By Lorna Reeves
Photography by John O’Hagan
On the eastern shore of Tampa Bay, the city of Tampa is nestled in an area best known for beautiful beaches, Cuban cuisine, winter strawberries, professional sports, amusement parks, and hot weather. It’s hardly a place one would expect to find a plethora of tearooms. But much to any tea lover’s delight, Tampa is a hotbed of fine places to take tea. From flower-bedecked three-tiered trays overflowing with made-from-scratch treats to neighborhood tea bars with free WiFi, a tea experience for all tastes awaits.
The Royal Tea Room & Gift Shoppe
2719 S. MacDill Avenue
Tampa, FL 33629
The Royal Tea Room & Gift Shoppe is in a class all its own. This elegantly appointed tearoom with an adjoining upscale boutique, which sells tea wares, specialty food items, home décor, and other lovely gifts, has been in the same location for 15 years, expanding twice.
Owner Debbie Winter has played the role of head chef since day one and takes great pride and care in the food she serves. The menu changes seasonally, but Debbie’s cucumber tea sandwiches with herbed cream cheese are year-round staples on her tea trays, which typically feature a tier each of scones, savories, and desserts. She delights in planning special tea events for holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas. “I always strive to do something new and different,” says Debbie. “I like to take it to the highest level and give the customers the service they deserve.” Her customers have, in turn, rewarded her by telling their friends. “People like to come for a respite—a haven,” she explains.
Reservations for the three afternoon-tea seatings are preferred, but walk-ins are accepted, space permitting.
Tea Rose Cottage
1901 N. 19th Street
Tampa, FL 33605
813-248-2040 • tearosecottageybor.com
Ybor City is a historic district of Tampa renowned for Cuban cigars, Cuban cuisine, and Cuban coffee. But visiting tea lovers will be glad to know that it’s also home to Tea Rose Cottage, a decidedly English-style tearoom.
This charming restaurant, owned by Angela Ceglio and Jennie Weaver, is housed in an arts and crafts–period bungalow with a whitewashed interior and high ceilings. Tables are set with a variety of rose-motif china patterns for a play on the tearoom’s name. Served to the soothing strains of classical chamber music, afternoon tea is available by advance reservation only so all food can be freshly made. A vegetarian option is offered, but it must be ordered when making the reservation.
At the request of the regular clientele, the tea menu features many selections of flavored teas, all brewed to order from loose leaf. “We recommend the Peach-Apricot Tea to new customers,” says Angela, to whom Jennie introduced the pleasures of tea several years ago. The duo’s favorite blend, however, is Strawberry Shortcake Tea. Most teas offered are also available for purchase in the tearoom’s gift shop.
Milk n’ Honey Tea Room
2092 W. Busch Boulevard
Tampa, FL 33612
813-931-1462 • For more information, visit Milk n' Honey Tea Room's Facebook page
Children are welcome at Milk n’ Honey Tea Room, according to Janet Daggs, preschool-teacher-turned-tearoom-owner. Afternoon tea for the younger set is $10.95 and features scones, two sandwiches in kid-friendly flavors, cheese sticks, fruit, and three small desserts all on a three-tiered tray, plus a teapot filled with apple juice or lemonade. A dress-up area also keeps kids entertained while grown-ups sip an array of Harrison & Crosfield teas, served hot or cold.
“Our sweet peach iced tea is so popular, people want to buy it by the gallon. We have to-go cups, but otherwise, we don’t sell it for takeout,” says Janet.
She and her mother, Lois Guay, prepare all the food themselves. “Mom makes the pies,” explains Janet. Icebox Key-lime pie is the most popular among the dessert offerings on Milk n’ Honey’s lunch menu. Afternoon tea is available during all hours the tearoom is open, but reservations are required for Saturdays, as this tends to be the busiest day, and Janet is committed to ensuring all customers have the best possible experience. “Everybody comes happy and leaves happy,” she says.
The Empress Tea Room & Bistro
12924 N Dale Mabry Highway
Tampa, FL 33618
813-988-9027 • empresst.com
A cute Victorian strip mall near the University of South Florida houses the award-winning Empress Tea Room & Bistro. Guests enter the restaurant through a spacious gift shop filled with an inviting selection of Joffrey’s and Harney & Sons teas, beautiful china, and other delightful gift ideas, many of which benefit local charities.
Owner Kim Nauman sees her restaurant as a ministry as much as a business. “We put prayer cards on the tables,” she says, “because we truly care about people.” During their weekly Bible study, the tearoom staff prays for the needs written on the cards. The same care that goes into praying for their customers goes into the food and service.
The Empress is open for lunch and afternoon tea Tuesday through Friday. On Saturdays, afternoon tea is available by reservation. “High Tea” consists of a tea tray laden with tea sandwiches, tea breads, scones, and a variety of pastries served along with a pot of tea. Adding soup or salad to High Tea results in “Higher Tea,” while the addition of sparkling wine makes it “Royal Tea.” Men who prefer more generously portioned sandwiches should order the “Gentleman’s Tea.” Reservations are also required for the Sunday breakfast buffet.
