Review: Marlene’s Tea & Cakes

I haven’t been to tea in ages – well, I haven’t been anywhere in ages, and neither have most other people. Tea & Plague have never gone very well together. But, special occasions don’t stop for pandemics, and when I saw that Marlene’s Tea & Cakes offered an afternoon tea take-out box, I leapt at it for my dear spouse’s birthday in May.

My expectations were low. My level of certainty that at least the sandwiches would be stale, was high. I was absolutely shocked by what I found.

Take-out box from Marlene’s Tea & Cakes

An elegant little pink take-out box didn’t seem like it could hold a full afternoon tea, but it can, with no smushing of the lovely little pastries. The presentation was beautiful, not so much as a smear of whipped cream. And, they were kind enough to send a large bag of our preferred tea – Earl Grey. 

HANG ON JUST A MINUTE – a bag of tea? Surely not a TEA BAG. No. Nooooo…

Tea Snob Moment (non tea-snobs may skip ahead)

This is important. There is an enormous difference between teabags and bagged, loose-leaf tea.

The teabags you buy that are stapled or glued together, on a string with a tag on the end — that is bad-to-middling tea at best. Yes, even Stash (though Stash is the best of them, so if you must…). The scientific reason for this (yes dears, Science!) is that bagged tea basically uses the ‘dust’ from the whole tea leaves that are used for loose-leaf tea. 

It didn’t used to be this way. In the very first incarnation of tea-in-bag, it was used as a ‘free sample’ marketing gimmick from purveyors of fine tea. They would put their whole tea leaves in a cloth bag for easy steeping. Then someone got the fine idea to bag tea, and then, inevitably, someone got the even finer idea to do it on the cheap.

And now you get sawdust in a bag that you pray isn’t toxic

No thank you.

Back to Marlene’s tea

Marlene’s take-out tea for two (vintage China is author’s own)

Marlene’s uses excellent quality, loose-leaf tea. We chose the Earl Grey Supreme (black tea, oolong, white tea and bergamot oil) and it was superb — not overly heavy on the bergamot as some intense Earl Greys can be (losing all sense of balance if you ask me). I’ve since tried their Darjeeling (delightful, notes of jasmine and apricot) and their decaf Paris, and they’ve all had the depth of flavor I hope for but never expect this side of the Atlantic.

And they were not oversteeped! 

Well, I can guarantee you that the Earl Grey was not oversteeped, because this was take-out and I did the steeping. But dine-in didn’t disappoint either.

The second acid-test: Sandwiches

Crustless white bread tea sandwiches are subject to a host of potential problems. They can be flat and soggy (picture your PB&J in 3rd grade that sat in your lunch bag for hours), or they can be stale. When prepared for take-out and placed in a box, suffering the indignity of a long drive home, I expected one or the other.

What I found was perfect, soft, cloud-like, melt-in-your-mouth sandwiches that were moist without being soggy, and so fresh you’d never guess they’d been out for at least an hour or two.

This is witchcraft, and I respect it.

Sandwich types change seasonally, but we enjoyed a crispy, flaky croissantwich of chicken salad, a shaved cucumber and carrot sandwich on wheat, a turkey-lettuce-tomato, a caramelized onion tart and a mini beef wellington for our savories. 

The Scones… or “scones”

I am almost as picky about my scones and clotted cream as I am about my tea. 

Marlene gets by on a technicality on this one, because what she serves are not scones, and not clotted cream. For our purposes, I’ll used “scones” in quotation marks to describe what these are.

These “scones” are like fluffy, sweet biscuit-cakes that are so buttery you can sometimes detect a tiny wedge of butter within the flakey layers that hasn’t quite melted yet. They are topped with icing, filled with berries, and are so sweet as to be at home on the dessert tier. 

The “clotted cream” is not clotted. It’s more like whipped cream, delicately sweetened for the American palate.

And that, for me, is where Marlene’s Tea & Cakes veers off track. 

Americans are notorious for many things (mostly deserved), one of them being that we like things to be overly sweet and overly salty. Fast food has blighted our palates in ways that Europeans have largely avoided. 

