Written By Anne Blue
The annual whirlwind of activity often makes it hard to find peace during the holiday season.
Many Carroll residents have found a civilized antidote to the chaotic rush of celebratory preparations: hot cups of good tea, delicious finger foods, the company of good friends, and quiet time in the county’s three cozy tearooms.
Each has its own classic flair, unique flavors and relaxing retreat. Little, if anything, in these tea rooms suggests “rush.” Tea takes time.
“A lot of Americans don’t know what tea is all about,” said Jill Lowe, the owner of Westminster’s Ladyfinger Tea Room. “I try to promote the tea experience. People should sit and enjoy the tea and take time to talk. You need to take time to talk.”
Jill should know. She is originally from Harrogate, Yorkshire, England, and it is common knowledge that the English have been drinking tea for centuries.
Linda Stradley, writing in What’s Cooking in America (www.whatscookingamerica.net/History/HighTeaHistory), credits Anna, the Seventh Duchess of Bedford, with creating the afternoon tea in the early 1800s. Before that, the British aristocracy typically ate breakfast, a small lunch, and a very large dinner beginning later in the evening.
Initially, the duchess was trying to bridge the gap between the light lunch and the late dinner hour by taking tea in her boudoir late in the afternoon. She began inviting small groups of friends to share her tea and a light menu of little sandwiches and sweets. The idea caught on and became a popular way for women to entertain.
As the beverage became more affordable, the working people of Britain adopted the habit of a late afternoon tea. By including breads, meats, and cheeses, the meal became synonymous with dinner. Now there are many variations of the custom, from enjoying just a pot of tea or a cream tea – tea accompanied by scones, clotted cream and jam– to a full afternoon tea, which usually includes the beverage, savories, scones, sweets, and a soup, salad or fruit.
“If you want a 15-minute lunch, go to a fast food place,” said Karen Knoch of Hampstead’s Linens & Lace Tea Room . “When you go to a tearoom, plan to spend some time on the experience.”
Tearooms offer “slow food,” according to Jill Lowe. Almost all of it is made on site and the establishments plan their food for the day’s reservations.
The tearooms can usually accommodate drop-in customers for cream teas. The full afternoon teas, which include finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries, take longer to prepare and require advanced reservations. More Americans are discovering the health benefits of tea and the peaceful atmosphere of a tearoom as a respite from the busy world and a relaxing way to gather with friends.
“We still serve mostly women, but we are seeing more men who come in to buy tea and enjoy the room with their wives,” said Gypsy “Jo” Fleck of Gypsy’s Tearoom. “The men come in and realize that they will get enough to eat, and they make reservations for tea with their wives.”
Our local tearooms entertain guests from Carroll County and many from outside the county and neighboring states as well. Red Hat groups, Bible Study groups, book clubs, friends, and couples frequent the tea rooms.
Each of the rooms accommodates groups such as wedding and baby showers, and adult and children’s birthday parties. Each also offers special holiday events with seasonal fare.
Located in the Winchester Country Inn
111 Stoner Avenue, Westminster
Open Tuesday – Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Steep yourself in history as well as tea when you visit Gypsy’s Tearoom.
It is located in the Winchester Country Inn, the oldest home in Carroll County, built by William Winchester in 1760. A private home for many years and later transformed into a bed and breakfast, the inn, with its original central chimney and English architecture, provides a perfect setting for the tearoom and its adjoining gift shop.
Gypsy’s offers more than 30 different teas, the most popular being the room’s own “Gypsy Blend,” a decaffeinated brew flavored with raspberry and vanilla. Two new house blends will be introduced around the holidays as well. Teas are always served in a china pot swathed in a tea cozy, and customers are welcome to try as many different teas as they wish.
Full Afternoon Tea is the most popular menu item, and includes a soup or salad to compliment scones, tea sandwiches, fresh fruits, and sweets. Lora Andrews, Gypsy Fleck’s daughter, runs the kitchen at the inn and is in charge of creating all the delicacies.
“I like all the detail involved in preparing food for the tearoom,” said Andrews. “I am in the grocery store every morning, buying fresh ingredients. It brings out my creativity, figuring out all the garnishes and updating the menu items weekly.”
Selections of the tearoom’s favorite recipes are available in two of their own cookbooks, which are available, along with many other items, in the gift shop, “Inspirations,” which occupies the upstairs rooms of the inn and a small section adjoining the tea room.
Although Gypsy’s serves tea to as many as 48 guests at once on a regular basis, Fleck and Andrews are constantly planning special events at the tearoom. Customers can enjoy a variety of themed teas throughout the year, such as seasonal children’s teas, Valentine’s teas, and book club teas. “We offer elegance and an attention to detail,”said Fleck. “We have a wonderful staff, all trained to make the tearoom experience a special occasion for our guests. We like to see our guests linger over tea, shop, and relax.”
¥ A Taste of Maryland History, Friday December 2, 7 to 9 p.m.
Book Signing and Reception
¥ Victorian Teas, December 3 and 10,
11 a.m. and 2 p.m. seatings – with singer/songwriter Susan Savis
¥ Candlelight Tea, December 17,
7 p.m. – featuring jazz by Jeff Hinder and Bob Bornaman
The Ladyfinger Tea Room
at Freestyle Hair and Body Spa
Located at Town Mall of Westminster
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,and by appointment
Open Sundays by special request
The upscale dcor of the Freestyle Hair and Body Spa features tables topped with fresh white tablecloths and cloth napkins to give Ladyfinger Tea Room a modern sophisticated look. Customers are greeted warmly by Jill Lowe, the owner, and she knows the regulars by name and remembers their usual orders.
