Lessons in Grace, from the Ladies of the Southern Tea Time Getaway

The last time I had this feeling was right after my first baby was born. A friend of mine, who herself had two babies, brought me dinner, to save me the trouble of cooking during those sleepless weeks. First I was moved by the thoughtfulness of this kind act, and then it hit me:  is this something one does for new moms? Oh dear, I certainly hadn’t brought this friend dinner after she gave birth. And just like that, my friend taught me a lesson in grace.

new mom days
Fussy baby when you’ve got dinner to cook? Bring out the baby wrap!

Well, guess what? It happened again, this time at the tea table, in Woodstock’s Tea Leaves & Thyme, where I joined the ladies of the Southern Tea Time Getaway on Day 2 of their 10-day tea tour of the Southeast. This group of women from Michigan, Ohio and Georgia taught me several lessons in grace and left such an impression on me that I want to share with you what I learned.

Lesson One:  Tea Sisters Are Real.

I met a group of vivacious, laughing, intelligent and thoughtful women who happily roadtripped together for ten days, bedecked in tea hats and lovely dresses. When I write about the beauty of the custom of afternoon tea, I only imagine that such a society exists. No longer! Here they were, a blend of old friends and new, some family, all connected in different ways, happily taking tea together. As is her tradition, Linda Pudlik set the tone by opening the tea with an inspirational reading that began, “You are now in the circle of wise women…” and trip organizer Phyllis Barkey led a prayer to bless the meal. I especially enjoyed meeting my fellow Georgians from the online afternoon tea world, Facebook friend Joy Breedlove and Angela McCrae whose blog “Tea with Friends” I have been following for years. Our conversation was so rich and interesting that we rightly didn’t want the meal to end.

ladies of Southern Tea Time Getaway Tour
The ladies of the Southern Tea Time Getaway Tour welcome me for the afternoon.
[Photo courtesy of RelevantTeaLeaf.blogspot.com, authored by Phyllis Barkey]

Lesson Two:  We Unify Around the Tea Table.

I marveled at Phyllis Barkey, the grand organizer of this amazing destination tea adventure, eternally smiling and enjoying herself. Having myself planned several family reunion trips, I know that the planner can become very stressed, in my case, wanting to make sure everyone is having a good time and getting along. To the contrary, while the women gathered surely had differing views on politics, religion and the like, it had no bearing on their ability to enjoy each other around the tea table. I felt a spirit of friendliness in these women who were eager to listen to and support one another, intent on finding commonality and cheerful connection.

start of afternoon tea at Tea Leaves N Thyme
Ready to open the meal with an inspirational reading and a prayer

Lesson Three:  When Tea Sisters Travel Together, Bring Remembrance Favors for All.

As you read through Phyllis’ account of the trip on her blog, Relevant Tea Leaf, you’ll see that these women are incredibly creative and generous, assembling gift bags, afternoon tea-to-go, hotel tea parties with favors, tearoom journals and more to celebrate and commemorate their time together. Surprising the three of us Georgians who had met up with their group for the afternoon, the Ohio ladies gave us Ohio tea towels and mints, and the Michigan gals bought us matching teacups from the gift shop. This was my first time experiencing gift-giving at tea, and I lamented that I hadn’t brought enough of my token favor. (Destination Tea Tip:  make sure that you know how many people you’ll be meeting, and bring more favors than you think you’ll need).

tea notecard from Joy Breedlove
Joy Breedlove of Georgia gave us each one of these beautiful tea notecards, hand-painted by a friend of hers. So lovely!
Teresa from Ohio — who luckily sat on my left because I instantly loved her, full of curiosity, wit and friendliness — surprised me with this gift box. I was so touched!
teacup from Lori of Michigan
Finally Lori from Michigan — who I could tell I would have loved getting to know better — knocked my socks off with this pretty Grace’s Teaware cup and saucer, with scalloped edges. I don’t have another like it, and I will cherish it and each of these mementos of my tea with these special ladies.

