Welcome in a Tea Cup

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By Carla Christiano

Tea article July 2018

Although tea has long been popular in the U.S., and in Europe since the 7th century, it was the Duchess of
Bedford who, in about 1850, turned it into an event. As the story goes, she invented what we know as afternoon tea to stave off her hunger pangs until she could eat dinner at 8 p.m. At a “low tea,” also known as “5 p.m. tea,” guests were welcomed with tea, sandwiches and cakes at low side tables as they sat in comfortable chairs, according to “The True History of Tea” by Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh. High tea, according to the authors, began as a working-class meal for farmers, factory workers and miners, who had little time for tea in the afternoon. It was a hearty meal of cold meats, pies, cheese, potatoes and cakes topped off with a piping hot pot of tea.

Where Can You Find Tea in Prince William?

Chances are your local coffee shop carries an assortment of teas, and you can find tea at the various bubble tea shops that are popping up all over the county. If you want to find a truly British afternoon tea in Prince William, however, you will be out of luck. Neither the Pink Bicycle Tea Room in Occoquan nor The Things I Love in Manassas, which offer afternoon teas, will claim they serve a tea the duchess or a British farmer would recognize. Although both would say their culinary offerings are inspired by British teas, these establishments focus more on the social aspects of tea.

“I wanted a place where everybody can come and talk to rebuild their relationships. I want everybody to be comfortable,” said Michelle Russell-Mams, Pink Bicycle Tea Room owner. No one has to dress up to attend the tea there: “I want people to relax— to break away from the hustle.”

Joanne Wunderly, owner of The Things I Love, echoed the same sentiment when she said, “Our afternoon tea is elegantly presented, but I want guests to feel comfortable and relaxed while enjoying each other’s company for as long as they wish.”

Pink Bicycle Tea Room

The Pink Bicycle Tea Room is located in a white-frame house at 303 Commerce Street in Occoquan. The front porch is lined with baskets of flowers. And yes, there is a pink bicycle out front.

“Although it’s called the Pink Bicycle Tea Room. I want everyone to come,” said Russell-Mams. The name may not have been her idea, but she decided to keep it when she bought the business in 2014. The Loudoun County resident said patrons will find some aspects the same but noted they have different décor and food from the previous tea room, which started in Occoquan in 2000. “I want to continue to build a reputation. I’m enjoying the neighborhood,” she said.

The tea service menus vary from the princess or lady bug tea with simple sandwiches and fruit for children to two- to three course menus with tea sandwiches, desserts and fruit for adults. “Every tea shop has chicken salad and cucumber sandwiches. I want to keep those as my staples, but I try to [offer other options]depending on the season,” Russell-Mams said. She and her staff make everything fresh and offer approximately 30 teas, which may vary seasonally.

The tea room can accommodate up to about 25 people and is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. It is best to have reservations because they do have large parties, which may impact availability. Russell-Mams said they tried to offer tea during the week, but that didn’t fit the area, so they are just offering tea service on weekends.

Jennifer Withrow of Fredericksburg hosted a baby shower at the Pink Bicycle Tea Room for her daughter. “Michelle and her team took excellent care of all our guests. We were invited to spend a full afternoon with friends and family,” she said. Another patron, Denise Ashley, who was there to celebrate
her daughter’s 25th birthday, said, “The selection of teas was overwhelming…Michelle could not have provided better service. She and her husband go above and beyond to make every tiny
detail wonderful.”

“In a lot of different cultures, tea is served as a welcoming [gesture]. Many cultures come together over tea,” Russell-Mams explained. “It’s like you are coming into my home, so I want you to feel at home.”

The Things I Love

At the back of The Things I Love, a home décor and gift shop at 9084 Center Street in Manassas, a white lacy iron gate beckons for tea at 1 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and one weekend a month. Tables are set with china tea cups and plates. A place card sits by each place setting, and there is a small wrapped gift on the plates awaiting guests.

Manassas resident and owner Joanne Wunderly said, “Guests enjoy a full, generous lunch at afternoon tea.” Upon making a reservation, guests are asked about food allergies. When they attend the tea, they are served the menu of the month, which includes soup, fruit, sandwiches, pastries, scones and tea for a
single price with tax and gratuity included. The food and teas reflect the season.

Wunderly first opened her shop in a 300-square-foot space on Battle Street, not far from her current location. “On Battle Street, I hosted a yearly afternoon tea on the street as a thank-you to my customers. Amongst other things, one year we did a hat fashion show as my shop was originally a millinery shop,”
she said. When the economy tanked in 2008, she considered opening a tea shop, but decided against it. It wasn’t until she moved into the current space on Center Street that she finally had the room to do it. Her shop and the tea room support each other, she said.

The tea room space can accommodate up to 18 people. “It’s intimate. Sometimes the ladies talk among the tables. It’s such a great girlfriend thing to do, but men often accompany their wives at tea just to be able to enjoy the experience and often to celebrate a special occasion,” said Wunderly.

Kathy Buettner of Burke attended a Sunday tea to celebrate a friend’s birthday. “I absolutely loved it,” she said. “You come here and there’s so much to look at.” Her friend, Mary Moore of Springfield, said, “The whole atmosphere is very welcoming. It’s gracious living. It makes you want to stay. We’ve been here about three hours.” Buettner added, “The food is outstanding. It was presented so beautifully. All that is missing is gloves and a big hat.” Both Buettner and Moore left with full stomachs and had purchased some tea to try at home.

Wunderly too enjoyed hosting the tea. “I love doing this. It’s so much fun,” she said.

Did You Know?
Tea is the second-most popular beverage (behind water) worldwide according to the Tea Fact Sheet
published by the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc. Originating in China around 2737 B.C., tea soon  spread worldwide to Japan, Central Asia, Iran, Europe, North and South America, Australia, India, and East Africa.

According to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. Inc., there are five types of tea: white, green, black, oolong and dark. Although all teas come from the same plant, an evergreen named Camellia sinensis, the differences among the teas come from how they are processed and their level of oxidation. The Tea Association stated that after withering and rolling, tea leaves undergo natural chemical reactions
that result in taste and color changes. For example, green and white teas are not oxidized after leaf harvesting, but black tea is fully oxidized. Oolong tea is partially oxidized and midway between black and green teas in strength and color. Dark teas are fermented after manufacture.
Source: Tea Fact Sheet – 2018-2019

The Pink Bicycle Tea Room pinkbicycletearoom.com/home
The Things I Love facebook.com/pg/The-Things-I-Love-132708974850/

Carla Christiano (cchristiano@princewilliamliving.com) is a native of Prince William County, an admitted history geek and a technical writer for Unisys.


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