Elegant or Funky, Tea Sets Spiff Up Any Decor
When most Southerners think of tea, the first thing that comes to mind is a cold, sweaty tumbler full of iced sweet tea. That is certainly steeped in tradition, as long as the day is hot. But for many generations we've tipped our teacup to an adopted tradition from our British brethren – the tea service.
The days of big hats and white gloves are no longer de rigueur for serving tea, but there's something to be said for dressing the part if you're so inclined. Either way, no true Southern home is complete without the tools of the trade. You'll need a cream pitcher, sugar bowl, strainer, tea tray, teacups, and of course, a teapot. There are a million embellishing accessories out there you can use to accompany and accent, but this list fills your basic needs.
Now if you want to do it up right, get an unglazed earthenware or ceramic steeping pot, as well as a serving pot. The serving pot should be porcelain, as it retains heat better. You can strain the tea when changing pots. Also, an electric kettle is fantastic for boiling water quickly. Let the water sit for a moment once it's boiled so you don't risk scalding the leaves.
Locally, all the big-box shops like Crate & Barrel, Bed Bath & Beyond, Macy's, Sur la Table, etc., will carry sets and accessories. But our tea leaves tell us to buy Austin! Locally brewed Breed & Co. (with their fantastic china selections), Faraday's Kitchen Store, and the ever-popular Tea Embassy. Hands down taking the cake as Austin's premier tea experience, Tea Embassy offers a mind-boggling assortment of more than 150 teas from all over the world. They corner the local market on selections, with a wide array of green, black, oolong, white, pu-erh, South African rooibos, and a large selection of herbal tisanes (medicinal herbal infusions). For flavored teas, they carry combinations of unimaginable concoctions such as Love Story (chocolate and rose petals) and Genmaicha (rice and popcorn-flavored). They even stock a margarita black tea – lime with a hint of salt – that was featured in December's Southern Living magazine. All of the flavor, none of the hangover. Add to that a selection of tea sets, and knowledge and service that would impress the queen. They don't offer afternoon tea or lunch in their shop, but they do encourage you to attend one of their catered tea events.
If you want to trade in white-glove service for fingerless knitted très chic service, check out Top Drawer Thrift, Uncommon Objects, Room Service Vintage, or any of Austin's myriad secondhand stores, and build your own tea set out of a vintage assortment. Tea poured from a funky, made-to-order, mix-matched service can be just as fabulous as antique-fancy rose bone china. It's all in the hospitality. One lump or two, how you choose to give and take your tea can be as original as you.
As far as the perfect cup goes, there are a hundred ways to achieve it, each method insisting on its own superiority. Your best bet: Always use fresh, cold, purified water. Tea connoisseurs far and wide cannot insist on this one enough. Don't oversteep your tea. If you insist on using bagged tea, never squeeze the bag, or you'll release too many tannins and spoil the flavor. Finally, always add milk to the cup before pouring in the tea and not the opposite. Enjoy with gorgeous nibblies of your choice, and keep your pinkie finger raised high.
Breed & Co.
718 W. 29th | Austin, TX 78705
Breed & Co.
3663 Bee Caves Rd.
Austin, TX 78746
Faraday's Kitchen Store
1501 RR 620 N., Ste. A
Austin, TX 78734
900 Rio Grande | Austin, TX 78701
Top Drawer Thrift
4902 Burnet Rd.
Austin, TX 78756
1512 S. Congress
Austin, TX 78704
Room Service Vintage
107 E. North Loop
Austin, TX 78751
Room Service Vintage
1701 S. Lamar | Austin, TX 78704