Few things can get my engine running quite like a quality cup of tea or a ridiculous vintage hat. When I suggested to my mom that we check out a tea room in Baltimore, I had no idea that I’d be getting both in one afternoon. The Thir-Tea-First Street Cafe and Tea Room is located on the boundary between Charles Village and Waverly in a gorgeous Victorian that dates back to the 1890s. We had the entire place to ourselves, as the shop was closed to walk-ins in preparation for a huge party the following day, and spent some time chatting up the owner, Ms. Washington, about her charming tea room. She bought the house at auction and opened in 2001 (the year after we moved to the area- somehow it has taken us a decade to discover her!), the hats and silver tea service belonged to various aunts, the baking is done fresh and can be made to accommodate vegans (though she doesn’t like to make scones without their proper ingredients), and, yes, she frequently hosts rehearsal dinners and even the occasional bachelor party (!!!).
We ordered the five-course royal tea. After choosing our teas (an herbal apple cranberry for mom, and an aromatic masala chai for myself), we started with fresh-from-the-oven scones and biscuits with a smattering of jams and artery hugging creme fraiche, Devonshire clotted cream, and lemon curd. Naturally, we wanted to taste everything, and perhaps were a little too gung-ho going after the first course. Had we known that we could take our leftover scones to-go, perhaps we would have exercised more restraint. Perhaps.
Soup and salad followed, both delectable, and then onto the tea sandwiches. Much as sushi is praised as an edible art, the tea sandwiches were gorgeously crafted and presented on a serving tray that was probably a lot of fun to thrift for. Our brownie-sundae-in-a-martini-glass dessert was probably my least favorite course, but maybe that’s just because I was already way past the unbuttoning my pants phase (had I been wearing pants). Small cookies might have felt more appropriate, but as we were the only guests I suppose it would have been asking a lot to receive freshly baked cookies AND scones in one sitting.
And have I mentioned the vintage hats enough times yet? I don’t think I have. The room that we occupied was home to dozens of hats, boas, and costume necklaces and brooches. We had no trouble occupying the time, as we tried on hat after hat (almost a week later and no lice to speak of!) and admired the stained glass windows (the originals from when the house was built over a century ago) and charming decor.
The five-course royal tea will set you back $30 and about two hours. It may seem a bit steep (anyone catch a tea pun there?), but if you go with the right attitude and company, I can almost guarantee it will be an afternoon you won’t soon forget. There are also 3- ($25) and 1- ($20) course options, and according to an ancient review you might be able to stop in for a pot of tea and a scone or two for $10. And while you are in the neighborhood, how about stopping by the Baltimore Museum of Art to take in the legendary Cone Collection for free?