Life can be crazy these days.
Between work and a somewhat hectic social life, I’m bombarded by all kinds of extraneous noise. I mean how many snarky tweets, Facebook postings of cute animals and Google alerts on Channing Tatum can a girl wade through before just needing to run away for a while? Luckily, I have a special place I can go to escape the fast pace and noise of today’s world. A place that offers me some time to relax and unwind. Oh yeah, and drink some lovely teas and eat some amazing, wonderful food.
This magical place is the St. James Tearoom, located on the corner of Edith and Osuna in Albuquerque. What is a tearoom, you ask? You actually may not be asking, as you might be more refined than I am. Because the first time I heard of the St. James Tearoom, I assumed it was a place where caffeine junkies hung out, hopping themselves up on the latest teas and discussing—well, I honestly don’t know. But in actuality, a tearoom is a place where you get to experience a traditional afternoon tea service, a two hour respite from the world where you relax while enjoying a variety of loose leaf teas and a full meal.
The first time I ever went to the St. James Tearoom, I was leery. I’m not dainty, refined or even the least bit graceful. So the idea of sitting still for two hours in a room where I was expected to be quiet and drink tea from a dainty china cup while sitting on dainty furniture rather terrified me. I actually brought extra money with me knowing that the chances of me breaking a cup or piece of furniture was going to be quite high. While I might not be graceful, I am always prepared.
I’m glad to report that in the five years that I’ve gone to the St. James Tearoom, I have never broken anything.
For those of you who have never been to a tearoom and have stuck through the previous paragraph, I will reward your patience by describing the wonders and logistics of the St. James Tearoom. As each tea setting is broken into two-hour intervals, you must make reservations ahead of time. Reservations can be made by calling, or via their online reservation service. Seating times are available at 11:00 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and at those times plus 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
As this is a formal tea, I recommend dressing up. Not in a full-length ball gown or anything, but at least in either your Sunday best, or minus the scruffy jeans and shorts. Although the staff at the St. James Tearoom is so gracious and mannered they won’t judge you. (I totally would, but they won’t). To add more fun to your adventure, you may also want to wear a decorative hat to tea (think Kentucky Derby-type hat). If you do not own such a hat, you can find a selection of loaner hats in the Tearoom’s gift shop.
Once you arrive at St. James Tearoom, you can wander through their gift shop or peruse their wide variety of loose leaf teas and tea accessories. A bell will sound to alert you that it’s time to be seated for your tea.
Depending on the size of your party, you will either be seated in one of the cozy nooks or the library area. Each of these areas are decorated to represent a different estate of a famous person from the Victorian era. For example, there is a room decorated to look like the home of Florence Nightingale (my favorite nook) and another to represent the farmhouse of Beatrix Potter. Each area is blocked off by a curtain to allow you privacy, and to let you enjoy some peace and quiet. So turn off your cell phone and use your inside voice. That said, my inside voice is quite loud and I’ve never been shushed, so you’ll be fine.
After being seated, a server (dressed in darling Victorian garb) will introduce you to the month’s menu. Each month, the St. James Tearoom features a theme. For instance, this October’s theme is “Phantom of the Opera” and next months’ theme is “A Narnian Teatime.” I only mention November’s theme because I love C.S. Lewis and am geeky-excited about the theme. Essentially, the foods will be named or inspired for the theme, such as Mr. Tummins Fig and Goat Cheese Sandwich (see how I got Narnia in there twice?).
Your server will begin by serving you one of three teas for your setting. Usually, your tea adventure begins with a traditional black tea, followed by a spiced black tea, or a green tea, finished by a flowered or fruit tea. Each tea is served in a pot and you are provided cream and sugar. Your server will tell you which tea goes best with cream and sugar. Once you’re done with a particular tea, you set the lid of your tea pot up to indicate you’re ready for your next tea.
During Christmas, the St. James Tearoom features my absolute favorite tea—sparkling sugar plum. The tea actually sparkles!!
Ah, now let’s talk about your afternoon tea food. After you’ve been given your first tea, your server will deliver heaven on a three-tiered tray.
Now, don’t be alarmed by how small everything looks. The first time I saw the amount of food provided, I leaned over to my niece and told her we would go for a cheeseburger afterwards. Trust me, you will leave full and satisfied. The bottom tray of the tier will feature savories, such as (from this month’s menu), carrot soufflé, salmon en croute and more. The second tier will have the St. James traditional scones and lemon curd and the month’s featured scones with cream. The top tier will have desserts, fabulous, wonderful, sugar coma (worth it) inducing desserts. I cannot say enough about the food. This is melt in your mouth, savor every bite, sell your mother or your soul for another bite, wonderful food.*
Another bell will ring letting you know that your tea time is officially over. Feel free to cry that your respite from the real world has come to an end. Your server will offer you a hot towel to let you wipe away your tears. Okay, the towel is really to wipe your hands, but you know, they’re not going to judge you. Even I won’t judge you as there has been many a time that I’ve cried and wailed. You know, in my inside voice.
I will say that this wonderful, magic experience does not come cheap. Seating prices for adults is $33 and for children 4-10 is $24. During the Christmas season, prices are $36 for adults and $26 for children. But I’ll pay anything for those sugar plum sparkles. But while the tea experience is pricey, it is completely worth it. The St. James Tearoom also caters to individual dietary needs. They offer decaffeinated tea, as well as a gluten free and vegetarian menu.
*I realize this post sounds rather blasphemous. I in no way really mean that the food is literally like heaven, as in actuality it’s not served by Channing Tatum or Ryan Gosling. And in no way should you really sell your soul for food. Hold out for a car at least.