RW tea room featured in national magazine

RIDGEWAY – Taking tea is a fast growing trend in America these days. And particularly so in Ridgeway according to Tea Time, a nationally published magazine, which published a story about Laura’s Tea Room in its November/December issue.

“Almost a decade since its inception, Laura’s Tea Room continues to be a staple of Ridgeway, frequently attracting visitors from out of town,” the magazine article’s author, Britt Stafford, wrote.

Stafford is effusive about the grand interior of the historic Thomas Company building that houses Laura’s Tea Room and writes about the tearoom’s history.

Tuesdays through Saturdays (and sometimes Sundays and Mondays), the picturesque N. Palmer Street is fairly bustling with mostly women in elegant, floppy hats, stylish dresses and strappy little high heels who are in town for High Tea at the elegantly refurbished 100-year-old Thomas Company building where Laura’s Tea Room is located on the third floor.

They arrive in groups of two, three and four from Charlotte, Atlanta, Charleston, Asheville and from as far away as Ohio, Portland and England (really!)

After browsing in the first floor gift shop, the women are called for their seating. They ascend an elegant staircase to the mezzanine where they are invited to select a hat of their choice if they didn’t wear one.

Then up another short flight to the tea room and a sumptuous repast unique to these parts – homemade scones with Devonshire cream, three-tiered trays of glorious delights including chocolate covered strawberries, classic tea pastries and tiny cucumber sandwiches.

Sarah or another sweet, attentive hostess appears with cold tea then hot tea then a menu of many more teas to include decaf green teas, Charleston Plantation teas and Rooibos teas.

And so the experience has begun.

The tearoom is a world unto itself where taking tea is as much entertainment as it is a meal.

The tea room’s proprietress, Carol Allen, who recently moved to Ridgeway from Blythewood, opened the tea room in the summer of 2008.

“I always wanted a tea room,” Allen confided as she busied about balancing a cozied tea pot and several charmingly mismatched tea cups and saucers on a tray.

There are 15 or so tables for two, four or six guests, and each table is decorated with its own enchanting theme. The service is impeccable and the food is delicious.

Until three years ago, the kitchen was lovingly overseen by Allen’s now-96-year-old mother, Eleanor, who is known to the tearoom’s patrons as Gramma.

While still a mother-daughter enterprise, Eleanor is reluctantly retired these days but still plays a crucial role in the business. Coming in on days the tearoom is closed, she bakes 100 to 200 scones for the upcoming week.

The Teas are light, engaging little meals served with fussy attention to detail. Reservations are required since the Teas are somewhat personalized.

Allen said repeat customers are the tearoom’s strength.

“Once they come here, they want to come back,” Allen said. “It’s always different and we offer different experiences with our Teas. We serve a very traditional style High Tea, with reservations from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday,” Allen explained. “And we sometimes do something special.”

According to the article in Tea Time, the hearty and more filling tradition of high tea (three to five courses depending on the time of year) is available for $26.95 per person. Before taking seats for tea, guests select a cup and saucer from Carol and Eleanor’s collection of almost 150 different teacups.

It’s all about being pampered and enjoying an elegant style from by-gone days. Allen sometimes invites Katherine Brown, innkeeper of the Bloomsbury Inn in Camden, to stop in to give some pointers on tea etiquette at one of her High Teas.

And who better than Brown, a graduate of the Washington School of Protocol, to pour tea? She served as director of protocol for four 4-star generals, conducted visits by the president of the United States and the Queen of England, the joint chiefs of staff, governors and more.

Brown explains to Allen’s guests that, when sipping tea, she holds her saucer in her left hand, not more than 6 inches below her teacup and looks into her teacup as she lifts it to her lips to sip. That is, if she’s standing. If she’s seated, she leaves her saucer on the table.

Brown told the women seated at the exquisitely turned out tables in Laura’s Tea Room that it is a great honor to be asked to pour tea at a social event. She said if the tea is being taken at a small table, the hostess pours. The tea cup is filled three-quarters full before being presented.

Ah…there’s so much to know about pouring tea.

“Taking tea is accomplished by a tone of civility which offers quality time for friends,” Brown added in her serious tea tone.

She reminded Allen’s guests that when sipping tea, the index finger is placed through the handle, the thumb just above the handle, with the second finger just below the handle.

The remaining two fingers are curved into the palm.

“But,” she cautioned, “The pinkie is not extended into the air as one might suppose.”

Allen said her greatest compliment was from an English customer who, upon completion of one of Allen’s High Teas, exclaimed, ‘This High Tea was more English than the English are right now.”

But the service at Laura’s Tea Room is more than the fussy attention and delicious food. It’s also the antique silver, the crystal salad bowls and the elegantly embroidered pastel linens.

And then there’s the tea, which has new meaning after a High Tea at Laura’s Tea Room.

Laura’s Tea Room is located in the Thomas Company building, 105 N. Palmer Street in downtown Ridgeway. For reservations, call 803-377-8594.

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