Destination Tea: The St. James Tearoom

Where:  Albuquerque, New Mexico
Style:  Victorian interior, adobe complex
Tea Selection: 3 recommended loose leaf tea pairings (alternatives available)
Teatimes:  Tuesdays 11, 1:30 or 4; Wednesdays to Saturdays 11, 1:30, 4 or 6:30; Sundays 11, 1:30 or 4
Reservations:  Required (and often book out more than one month in advance)
Contact:  Reserve here or 505-242-3752
Cost: $70.87 Gluten-Free Afternoon Tea; $70.05 Adult Double Savories No Sweets; $65.17 Afternoon Tea (nut-free and vegetarian options); $52.19 Child Afternoon Tea
Destination Tea Tips: 1. Book your reservation at least one month in advance to be sure to get the day and time you’d like, and call to request seating in a particular themed nook. 2. Their website is worth perusing: they post pictures of every menu item in their monthly themed menus, tea steeping directions for novices or connoisseurs in their online tea shop, and free recipes. 3. On your visit, you’ll want to leave time to shop the four-room market at front of the tearoom, where you’ll find loose leaf teas, fashion accessories, books, teasets and more.

Prices and teatimes are subject to change. Please see our New Mexico afternoon tea directory for the latest details.

exterior of The St. James Tearoom

Destination Tea Notes: In the spirit of full disclosure, we did choose Albuquerque for a destination tea tour specifically because The St. James Tearoom is here, and ever since we launched Destination Tea, we have been enamored of this teahouse, whose name has made top 5 lists of best American tearooms. After years of watching this teahouse transform itself monthly for elaborate themes like “Tale of Narnian Teatime,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “Sherlock Holmes Mystery Teatime,” or “Afternoon Tea at the Abbey,” our expectations were nearing idolatry, but how would the reality compare?

Simply put, we found that at The St. James Tearoom, no detail is overlooked in creating an afternoon tea that inspires wonder. This is because they staff creative, culinary and service departments to professionally develop every aspect of the experience, from waitstaff scripts for tiered tray presentation, to scratchmade monthly recipes, and a tea master employee program to ensure perfectly brewed teas. We were actually invited to come before opening, and given a personal tour by the lovely Janisse Rakes from marketing. After your tea, as you are provided warm hand cloths, a comment card wants to know if any aspect of the experience wasn’t truly excellent, and it is this spirit of constant improvement that carries out the vision of founder Mary Alice Higbie who founded The St. James Tearoom in 1999 to create a counterculture sanctuary:

“In our culture, some of the biggest enemies are the fast pace, the heavy pressure, the noise, distraction — all these would steal the best from us and replace it with the mediocre. And that’s not the type of story that I want to live, and I think it’s not the type of story that most people want to live.”

– Mary Alice Higbie, Founder

In 2010, after a three-year design process that thought of everything, The St. James Tearoom moved to its current location, a former 1940s homestead, now a veritable complex, with administrative and creative design office buildings, a garden courtyard, private tea terrace, large gift shop and 17 custom-decorated Victorian enclaves for afternoon tea, each designed to honor a different “British great.”

Mary Alice’s son Daniel Higbie is now at the helm, and he took a moment to say hello, explaining that The St. James Tearoom, more than anything, is about people creating a deep connection in this “refuge for relationships where civility reigns.”

“It’s a place where you can find rest, where you can reconnect, reunite with your loved ones, and just enjoy the moment, enjoy the relationships with them.”

– Daniel Higbie, CEO

We are very grateful to have experienced this teahouse, because at The St. James Tearoom, they truly get it: how afternoon tea is meant to transport us, give us a pause, delight our hearts with a bit of magic, and leave us with a beautiful memory of loved ones joyful in each other’s company.

The St. James Tearoom sprang up out of the recognition of a great need in society today: the need to escape the “Tyranny of the Urgent” of our modern day frenetic pace of life; to rest, reflect, gain margin back into life; and to foster relationships in a society that at best creates shallow ones. Above all, we wanted to introduce others to the art of tea.”

