foods to the menu. Thirty-six hours advance notice is requested for these specialty items.
Reynolds Tea Room at Reynolds Tavern
7 Church Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401
The historic dining rooms of Reynolds Tea Room at Reynolds Tavern in Annapolis provide an ideal backdrop for formal tea. Located on Church Circle, the restored 18th-century Georgian is the oldest tavern in the city and is touted for its fresh-baked cakes, pastries, and savories.
Menu items are freshly prepared on-site, and the tea options vary from light to hearty. Customers may choose cream, sweet, savory, or afternoon teas or the unique colonial high tea or Champagne tea.
Reynolds Tavern also houses the Sly Fox Pub and three suites that are available for overnight stays.
6 Cornhill Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
One block from the State House in downtown Annapolis, Capital Teas stands as a tea lover’s supply house, with the look and feel of an old English tea shop. Tea meals are not served here. Owners Manelle and Peter Martino offer instead one of the area’s largest and most varied supplies of loose tea, a diverse inventory of tea wares, and a generous serving of their knowledge and experience.
• The Washington Street Historical District in the town of
Cumberland includes a small group of Second Empire–style homes. Among them is
the Gordon-Roberts House
(301-777-8678; gordon-robertshouse.com). Tours of this 1867 home include a cup of tea, and the
museum’s calendar is filled with special events, among them, tea socials.