A proper, true-to-form scone should not be sweet, should definitely not have icing, and shouldn’t be as light and fluffy as a biscuit fresh out of a Southern Grandma’s oven. 

Proper, true-to-form clotted cream should also not be sweet (at all) and should have a consistency somewhere between butter and whipped cream (closer to butter). 

The sweetness should only come from the jam.

Marlene’s “scones” don’t even come with jam, because it would be redundant. Gilding an already gilded lily.

But – whatever these are (or are not), they are delicious. These not-scones and not-clotted-cream are delightful confections.

I’m not too mad about it. 

Sweets

Marlene, or whoever is the pastry chef for Marlene’s Tea & Cakes, is a master of the arts of texture and flavor. But after the “scones”, it’s almost difficult to get excited about the desserts — and I say that as a woman with an extra dessert stomach. I always have room for dessert, even if my favorite part of the meal is actually the savories. 

In our take-out box, we had perfect little creamy clouds of cupcakes.

When I dined-in with my friends and their 3-year-old, I saw what Marlene’s can really do.

Eclair bites with deep, dark chocolate ganache and a cream center that is the epitome of what custard should be. These were my favorite.

Pink butter cookies with buttercream centers and jam, dusted with sugar.

Tiramisu and a tiny trifle topped with a strawberry sprinkled with edible glitter.

Dear goodness, yes.

Oh right, there was also fruit. We gave it to the 3-year old.

What I love about Marlene’s Tea & Cakes: The Attention to Detail

Cream of mushroom with a cheese twist lighter than air

High quality tea, perfect crusts, and little extras like the cream-of-mushroom soup starter (dine-in) that was positively frothy — Marlene’s Tea & Cakes really hits all marks. I’m so conflicted about the “scones” that I debated giving them my first (and only) 5-Teacup rating.

But then there was the service. When take-out was the only option, they were organized, friendly, and helpful (did I need help getting the box to my car?). When I dined-in, we were served by the owner herself, who was lovely, warm, unobtrusive, and welcoming to my friend’s 3-year old (who got special kid-friendly sandwiches, her own tea cup, and a dollop of the mushroom soup just in case she wanted to try it!).

And then the owner carefully scooped up a new fledgling monarch butterfly that hadn’t quite figured out how to use its wings, and helped it to some flowers out of harm’s way.

I’m completely smitten.

Great tea, great service, phenomenal pastries, AND a genuinely good human at the helm?

5 stars. 

I highly recommend Marlene’s Tea & Cakes for take-out or dine-in. It’s located across from a lovely little park, perfect for a post-tea stroll (when it’s not 100 degrees out). 

The criteria

Overall Rating (dine-in)

  • Ambiance – We dined outside, which even on a 100 degree day stayed cool enough to be comfortable. Plenty of shade. We also came on a quiet Thursday, which is the best time for a relaxing experience with friends (it can get busy Friday-Sunday).
  • Service – Perfection. The tea stayed hot, the cold water stayed filled (thank goodness – it was hot), and each course arrived precisely when wanted. 
  • Quality of the tea served – The best you’ll find in San Diego. I’ve checked. Thoroughly.
  • Tea sandwich quality & inventiveness – You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced perfect bread in your tea sandwiches. The fillings were delicious, if not avante-garde. I was pleasantly surprised by a double-decker egg curry sandwich that will live on in my memory for years.
  • Scone quality – Not applicable (“scones” are still not scones, even if they are delicious)
  • Tea cakes & sweets – “Scones” fall into this category and are not to be missed. You may need to take the rest of the desserts home for later, and if you do, you’ll enjoy them.
  • China Cuteness Quotient – Matching, pink floral china, thick enough for heavy-duty wear. I appreciate form and function, and these had both.