– “Our Story,” https://stjamestearoom.com/our-story/
entry to The St. James Tearoom courtyard
You can enter on either side of the main teahouse, but we encourage coming through this beautiful iron gate on the right, to stroll through the garden courtyard on your way in.
The St. James Market is housed in a former windmill tower.
Look up when you walk in, to see the bones of the former windmill tower that powered the homestead’s water well nearly a century ago.
hostesses greet guests as they enter The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Check in with the hostess, who may offer you a tea sample.
tea masters at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
You know we love seeing the emphasis on properly brewed tea.
welcoming us to afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Once you’ve come through The St. James Market, everything you’ll experience was custom designed from the ground up. A server waits to greet her guests.
Irish-themed photo station at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
This corner is redecorated monthly to invite guests to capture a memory of each themed tea they attend. The fitting theme for our March visit was “Dublin’s Fare: Cheers to Arthur Guinness.”
long room for afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We were extremely impressed at the design of the largest room, which cleverly includes velvety drapes that can either wrap around your seating area for privacy, or be pushed back to invite a large party along the length of the room.
interior of afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Each seating area in The St. James Tearoom is a unique collection of antiques, made comfortable with beautiful upholstery.
antique furniture at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We appreciate the use of low seating as one would find in an original afternoon tea setting.
tea nooks at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
These smaller nooks for parties of two to six guests, ages 11 and up only, are each named after a historical or literary place, to honor the “St. James Greats,” such as Beatrix Potter or Dr. David Livingstone.
green Florence Nightingale room at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
The “Lea Hurst” sunlit garden conservancy honors Florence Nightingale, founder of modern nursing.
darkly hued tea nook at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
The highly sought out “18 Duke St.” has a working stove, and honors civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who designed the Thames Tunnel.
the hunters retreat at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Stratfield Saye,” a hunters’ retreat, honors Sir Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, who famously won the Battle of Waterloo in the Napoleonic Wars.
agatha christie's room at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We were especially pleased to discover the “Styles” room, honoring one of our favorites, Dame Agatha Christie.
beatrix potter room at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
And here we are, seated in “Hill Top Farm,” a cozy corner nook honoring Beatrix Potter.
little touches at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Appreciating the little touches, like a welcome card, and teapot lamp.

Tea Selection

tea cosies at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Service is diligent but not interruptive. As soon as we are seated, our server introduces herself and confirms our tea selections. We go with the recommended tea pairings – one for each course, switching one caffeinated tea for the optional herbal.
pouring the first tea at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We begin with a robust Irish Breakfast black tea blend.
green apple-flavored tea at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Next is Hesperides Golden Delight, a green tea with roasted apple flavor
Irish Cream non-alcoholic shooter at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We had the option to add a yummy non-alcoholic featured drink, this one an Irish Cream Tea Shot made with the Irish Breakfast tea blend.

Scones & Spreads, Savories and Sweets

three-tiered tray at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We note that they plated the tiered tray differently here (you traditionally start with savories at bottom), and learned that they sometimes do this to accommodate the tallest dishes, but as we feast our eyes on this scene, no complaints!
afternoon tea from above at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
We’re impressed at how our low parlor table has space for all the afternoon tea elements.
hearty savories at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Some aspects of this afternoon tea could qualify it as approaching a high tea. We enjoyed the hearty nature of this menu. Savories include Beef & Ale Pot of Gold with Cheese Biscuit, Irish Salute Coleslaw, Arthur’s Savory Chicken in Phyllo, Twice Baked Cheesy Potatoling and Dublin Castle Traditional Mint Butter and Cucumber Tea Sandwich. We appreciate an afternoon tea with a higher savory to sweet ratio, like this one with five savories and three desserts.
scones and spreads at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
For the breads course, a St. James Traditional Cream Scone is served with lemon curd and “clotted cream” (which seemed whipped), and Guiness World Record Irish Soda Bread with currants soaked in the tearoom’s Wisteria White tea, served with Whiskey Butter, a real treat.
dessert course at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Desserts included a Flakemeal Crunchy with Irish Cream Whip, the table favorite – a moist Country Apple Cake with Walnuts, and a Crème de Menthe Chocolate.
no tipping at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Done the European way, service here is excellent for it’s own sake, not to earn a tip.
bathroom decor at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Loving the bathroom style
lace dress at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Lacy Victorian fashion in the lady’s room
newsletter at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Each month, The St. James Tearoom produces its newsletter “Porcelain Press.”
front market at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Teas with aroma jars in the front market
lady's boudoir gifts at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
“The Lady’s Boudoir” in the front market
gift shop at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Items in the gift shop change to reflect the monthly themed menu.
teasets for sale at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Dozens of teaseats for purchase
tea cozy mysteries at afternoon tea at The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Local author Patrice Greenwood’s line of tea cozy mysteries was actually inspired by The St. James Tearoom.
painting of The St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, New Mexico
At the left of this painting, you can see the arch opening to the pueblo patio fashioned onto the tearoom for outdoor seating in warm weather.
DestinationTea
Tea Voyageuse, discovering the world of afternoon tea, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

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