Destination Tea: East Bay Meeting House

Where:  French Quarter, Charleston, SC
Style:  Traditional
Tea Selection:  12 sacheted loose leaf teas by Mighty Leaf
Teatimes:  Daily 4-7
Reservations:  24-hour notice
Contact:  843-723-3446
Cost: $30 Afternoon Tea

Destination Tea Tips:  If people-watching is your thing, you might request a table at the front, where three sets of glass-paned doors are thrown open in the warmer months.

Destination Tea Notes:  If you’re keeping a destination tea bucket list, we suggest adding East Bay Meeting House to it. For what? The scrumptious food, some of the best we’ve had yet. Upon your curate’s arrival, cantaloupe butterflies and kale doilies hint at something unusual, while mini brass shells tucked amongst the savories hold tiny cards that seem to have directed each savory like an honored guest to its place on the lowest tier. While it’s typical for an afternoon tea to have a few signature items, at East Bay Meeting House, in the entire repast, there is only one item we don’t both agree is outstanding. We also enjoy the atmosphere, with the fresh air coming in from the lively street and our gracious host attentive and friendly, but mainly leaving us to our leisure.

Interior East Bay Meeting House in Charleston, SC
Dark wood tones and floor-to-ceiling drapes create a warmth that encourages friends to gather round, while crisp white tablecloths and the fresh air from the open restaurant front brighten the scene.

Tea Service

teas at East Bay Meeting House
East Bay Meeting House offers a selection of Mighty Leaf teas. Technically “bagged” teas, this line of high quality loose leaf teas in sachets is one we look forward to sampling. We request the Bombay Chai and Orange Dulce – yum!

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

Tea tray at East Bay Meeting Houses in Charleston, SC
We sidle up to a long paned window overlooking the cobblestone alley, ready to explore our tea tray (which is proudly brought to the table before we have even ordered our tea).
Tea sandwiches at East Bay Meeting House in Charleston, SC
The sandwiches are so very good, even those that might appear ordinary surprising us with exceptional flavor. We savor each bite, including egg salad with chopped chives and baby arugula on multi-grain, smoked salmon with citrus cream cheese, roasted red pepper and capers on sourdough, cucumber with manchego cheese and dill on white, chicken salad with curry, apple, celery and golden raisins, and maple glazed ham with grain mustard, swiss cheese and sweet pickles on flatbread.
Scones at East Bay Meeting House in Charleston, SC
Orange cherry scones have a near-biscuit texture (as they should), served with clotted cream and jam. Delicious and so generously sized that we share one.
Dessert at afternoon tea at East Bay Meeting House in Charleston, SC
At dessert, it is the chocolate cake that divides our opinion. It is admirably not overly sweet, but one of us completely loves it and the other thinks it could have more of a rich chocolate flavor. The Mexican wedding cookies and rum cake are perfect, and while an afternoon tea’s dessert course can often be overfilling, this one is the right amount of sweet bites to complete the meal. As we finish sipping our tea, we happily munch on fresh fruit and boldly colored edible flowers. Wonderful!

Destination Tea: La Dolce

Where:  Aiken, SC
Style:  Cheerful Cafe
Tea Selection:  2 proposed loose leaf teas from list of 100+
Teatimes:  Tuesday to Saturday 12:30-2:30
Reservations:  48-hour notice *ages 10 and up
Contact:  803-335-1440
Cost: 
$28 High Tea; $25 Afternoon Tea; $20 Gongfu Cha Chinese Tea Ceremony; $7.50 Cream Tea
Destination Tea Tips:  Consider paying the add-on fee to have owner Lady Kelly MacVean hostess your tea. Certified by both the U.K. Tea Council and the American Tea Master Association as a “Tea Master,” Lady Kelly can give you a thorough introduction to afternoon tea. Even if you are an afternoon tea connoisseur, you may still learn something new from Lady Kelly – we did!Front of La Dolce in Aiken, SC

