English tradition, American thirst inspires the latest tearoom in Carroll County

Piccadilly's owner hopes to create a `crown jewel'

December 10, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Charlene Johns stood at the end of a table putting mounds of red raspberry jam, lemon curd and imported Devonshire clotted cream onto small saucers.

Next she moved on to the cheddar cheese and olive spread. Beside her, Tami Everitt made lavender cookies and scones.

The two women were preparing food for an English-style tea they were serving at Piccadilly's Tearoom, a Victorian tea parlor that opened four weeks ago on East Main Street in Taneytown.

"I wanted this place to be America's crown jewel," said Janice Shehan, who co-owns Piccadilly's with her husband, James Shehan Jr. "I wanted an upscale English tearoom that could satisfy American women."

As the demand for formal tea parties grows, Shehan joins the Carroll County Farm Museum, Gypsy's Tea Room and Ladyfingers Tea Room in offering tea experiences in the county.

The influx of formal tearooms and events are due in part to the high demand for specialty teas, said Kisha Omer, program coordinator for the Specialty Tea Institute, based in New York City.

"Specialty teas are making the big changes in the U.S. tea industry," Omer said. "Like wines, people are buying teas based on the region they come from. And people know more about what they drink, and they are more sophisticated on their choices."

Shehan was introduced to the popularity of teas last year when members of the Red Hat Society came into the Red Hat Bazaar store that she opened in 2005 and asked about tea events.

"They asked me if I planned on serving tea," she said. Frequent inquiries led Shehan to investigate the possibility of serving tea at the bazaar.

She created a tea garden - which is open to the public and where tea and light refreshments are served. But Shehan was not allowed to prepare food, so she tried to find a caterer.

"When I couldn't find anyone who offered what I wanted, I decided to open my own tearoom," said Shehan, who attended her first tea about three years ago in Pennsylvania.

About that same time, the space next to the bazaar was put up for sale. After acquiring the building, Shehan began planning her tearoom.

For starters, she attended a class at the Tea on the Tiber tearoom in Ellicott City, visited several other tearooms, and did extensive research online.

On a visit to Gypsy's Tea Room in Westminster, she met Johns, a part-time employee at the tearoom. "Charlene was experienced in teas and tearooms," Shehan said. "God put her in my path, and it all just blossomed from there."

Shehan wanted a Victorian tearoom where she could serve a formal English-style tea. She had a kitchen built, tablecloths made, and she purchased Royal Doulton China. Then she selected a name for the establishment.

"I chose Piccadilly's because it's the street where the old money in London goes to shop," she said. "The queen's grocer is on Piccadilly Street. And it's a royal name, so that's good enough for me."

Next she searched for English recipes.

"The Ritz in London is the benchmark for my menu," said Shehan, who serves a seven-course meal to patrons. The meal includes soups such as butternut squash and a yam, pumpkin and tomato soup; salads; tea sandwiches; fresh fruit; cheeses; and desserts, including double chocolate truffles.

Piccadilly's offers about 135 flavors of teas ranging in price from $18 to $380 per pound, as well as a flowering tea ball, Shehan said.

"A tea ball is a bundle of green tea leaves wrapped in silk string that are served in a clear teapot," she said. "As the leaves brew, they open up into a rose."

Despite the cost of some teas, Americans are drinking more every year.

According to the Tea Association of the USA, in 2005 Americans consumed more than 50 billion servings of tea.

But tea drinkers are becoming more selective in their tea choices, forcing tearooms to offer teas to appeal to any palate.

Shehan offers traditional and nontraditional teas.

She has a tea called the Kama Sutra Chai that is brewed in milk, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and pepper. She also serves a Pu-erh, a black tea that some have credited with lowering cholesterol, and the Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea that she said Queen Elizabeth serves during her annual May tea party.

Regardless of the venue, the tea events are selling out, said Sharon Martin, events coordinator at the farm museum. The museum began holding teas after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"People wanted to be more connected with one another," Martin said. "So we decided to try teas."

The teas were an instant hit. And each year, Martin increases the number of Christmas teas.

"We added two teas this year, but I could have added at least two more days' worth and sold them out," said Martin. "People begin making reservations for the Christmas teas in July."

But for some tea aficionados, it is the extravagance of the tearooms that keep them coming back for more, said Carol Goettner of Lineboro.

"I like froufrou things," Goettner said. "I live in a Victorian house, and I like to do the old stuff. When you go to a tea, you don't have to be rushed.

"I'm hoping that with all the new tearooms opening that it will bring class back into our society."

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