“Life is like a cup of tea. It is to be filled to the brim and shared with friends!”
This is the motto of owner Jenni Belisle at the Old Towne Grainery Tea Room in Mount Vernon, which resides inside a historic grainery building from the 1900s, which only adds to the charm.
Historically, the ritual of “afternoon tea”, the most quintessential of British customs, derives its humble beginnings during the Victorian era. It was Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, who popularized the custom. She found herself feeling peckish around 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. To tide herself over until dinner she began taking a pot of tea, along with bread, butter, and cakes in her private chambers during these mid-day hours.
The Duchess began eating alone, but it was not long before she invited friends to join her, creating a more social gathering. Within no time, the afternoon tea became the pastime among the elite and fashionable ladies, who dressed the part in elaborate hats, gowns, and gloves.
Today, one might conjure images of Downton Abbey when thinking about an afternoon tea party. Scenes of lords and ladies sitting around their parlor room sipping tea from antique china cups.
While the idea of a tea party is still fashionable and the beverage continues to be sipped from fancy flowered teacups, at the Old Towne Grainery Tea Room the atmosphere is far from stuffy. It's cozy and comfortable, more akin to walking into an English country-style living room or as Belisle describes it, “ shabby-chic”.
The atmosphere, the staff, and Belisle herself make you feel right at home. In fact, she believes “tea time” is a time in the day to “relax, slow down, and engage with family and friends.”
Dressing up can be fun to do for any special celebration and the Tea Room has a dress-up box filled with gloves and hats to fit the occasion. However, this dress code is not necessary to enjoy a luncheon at this tea house.
It all begins with your selection of tea. With over 40 aromatic and delicious flavors to choose from, selecting just one may be the hardest decision of the afternoon. Classics such as Earl Grey, Darjeeling, and Ceylon black teas are listed side by side with herbal teas, green varieties like matcha and white teas.
After placing your order, Belisle and her crew set to work creating a leisurely afternoon experience with just a hint of sophistication and style. She soon appears with pots of brewing tea, placing them strategically upon the crocheted lace tablecloth.
Some tea connoisseurs insist the cream and sugar be poured into the cup first while others may add these after their tea is poured. Either way is fine as long as you stir your tea with the small spoon, gently setting it on the side of your saucer when finished. It is not necessary to hold your pinky out while drinking. Indeed, this may be considered extravagant behavior. However, looking into the teacup as you drink, and not over it, is most fashionable.
Once the rules are established it is time to eat. Belisle returns with a starter plate of house green salad dressed with a delightful poppyseed vinaigrette and a slice of quiche. This is followed by a three-tiered tray laden with finger sandwiches, scones, cookies, and fruits. Everything is created in-house, including the poppyseed dressing.
Once she saw us settled, Belisle took a few minutes to sit with us and chat over a cuppa, something she enjoys doing with her customers. “Everyone has a story to share,” she says. Belisle’s story began in 2018 when she purchased the tea room, breathing new life into this quaint business.
For her, it fulfilled a lifelong dream of running her own place. “I have an entrepreneurial spirit” she admits and thrives on the creative process which accompanies owning your own restaurant. Plus, she always loved holding tea parties when her kids were young. Why not hold adult tea parties too?
Belisle’s creativity became tested during this past year of the pandemic. She used her time wisely offsetting the downturn to in-person dining.
The first change she made came about with her take-out and curbside orders. She found her loyal customers still desired to celebrate tea-time by creating their own tea parties at home! This led to the inception of her “tea subscription box” which includes a curated list of black, green, and herbal teas along with samples of each, all hand-picked by Belisle. The price for a subscription is $15 a month with free local delivery.
“About 50% of our customer base is from out-of-town”, she explains. “Many of them simply enjoy visiting tearooms. A kind of tea room road trip!”
Sounds fun to me! The Old Towne Grainery Tea Room serves a little bit of English charm close to home. Whether you are a princess, duke, duchess, or queen, it is well worth the drive.
The Old TowneGrainery Tea Room is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11:00 am - 4:00 pm and is located at 100 E Montgomery St 2nd Floor, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. Disclaimer: While some products, services and/or accommodations in this post were provided without charge, all of the opinions within are those of the author and the Seattle Refined editorial board.