Destination Tea Notes:  Every now and again we discover a tearoom the likes of La Dolce, where a professional, creative eye attends to every detail in cultivating an afternoon tea service that is authentic and unique all at once. Not only do we love Lady Kelly MacVean’s taste in hats, we also appreciate her love of tradition and history. She’s not play-acting when she calls herself a “lady,” because she is one, having purchased property in the Scottish Highlands during her time living abroad. She sets the tea table with antiques and vintage teaware. As a dual-certified tea master, she recommends tea pairings and hosts tea tastings to help others develop a love of tea. And she wisely teams up with her daughter, Chef Kirstie Wohlfeil, who whips up a scrumptious, made-from-scratch afternoon tea menu.

Table at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
As we take our seats at our sunlit table, we happily explore the china patterns at each of our places, both lovely. We remark at discovering some teaware at the far end of our table that we don’t usually encounter at afternoon tea (more on this fun surprise later).
Table set for tea at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
Admiring my place setting, see the antique cake fork?

Tea Service

Tea is served at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
Lady Kelly recommends an orange blossom oolong to pair with the savory course. She brings a teapot cozy to keep the large pot of tea warm, and asks us to leave the cozy on the side to signal when we would like a second steep. We like this idea, and find that one pot is more than adequate for our party of two.

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

Spreads at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
Clotted cream, lemon curd and jam ready to be served with these antique teaspoons
Scones at La Dolce Aiken, SC
Wow! We love our blueberry scone. Because it looks a bit more like a cake, we are surprised to find it breaks apart more like a biscuit (the consistency we seek). It appears that La Dolce bakes extra large scones and quarters them for the tea curate – works for us!
Tea curate tea tray at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
Friends, these are some of the best traditional tea sandwiches we have had yet. Whatever herbs and seasonings La Dolce uses instantly gets our attention – delicious! On home-baked breads, La Dolce serves chicken salad in garlic parmesan cups, egg salad on whole wheat and cucumber on oatmeal — thinly sliced — thank you very much. P.S. It may be customary to cut off crusts, but we are secretly pleased to see them left on (waste not, want not).
Dessert cake stand at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
Firstly, how wonderful is this aqua blue glass cake stand? Dessert includes mini cheesecakes, chocolate cream puffs (our favorite) and strawberry and passionfruit macarons. While macarons typically have a crisp exterior and softer interior, these were more like merengues throughout. Our family macaron-lover enjoyed them all the same, especially happy about the unique passionfruit flavor. Lady Kelly brings out a Belgian chocolate rooibos to pair with the course. It’s a clever choice to couple rich desserts with a dessert-flavored, yet lighter, caffeine-free herbal brew.
Lady Kelly MacVean gong fu tea ceremony
Just when we think our adventure is coming to its finish, Lady Kelly surprises us with a preview of La Dolce’s Gongfu Cha Chinese Tea Ceremony. We so much appreciate her taking the time to introduce us to this custom, and how encouraging she is of us as we attempt to identify the notes of our teas (a white pu-erh and a Keemun). 
Hats for sale at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
After admiring Lady Kelly’s fabulous tea hat, how can you not be tempted to purchase one of your very own? La Dolce sells one-of-a-kind hats in the $60- $150 range that would be a wonderful gift to yourself or your favorite tea sister. I had to see how I looked in the fuschia polka dot beauty.
Tea gifts at La Dolce in Aiken, SC
We thank Lady Kelly for gifting us our own tea tasting sets with aroma cups, so that we can practice what we learned at home. These and other tea accessories are available for purchase.
La Dolce Aiken SC goodbye
How should you drink your tea? The sign scrolls, “Sip by sip, not gulp by gulp.” As if La Dolce hasn’t spoiled us enough already, Lady Kelly gives us promotional gift bags as parting favors, to demonstrate how their bakery is partnering with a nearby spa to promote a day of self-pampering at their two businesses. Great concept, and wait, was that a chocolate coconut walnut cookie slipped into each bag? Whatever its flavor, it was divine. La Dolce’s baking has our seal of approval – scrumptious!