Victorian Grace Tea Room
616 N. Parsons Avenue
Brandon, FL 33510
813-653-2662 • victorian-gracetearoom.com
A few miles to the east of Tampa lies the bedroom community of Brandon. This town, with an estimated population of 90,000, is fortunate to have a pair of excellent tearooms within its city limits.
“On my first visit to the Victorian Grace Tea Room,” Geeta Sue-Wah-Sing confesses, “I drank 10 cups of black currant tea. It was so good!” She and friend Loraine Paul bought the tearoom in 2006 when they learned the business they had enjoyed patronizing for several years was for sale. “It’s a joy coming here,” says Geeta.
An endless pot of the tea of the day is included with all tea meals, or customers may choose from among the many other varieties of Harney & Sons loose-leaf tea for a small surcharge. Everything is made on-premises daily, and the afternoon-tea menu changes some each week, according to Caroline Bullard, the tearoom’s pastry chef, who also was a customer before becoming an employee. Walk-ins are always welcome Tuesday through Friday for lunch or afternoon tea and for the Saturday tea seatings (11:00 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.), but reservations are recommended.
The Tea Cup
1107 Lithia Pinecrest Road
Brandon, FL 33511
813-654-6543 • theteacuptearoom.com
“More than anything, I like to entertain,” says Lynn Davis, owner of The Tea Cup. And it shows. Lynn’s warm personality and attention to detail are evident in everything from the tearoom’s décor to its food.
The main entrances to The Tea Cup, which is housed in a former residence, open into a spacious boutique that doubles as a welcome center. A large dining area can accommodate 40 comfortably, while two smaller rooms seat 14 to 16 each. The beautiful backyard and patio are ideal for private functions. The tearoom is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, and reservations are not necessary to enjoy lunch or afternoon tea.
Fifty teas—all loose leaf—from purveyors such as Harney & Sons, Teas Etc, and Tantalizing Tea make up the superior tea menu.
When Lynn opened the tearoom in 2007, her friend Claudia Richartz, a professional chef, helped her with the menu and still plays a vital role in recipe development. Though scone flavors change seasonally and dessert offerings change weekly, some components on the three-tiered stands remain constant. “Our guests don’t allow us to change our chicken salad,” explains Lynn. “And our English cucumber–mint tea sandwich is always on the tea tray.”
Camellia Rose Tea Room and Boutique
120 N. Collins Street
Plant City, FL 33563
813-659-8287 • camelliarose.com
Plant City is an easy 30-minute drive from Tampa on I-4 East. Though the town’s name is closely linked to winter strawberries and other agricultural pursuits, Ellen Garrett thought for years that Plant City’s historic downtown should have a tearoom. So in 2006, at the urging of family and friends and with the backing of friend Lorena Jaeb, she opened Camellia Rose Tea Room.
Housed in a building constructed in 1916, the tearoom has the “look and feel of stepping into Grandmother’s home,” says Ellen. Though lunch and afternoon-tea offerings change seasonally, guests can always look forward to curry chicken salad tea sandwiches and graceful pastry swans on the three-tiered stands overflowing with daily made-from-scratch treats.
Camellia Rose hosts an afternoon tea with the reigning queen of the Florida Strawberry Festival, held in Plant City annually in early March. For the occasion, Ellen creates a new strawberry tea named after the queen. These commemorative teas, tea accoutrements, apparel, jewelry, and more are available in the tearoom’s elegant and expansive retail store.
The tearoom’s clientele comes from all over—Sarasota, Naples, and beyond. “So many of our guests become our friends,” says Ellen. She explains that comment cards with a space for noting prayer requests have turned this business into a ministry, a “labor of love.”
Other Tea Places
Hyde Park Tea Cottage (108 S. Willow Avenue, Tampa, FL 33606, 813-253-3217, hydeparktea.com) is just a block south of Kennedy Avenue and a stone’s throw from the University of Tampa. Afternoon tea is served Thursday through Saturday by reservation.
Kaleisia Tea Lounge (1441 E. Fletcher Avenue, Tampa, FL 33612, 813-977-8266, thetealounge.com) has a decidedly Asian flavor. Because of its proximity to the University of South Florida and the availability of free WiFi, this tea bar attracts an eclectic mix of tea lovers.
Simply Country Gifts & Southern Belles Tea Room (2214 Thonotosassa Road, Plant City, FL 33563, 813-754-5683) opened in 1983 as a gift shop and has been serving afternoon tea, featuring its famous strawberry scones, since 2001 in three seatings, Tuesdays through Saturdays. Reservations are preferred. All tea is brewed from loose leaf. Look for Southern Belles’ booth annually at the Florida Strawberry Festival, where owner Susan-Lynn Lewis demonstrates proper tea-brewing techniques.
For a slide show of images, click here.
Editor’s Note: Several lovely tearooms and a most-interesting tea business are located on the western shores of Tampa Bay as well. Learn about them in the May/June 2011 issue.