A thirst for elegance -- and a hunger for goodies -- bears fruit

Interior design business has room with a brew

March 19, 2006|By CASSANDRA A. FORTIN | CASSANDRA A. FORTIN,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bill Andrews made his wife, Barbara, an offer she couldn't refuse: If she agreed to open a Victorian tearoom, he'd send her to England on a tea tour.

Barbara promptly made two phone calls - one to invite a friend to accompany her and the second to her travel agent.

In October 2000, Barbara packed her bags and set off on a tea-packed excursion. She had a variety of tea experiences, ranging from quaint tearooms with cows grazing in nearby fields to the luxurious Savoy Hotel in London.

After 10 days, she returned to the United States equipped with plenty of enthusiasm, some savory treats and the certainty that she wanted to open a tearoom. She spent the next 3 1/2 years researching the right way to run a one.

Since the grand opening of Tea on the Tiber in Ellicott City in 2004, the couple has worked to offer their guests more than just a spot of tea.

"What we offer is a true tea ceremony. It's just like an experience you would have in England," said Barbara.

And her customers are enjoying the local trip.

Because of the positive response, plans are in the works to offer new experiences that will appeal to an even larger crowd of people. For example, the couple is inaugurating a bimonthly seminar, adding a children's birthday tea party and opening a tiki bar.

Barbara said getting to this point is an experience she wouldn't have missed - except perhaps the fire in 1999, which gutted the three-story building.

The couple had moved their interior design business, The Source Unlimited, from The Mall in Columbia in 1980 to its current location on Main Street. After the fire destroyed their business, they rebuilt and began discussing adding something else to the business, possibly a food service of some sort.

"Our interior design clients would come in, and it takes a while to make the decisions they have to make," said Bill Andrews. "We would have to stop for a lunch break, and I thought it would be nice to offer something on site."

The couple spent months discussing, debating, researching and eliminating ideas. Although they took a hiatus from discussions, Bill never forgot his dream. Finally, when he suggested the tearoom, his wife immediately latched on.

During her trip to England, she discovered customs, learned terminology and tea facts, and how to properly brew a pot of tea.

Once the business was running smoothly, she decided it was time to share some of her acquired knowledge.

They decided to offer "Joy of Tea" seminars, which will be presented by Libby Davis of Ellicott City. The 1 1/2 -hour seminars accommodate eight to 10 people and include instruction and lecture. There is a fee and reservations are required.

"One of the most important things I found out is that there are a lot of ways to have a Victorian English tea," said Barbara.

Topics covered in the seminar will include the history of tea tasting and the health benefits of tea, as well as how to brew the perfect cup.

"The seminars will be fun but informative," said Davis.

In addition to sharing her knowledge, Barbara shares some of the savories she discovered on her fact-finding trip. These items include specialty sandwiches, clotted cream, lemon curd and delicate desserts.

Some of the tasty treats didn't appeal to her at first.

"Clotted cream sounds absolutely terrible," said Barbara. "It's such an ugly phrase. But when I tasted it, it was absolutely wonderful."

The tea experience starts from the moment you enter the three-story establishment. Guests are seated at tables with formal place settings complete with matching bone china.

Each guest is served a pot of tea selected from a menu of 16 that includes such flavors as chocolate Thai and passion fruit. Guests are instructed to let the tea brew for three to five minutes for premium flavor.

Next, scones, fruit, savories and desserts are brought out on tiered trays. The scones are served with clotted cream and lemon curd that melts in your mouth.

Savories include such treats as the Tiber's Tomato Tea Sandwich. which is made with white bread cut out to cover the tomato, topped with a house sauce.

Also, they offer a cucumber mint tea sandwich that includes cucumber and a mint sauce served on a croissant.

And, if that doesn't appeal to the palate, guests might try the raspberry ribbon tea sandwich, made with ham and raspberry.

"We watch what goes out and what comes back, and we have the staff taste-test the foods before we put them on the menu," said Barbara.

Regular customers spoke out on their experiences at the tearoom, naming the food, atmosphere, and appearance as reasons for return visits.

Although some guests have mixed feelings about the savories at first, once they taste them, they're hooked.

For example, Wyn Fitzpatrick of Laytonsville has been coming to the tearoom since it opened. She enjoys the welcoming environment, which she said is conducive to conversation, as well as the tasty treats.

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