You’ll get more than just a pot of tea when you visit The English Tea Room—you can get an education in all things tea. Of course, you can also partake of all the traditional accompaniments, scones and crumpets and the like, at this cozy Covington cottage, where customers relax among Anglophilic items that share decorating duties with original paintings, including some by local artists such as Bill Hemmerling.
Owners Jan and Tim Lantrip offer breakfast and a full lunch menu. They also host private parties ranging from children’s birthdays in the newly decorated Alice in Wonderland room to showers and club gatherings. But tea is the specialty. The Tea Room excels at serving high tea, which includes an assortment of sandwiches, sweets, savories and what’s called a “cream tea.” Jan explains, “Cream tea is a description of the Devonshire clotted cream that you have with your scones, like butter or cream cheese. It’s white, rich, creamy, decadent—you slather it right on your scone with lemon curd and it will send you off your chair and into heaven!”
While herbal and fruit infusions are included in the more than 100 varieties of tea available at The English Tea Room, Jan says the “proper teas”—black, green and white—all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The type of tea is determined by a number of factors: the variety of the Camellia sinensis plant; when the leaves are picked (even the time of day); if it’s a young leaf or a more mature leaf; and the type of processing.
White tea is a new and special product. “It’s only recently we were able to get white tea in the United States,” Jan says. “It was revered and rare and even regarded as holy, something only for the monks and royalty of China and Japan. White tea is the sprouting buds of new leaves that are covered with white or silvery hairs. There’s such an art and tradition to this that they even go out at certain times of the day, at certain times in May, and pick these leaves by hand. Because the leaves are so delicate, only women pick them. The leaves are treated so reverently that they are put into soft linen sacks.”
Jan is a pharmacist by trade, and she researches every study regarding the health benefits of tea that she can get her hands on. “Each one of the teas presents different healing and health properties. One cup of a good quality loose-leaf tea is equivalent to three or four servings of fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s how much anti-oxidant nutrient value is in one cup of tea.” Along with white tea, another relatively new product high in antioxidants is an herbal infusion from South Africa called rooibos (“red bush”), which is used medicinally there to treat nausea in pregnant women and colic in babies.
The lunch menu at The English Tea Room includes a variety of soups, salads, quiches, sandwiches and what Jan says is “a little twist of English things: Shepherd’s Pie, Scotch Egg, Plowman’s Lunch (assorted English cheeses with a locally baked crusty bread) and Buckingham Bake, a recipe from a bed and breakfast in England.”
Jan and Tim’s cozy little cottage might also be a place to get in on the next major food trend. Jan notes, “Tea sales around the world are skyrocketing. I think that’s contributing to our business, besides the fact that ours is a unique and beautiful place.” They’ve parlayed their knowledge and the reputation into a healthy mail-order business and are now one of the largest purveyors of loose-leaf tea in the South.
Most importantly, The English Tea Room is a real pleasure for them. “We have the best customers in the world. I meet the most interesting people; the nicest people come to tea,” says Jan.
Jan and Tim were introduced to the Scotch Egg during their travels in England and Scotland. Jan says it’s considered picnic food over there because it’s portable and was meant to be taken in a backpack on a hunt or by workers to the field or factory. Though traditionally deep-fried, The English Tea Room prepares Scotch Eggs baked.
Loose breakfast sausage
Breadcrumbs (a mix of panko for crispiness and fine breadcrumbs)
Wrap breakfast sausage around the hardboiled egg. Dip in egg wash and roll in breadcrumb mixture to coat. Dip again in egg wash and roll once more in breadcrumb mixture. Bake in 350° oven for 15-20 minutes until crust is crispy and brown. Serve with English whole-grain mustard.