Lowe caters to the Freestyle clients who can enjoy her homemade fare and a beverage with their spa packages or just a cup of tea while they get their nails done. But after being in business for four years,the tearoom has developed its own loyal customers as well.
“My favorite part of running the tearoom,” said Lowe, “is satisfying the customers. I want them to leave saying they can’t eat any more.”
Able to accommodate up to 32 guests, Lowe is happy to work in an intimate environment that allows her to do it all.
“I am a fanatic about my kitchen and I like to do it all myself,” said Lowe. “Ladyfinger is the perfect size for me to manage.”
Lowe makes all menu items from scratch, just as her mother taught her. Scones, the first thing Lowe ever learned to bake as a child, are a staple and a favorite among her customers, served with imported clotted cream and strawberry jam.
The Scarborough Faire Tea, including finger sandwiches, scones, and mini-pastries is the most popular menu item. To satisfy Freestyle clients and other patrons, Lowe also offers regular lunch and breakfast items as well as daily specials.
“Many customers like to come in and talk with me, learn about my English background and about tea. They also appreciate the convenience of having a quiet place to go in the mall, a place with tablecloths and great food.”
¥ Teas To Go – a carryout tea with all the fixings for a small group
to mark the holiday or any special event in a home or office
¥ Christmas Tea – served November 29 through December 23 – a
standard tea featuring traditional British holiday specialties like
oxtail or game soup, mince pies, and a turkey and cranberry roll.
Linens & Lace Tea Room
Located at 1222 North Main Street, Hampstead
Open Wednesday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and
Sundays 12 to 3 p.m. during the winter season
Step into Linens & Lace Tea Room and step back in time. Formal chairs adorned with bows and flowers to fit the season, and delicate lace tablecloths and flowered wallpaper complimenting a floral carpet, all work together to convey Victorian femininity.
As a child, owner Karen Knoch was given an authentic English tea set and spent many afternoons having tea parties with her sister. Remembering those days with great fondness, when she was preparing to open her own tearoom, she and her sister visited establishments up and down the East coast.
When space became available on Main Street in Hampstead five years ago, Knoch was ready. She and her sister spent three months renovating the building and creating the soothing atmosphere of Linens & Lace Tea Room.
Now Knoch runs the tearoom with the help of her daughter, Lindsay, and occasional help from her mother and sister. She can accommodate as many as 32 customers and offers the space for private parties.
As part of the ambiance of Linens & Lace, Knoch has collected vintage hats of all kinds and colors, which she displays on a wall at the rear of the room. If they wish, guests may choose one of the many hats to wear during their tea.
Knoch offers more than 40 different kinds of tea and a different menu of finger sandwiches, soups, and scones each week. She collects most of her recipes from old cookbooks that she finds in antique stores. She alters some of the recipes to offer a more healthy version, including whole grain breads and dried fruits.
In her brochure, Knoch has declared,“It is my intention to have all grownups who partake in this tearoom let the stress of the outside world escape them as they indulge themselves in wonderful conversation over a relaxing cup of tea.”
She fulfills this goal by wrapping guests in soothing music, pots of tea, and delicious food.
¥ Holiday Tea, December 9 – afternoon tea with a special holiday menu
and entertainment by local high school carolers
¥ Candlelight Tea, December 10- evening tea by candlelight with a
A Sandwich and Dessert by Karen Knoch of Linens & Lace Tea Room:
Turkey Blackberry Finger Sandwich
2 slices of white bread with crusts removed
Seedless blackberry jam
Mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded
Butter one slice of bread and spread jam on the other. Top the buttered
bread with the sliced turkey and put the cheese on the slice with jam
(cheese must go against the jam). Put the two slices together and cut
into finger sandwiches as you wish. Garnish with a mint leaf and a
8 ounces of Cool Whip
1 small box of instant vanilla pudding (not prepared)
Snickers bars chopped in a food processor
1 teaspoon vanilla
Social Tea Biscuits (available in most grocery stores)
Hershey’s caramel kisses
Mix all ingredients. Spread on tea biscuits and top each biscuit with
a caramel kiss.
Soup, Scones and Orange Butter by Lora Andrews of Gypsy’s Tearoom:
Sweet Potato Bisque
1 cup onion, shopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 leek, sliced
1/4 stick butter
5 cups sweet potatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Salt and pepper
Saute the first 4 ingredients in the butter until tender. Puree the
vegetables, potatoes, broth, and spices, and transfer to a saucepan.
Stir in half-and-half, syrup, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat
thoroughly, but do not boil. Serve hot and garnish with a dollop
of clotted cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
Orange Cranberry Scones
2 cups flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 teaspoon orange extract
1/2 cup orange juice
5 tablespoons shortening
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift together flour, sugar, baking
powder, salt, and nutmeg. Mix in dried cranberries. Add extract,
orange juice, egg, and shortening. Knead until all ingredients are
well combined. Turn dough out onto floured surface and flatten
to a 1 inch thickness. Use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to produce
12 scones. Place scones on a greased baking sheet. Brush the
top of each scone with additional orange juice and sprinkle with
sugar. Bake about 20 minutes or until tops are firm to the touch.
Serve with orange butter or orange honey and mock clotted
Mix two tablespoons of orange marmalade with one stick of
softened butter. Smear onto orange cranberry scones and top
with mock clotted cream.