By Lorna Reeves
Photography by John O’Hagan
The western side of Tampa Bay is home to such notable features as award-winning beaches, the Salvador Dali Museum, and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Recently, with its growing number of tea businesses, it has also become an enjoyable destination for tea enthusiasts. St. Petersburg, Largo, and Dunedin (pronounced done-ee-din) don’t boast quite as many tearooms as exist on the eastern side of the bay, but each is unique and well worth a visit. So grab a roll of quarters—you’ll need them for parking at a few places and for the many toll roads that crisscross the region—and let’s explore the best tearooms of western Tampa Bay.
Hooker Tea Company
300 Beach Drive NE
St. Petersburg, FL
727-894-4832 • http://the-hooker-tea-company.myshopify.com/
223 S. Howard Ave.
Shawn Hooker remembers well the genesis of his interest in tea. It was 1991 at the venerable Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia, while he and his wife were on vacation in western Canada. The couple had afternoon tea there, and Shawn was hooked. He bought a tin of loose-leaf tea to take back home to Florida and continued to order it when his stash was depleted. Trips to San Francisco and New York fueled his desire to learn more about tea. After attending the World Tea Expo and learning the basics of starting a tea business, Shawn jumped in with both feet and opened Hooker Tea Company in an up-and-coming area of St. Petersburg on Beach Drive.
Shawn admits that the business’s name does create a bit of interest and confusion. At times, customers aren’t quite sure what to expect—after all, it’s definitely not a typical tearoom.
The décor is reminiscent of urban loft. “I didn’t want it to look Asian or English,” says Shawn. “I wanted a comfortable environment for all genders and ages.” The sound, lighting, and furnishings were all designed with that goal in mind.
And then there’s the tea—more than 100 varieties of loose leaf from which to choose—all in stainless-steel canisters lined up like soldiers at attention on shelves that cover almost half the walls. “A lot of people haven’t had a loose-tea experience,” explains Shawn. And once they do, most are converted to this way of drinking tea.
Hooker Tea opens daily at 8 a.m. for breakfast. Organic oatmeal cooked in various flavors of rooibos and topped with dried and fresh fruit is quite popular. Quiche is made fresh each day. The parfaits feature organic yogurt, granola, and fruit. Scones, cookies, and other baked goods are also made on-site. All foods are available the entire day until closing, which is at 10 p.m. daily except Sunday, when the closing time is 7 p.m. Hooker Tea’s south Tampa location opened in late 2010.
A Corner of England
6297 Central Avenue
St. Petersburg, FL 33710
727-345-5353 • http://www.acornerofengland.com/
A Corner of England tearoom came into existence in September 2002 on Beach Drive after Thelma Karamihailoglou moved to St. Petersburg. “When you’re in a new place, do what you know,” says Thelma, a native of Shropshire in the United Kingdom. When she had an opportunity to relocate the business to Central Avenue in 2006, she took it. But in early September 2010, it appeared that A Corner of England would become another statistic in the body count of tearooms that have gone out of business in recent years. That is, until Danielle Bruning and her mother, Julie Hicks, heard the tearoom was for sale and bought it. “A Corner of England was the first tearoom I ever went to,” explains Danielle. “My girlfriends and I used to frequent tearooms in the area. And we’d go to A Corner of England at least three times per year.”
Under the new ownership, many things have remained the same. Teas are still imported from a tea estate in India. Danielle has kept the traditional English afternoon tea fare to which longtime patrons have become accustomed, although she has added her own touch to luncheon items, such as salads, soups, and quiches. And like Thelma, she does all the tearoom’s baking. “Thelma showed me how she made the scones,” she says. Of the patrons she says, “People who come to the tearoom are so nice and relaxed. I’ve met some wonderful people.”
A Corner of England is open Monday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., with the kitchen closing at 5:00.
Cottage Café and Tea Room
607 1st Avenue SW
Largo, FL 33770
727-581-3663 • http://www.cottagecafeandtearoomoflargo.com/
Having a tearoom in a cheery cottage in the heart of Largo is a dream that came true for Debi Hunter in 2006. Her restaurant, which now serves breakfast and lunch in addition to afternoon tea Wednesday through Sunday, can accommodate up to 48 guests at once.
Tea and scones are always available without a reservation, but to have the full afternoon tea, you must call ahead. Since Debi does all the cooking herself, she requires a party of at least four for afternoon tea, at a price of $20 per person, which includes tax and gratuity. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun work,” she says.
