The air is warm and heavy with the scent of aromatic teas. Darkly varnished shelves are adorned with teapots in every color, shape and size, and pastel flower pots resting upon lacy doilies are carved with sayings like “Be Happy,” and “Live Love Laugh.” The brightly lit tea room is painted a cheerful green, and atop a far mantle sit vibrant paintings and open books. Music plays in the background as people chatter and sip tea poured from the hollows of a tea-cozy wrapped teapot. This little hole in the wall is the perfect place to sip tea in peace amid the hustle and bustle of downtown Palo Alto.
Tea Time, located at 542 Ramona Street, is Palo Alto’s only Victorian-era inspired tea room, and has been open for at least 20 years.
“It’s really unique because it’s a tea room where people can sit down and enjoy the experience,” says Melissa Carleton, a Palo Alto High School junior who is also employed at Tea Time. “With Tea Time you can really just relax and have a good conversation over a pot of tea. It’s supposed to be like a real Victorian tea room, and it’s the only one in Palo Alto like that.”
Tim Phan, the manager of Tea Time, sees it as the shop’s personal mission to educate people
in Palo Alto about tea. He helped to renovate the menu and the overall ambience of Tea Time ten years ago, and has had a large part in creating the tea room as it stands today.
“I think [that] in California and the United States in general, we don’t have traditional English tea here, and our vision is to bring tea to people,” Phan says. “[We have] English High Tea for people who really want to relive or experience English high tea.”
After being seated at a window side table surrounded by cushioned chairs, we ordered two pots of tea and a sampling of tea sandwiches and pastries. The tea and their complements make their appearances snugly wrapped in floral-patterned tea-cozies and carefully lined up. A little white pot filled with sugar cubes rests nearby, and milk and cream are also offered.
The peppermint tea is strong and fresh, instantly making us feel more awake. Per recommendation of our server, we order the peach tea, which is sweeter and perfectly complementary to the blueberry scones and strawberry crumpets. The Devonshire cream and lemon curd, accompaniments to the scone, are presented in a porcelain saucer. The scone and tea combo is $11.99, as is the crumpet and tea combo. We also try the lychee tea, which has a strong floral undertone.
Although it is a tea room, other foods such as sandwiches, salads and soups are offered there as well. We also tried the $18.99 Tea Time Trio, where you get your choice of soup and a scone to pair with a mixed greens salad and a pot of tea. The tomato soup is both creamy and not too acidic, while the mixed side salad is not overdressed, and comes topped with slivered almonds and tomatoes. The crumpets and scones are fresh, and the bread perfectly melts in your mouth. Though these portions are quite expensive for their size, the food is delicious and well worth the extra dollars.
“It’s our mission to be a combination of healthy and delicious,” Phan says, “And also presentation [is valued], so people come in and always have a high tea, and [when] they say ‘wow,’ you know that’s how beautiful and thoughtfully we prepare our product.”
The tea room experience is about more than just tea; the conversations that happen over tea, and those between servers and customers, are just as important to the experience.
“[My favorite part is] probably just talking with people,” Carleton says. “I love getting to know different people and I love to see people enjoying their tea, it makes me really happy.”
Phan also emphasizes the importance of customer satisfaction. “[T]hat gives me joy everyday, to see my customers happy,” he says with a smile.