PHOTOS BY KAIT BRADFORD BELLMON
When you’re starting out, you don’t want any setbacks,” says Jamie Roberson while pouring hot water into a delicate teacup. “That was a setback.”
He’s talking about this summer’s catastrophic flooding around Duniven Lake. Jamie and Valerie Roberson opened Golden Rose Tea Room at 3314 Olsen Blvd. in February, fulfilling a dream that had been brewing for the couple since their first encounter with the traditions of British tea service. Golden Rose had only been open for a few months when the rains came.
“We had about four inches of flooding inside the building,” he says. The couple closed for more than a month, remodeled the space and reopened later in the summer. They’ve landed on their feet, and with the coziness of fall and the holiday season coming up, are feeling optimistic.
“We’ve had people travel here from all over to try this, because we’re the only tea room in the Panhandle, to my knowledge,” says Valerie. And tea room people, she says, are tea room people. “When they go out of town, they find a tea room wherever they go.”
She and her husband are focused on serving customers who already know the ins and outs of a delicate tea service, and on introducing newbies to a tradition they both adore. Several years ago, when friends talked them into attending a tea house with them in Albuquerque, they were hesitant. “We thought a tea party was a weird concept for adults, but once we left, we saw that it was super-special,” says Valerie, who comes from a background in food service and senior care.
Jamie spent two decades as a wine vendor. Both say hospitality comes naturally to them, and they love serving new and regular customers. “We have a lot of returning guests. Once we get them in the doors, they’re hooked. They want to do it every day,” Valerie says.
The hospitality aspect has proven to be incredibly fulfilling for the couple. “Pouring the tea and seeing people smile and giving them that gift,” Valerie says. “I want to be out here watching those special moments. That blesses my heart. That’s why we love this place.”
We asked the couple to guide us through a proper afternoon tea.
A Few Suggestions
Etiquette is part of the charm of traditional tea service, and in a casual culture like the Panhandle, the Robersons enjoy educating locals about the finer elements of the experience. They aren’t rigid about it—the Robersons would never turn guests away or shame anyone—but traditional tea houses tend to have traditional expectations.
For example, most afternoon tea spots maintain a “smart casual” dress code. The two-hour tea service itself is elegant. The Victorian-inspired decor is elegant. Participants’ dress and behavior should lean toward elegance, as well. The Robersons recommend a bit more formality than usual. (Avoid the tights-and-flipflops look.) And to embrace the experience, keep distracting phones off the table.
Teaspoons are relatively foreign in this region, so they offer specific recommendations for that utensil. Stir up and down—not in circles—gently folding in the sugar or milk. Try not to clang your teaspoon against the side of the teacup. Then, after stirring, put your teaspoon on the saucer. Refrain from drinking with your teaspoon still in the cup.
Many tea houses will ask a patron or even a whole table to choose a specific tea, which will arrive in a pot. Golden Rose prefers giving customers more choice. “We pack our own tea bags so everyone can have what they want without sharing,” says Valerie. “Most tea rooms don’t do it this way.”
They offer three pours per meal, balanced alongside a three-tiered food service. “Most people like to have a different tea with each tier,” she explains. Some will pair a black tea with the savory sandwiches and work their way up to fruitier teas with dessert. Others do the exact opposite. “It’s totally up to you.”
Jamie recommends black tea with savories, blended tea with scones, “and a peppermint tea or Organic Northwest Sunset with dessert,” he says. That last tea, a blend, combines peppermint, spearmint, rosehips, and hibiscus for bright notes of flavor, with lemon verbena and rooibos adding a subtle citrus finish. “But it’s just a preference.”
Nor are they sticklers on whether or not to add cream or sugar—Brits typically add both—or how long to steep tea. “People ask us all the time. We usually say three to five minutes, but it’s just a preference thing, too. How dark do you like your tea?”
The food menu changes weekly, but the tea service Golden Rose served Brick & Elm began with a light Greek or house salad. “Normally, you’ll come in and have your salad, and then we do the first pour,” says Valerie. “After the pour, we prepare the three-tier trays.”
They remove the salad plate and replace it with a plate for savory sandwiches—an egg-salad croissant with spinach as well as a traditional cucumber sandwich with cream cheese. “It’s a staple in British culture,” she says.
Our second food tier was lemon-curd scones with raspberry preserves. Valerie tells us the dough for the scones is prepared by , then baked by Golden Rose.
Dessert was a pistachio-flavored pudding in a jar, plus French macarons. A lot of tea rooms serve strawberries and cream. “But we like to switch it up,” Valerie says.
They point out that the quantity of food ends up exceeding expectations. The Robersons know the Texas Panhandle market and have increased portion sizes to accommodate heartier appetites. “You don’t expect it, but you’re full by the end,” Jamie says.
The Tea Tradition
The tea service tradition dates back to England’s Anna Maria Russell (below), the seventh Duchess of Bedford. In the early 1800s, she proposed afternoon tea as a way to stave off hunger during the gap between lunch and dinner, which came late, after 8 p.m. According to her design, tea and small-bite foods would be served around 4 p.m., between the two meals.
“We use ‘afternoon tea’ and ‘high tea’ interchangeably in America,” Valerie explains. “If we were being really authentic, high tea would be later in the afternoon.” High tea tends to be heartier, with meats and cheeses in addition to the sandwiches and scones.
Technically, the three-course, savories-scones-and-dessert service at Golden Rose is a form of afternoon tea, served by reservation only beginning at 1:30 p.m. Prepare for a leisurely two hours at the table. Walk-ins are welcome for tea alone, tea-and-salad combinations, or tea and dessert. A brunch-like morning tea service at 11 a.m., “Elevenses,” is also available Wednesday through Sunday, as are bookings for private events.
Our two hours at Golden Rose both relaxed and invigorated us. The food, drink and hospitality engaged all five senses. The soothing environment felt like wrapping up in your grandmother’s quilt, offering a warm, calming retreat from the outside world.
Tea at Home
Your kitchen may lack the adorable dishware and cozy confines of Golden Rose, but the Robersons definitely encourage customers to experiment with their own tea service at home. Most of the loose-leaf teas they serve are also available to purchase and take home. The type of tea is a preference, but they steer guests toward a high-quality tea such as Earl Grey, a classic English Breakfast tea or organic Masala Chai.
Black tea should be served with freshly boiled water—Golden Rose uses reverse-osmosis water rather than tap—and green tea is traditionally prepared with a cooler water temperature of 175 degrees.
Fine china teacups add to the experience, as do accompaniments like scones or finger sandwiches. But don’t let the details keep you from enjoying fine tea.