Debi serves one course at a time because, she explains, “I like the element of surprise.” Scones and tea breads, along with a large assortment of fresh fruit, are first. Next come four kinds of tea sandwiches, or as Debi refers to them, “sammies.” When guests are ready, she brings out a tray filled with an array of desserts. Individual portions for each course are so generous that most guests cannot finish them. Debi is more than happy to pack up the leftovers in a to-go box.
Cottage Café and Tea Room has its own caffeine-free tisane. The herbal blend, called Cottage Girls, features blueberry rooibos, red raspberry, vanilla rooibos, rose hips, hibiscus, elderberry, and lavender. This infusion is served as part of the afternoon-tea experience, but other teas are available upon request, both in loose leaf and sachets.
The Cottage Café Divas, the tearoom’s own chapter of the Red Hat Society, meets at the tearoom monthly. Each lunchtime meeting has a theme, and Debi makes sure the food she serves goes with it.
“I am blessed with the best customers,” says Debi. “It has become a big family.” And her helper Denise adds with a smile, “It’s always like old home time around here.”
Vicki’s Back O’ the Mill
12199 Indian Rocks Road
Largo, FL 33774
Just a few miles from Cottage Café and Tea Room, Vicki’s Back O’ the Mill is nestled around back of The Coffee Mill—hence the moniker “Back O’ the Mill.”
Vicki Schrock and her husband, Chris, came to Florida from Niagara Falls, New York, many years ago, but they didn’t open Vicki’s Back O’ the Mill until 2005. Chris handles the day-to-day operations for the restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea, Monday through Saturday. Vicki does all the baking.
“Tea for Two,” featuring tea sandwiches, scones with cream, miniature desserts, and a pot of tea, is always available without a reservation. But Vicki explains, “A reservation ensures you get what you want,” such as her famous raspberry and white chocolate scones or the apple-walnut chicken salad sandwich. “Customers are pretty loyal to the foods they like,” she adds.
The restaurant’s raspberry iced tea is quite popular, but hot tea, steeped from loose leaf or tea bags, is also available.
Moffat’s Cup of Tea
355 Scotland Street
Dunedin, FL 34698
Raised in a British home in St. Louis, Missouri, Ailean learned Scottish and Irish tea-taking customs at a young age. Her mother also taught her to cook, and the two of them always wanted to have a tearoom. “After Mom passed away, I decided to do it,” Ailean shares.
In February of this year, the tearoom celebrated its fifth anniversary. “We’ve been truly blessed,” she says. “There are people who come in here every week.” And no doubt, it’s the delicious freshly made food, top-notch service, and pleasant atmosphere that keep them coming back. “I always wanted a place to make people feel like they were in my home,” says Ailean.
She brews pots of tea primarily from loose leaf, with The Black Bear Teas of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, being her main tea purveyor. “I try to stay as British as possible, but I like to support small business,” says Ailean, who buys most of her produce from the local stands instead of the grocery store.
Ailean makes the food from scratch each day the tearoom is open (Tuesday through Saturday). “The hot soups are my mom’s recipes, the shortbread was my grandmother Moffat’s recipe, and the rest are mine,” she notes. Because Ailean prepares all the food fresh daily, reservations 24 hours in advance are a must, even for scones and Devon cream. Those who do visit Moffat’s will surely find that this delightful little tearoom truly is their cup of tea.
Where to Stay
Island’s End Resort
1 Pass-A-Grille Way
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
727-360-5023 • http://www.islandsend.com/
This old-style Florida resort is in an idyllic setting literally at the southernmost end of St. Pete Beach in the Pass-A-Grille historic district. Each of the resort’s six cottagelike units has a kitchen, a living room, and a dining area in addition to sleeping quarters. A light breakfast buffet is served in the gazebo several mornings each week. Some cottages have private decks that overlook Pass-A-Grille Channel, which connects the Intercoastal Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico. Brew a cup of tea using a favorite bottled spring water, and sip it as you enjoy spectacular vistas from these decks or from the resort’s private dock. Watch the sun rise or set as a wonderful variety of seabirds skitter about just above the water’s surface in search of their next meal.
View more photographs of these tearooms and of the resort by clicking here or go to teatimemagazine.com/extras And for more information on activities in the area, go to visitstpeteclearwater.com.