Experience

Is the tea room suitable for: 

  • Children – The 3-year old was well looked after, and the owner genuinely seems to like cute kids (that said, this particular 3-year old is particularly adorable, so your results may vary).
  • Large parties – Yes (once we can do that again)
  • Bachelorette parties / Bridal Showers / Baby Showers – yes, yes and yes. Decaf and herbal options are available.
  • Friend Get-Togethers – Ideal.
  • Theme Days & Events – NA
  • Hat Lovers – No reason why not. Dressy-casual is fine. Though I am always dressy.
  • Anglophiles & Tea Aficionados – Marlene’s is not only approved by me, but also by my spouse and friend, who have a great deal of taste. You will not be disappointed (but if you are a die-hard anglophile, the scone issue may cause some consternation).

Special Considerations

  • Wheelchair accessible? Yes.
  • High chairs / child seating available? Not sure, but the 3-year old got one fine. 
  • Gluten-free options – No

Marlene’s Tea & Cakes is located at 14677 Via Bettona, San Diego, CA 92127

Reservations can be made by phone at 858-756-4320

Website http://marlenesteaandcakes.com/

Your Best Bets for Holiday Tea in San Diego

It’s only December 4th – I’m still living off of Thanksgiving leftovers – but if you think it’s too early to book your Holiday Tea seats, IT IS NOT. Time is of the essence. Bookings are filling faster than a shallow China cup, and if you want the best Tea in SD for your holiday celebrations, start calling around NOW!

That’s what I’m doing this morning. And I thought I would share with you my shortlist of favorite Holiday teas in San Diego.

Holiday Teas in order of (My Persnickety) Preference

Showstopper for out-of-town guests and your mother: The Victorian Tea at the Hotel Del Coronado

ONLY December 16th, 18th, 19th, 21st & 23rd. $65/pp. Link to reservations.

Hotel Del Coronado’s savory plate, December 2018

I went to this last year with my oldest friend, and you cannot beat the location. The Hotel Del is famous for its beauty and history. The food was inspiring, but the tea service itself did not quite live up to the atmosphere. Granted, with that atmosphere, I didn’t care (much). But really, over-steeped tea, and the ‘hot’ water was only refreshed without replacing the tea? Not acceptable.

Runner up for ambiance: Coral Tree Tea House

Call for reservations, price ranges from $17-$40pp, only open 11am Thursday-Sunday

Coral Tree’s Gluten Free plate

Located in Old Town San Diego’s Heritage Park, this tea room is in a charming Victorian house that is a pleasant walk from the shops in Old Town Market. I’ve digested many excellent scones with a post-tea stroll past the haunted and historic Whaley House. The service, teas, and vittles are excellent.

My *Personal* Pick for 2019: Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe

Call for reservations ASAP, because seats are almost full for their December tea. $34pp

This was my first choice for my December tea, and when I called today, my must-have date was already booked! Hopefully your preferred dates will still be open, but better call now.

Why is this my pick? Because this:

No photo description available.
Courtesy of Shakespeare’s Corner Shoppe Facebook Page

Where I’m going this year: The Aubrey Rose Tea Room

Call for reservations, Holiday tea offered at multiple price points (Queen Victoria Tea is $34)

The Aubrey Rose Tea Room in La Mesa is cute as a bug’s ear and I’ve been meaning to get there for a proper review. They also had my date available, though they too are filling up fast. I like downtown La Mesa. It’s old-fashioned with boutiques and antique stores that are well worth some after-tea exploration. Stay tuned for the review!

There are so many Holiday Tea events – keep up to date on Facebook!

Now, I limited my search to just a few tea rooms in San Diego, but there are also Holiday Tea Events hosted by You & Yours Distilling Co., La Valencia Hotel in La Jolla, a Nutcracker Holiday Tea at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar (not to be confused with the Hotel Del), and many others.

I update my private Facebook group – San Diego Afternoon Tea Lovers – as soon as I see new events crop up, so for the most up-to-date tea times, join me there!

Cordially yours,

Ms. Lavinia

Eclipse ‘Sugar & Salt’ Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea in san diego

One fine day, after the post-2016-election Women’s March, a couple ladies and I went to brunch at Eclipse Chocolate Bar & Bistro in North Park (Women’s March + Brunch After should totally be a thing). I was delighted to find every bite infused with chocolate or vanilla, which in traditionally savory foods was unexpectedly divine. It’s become one of my favorite brunch spots, and one of the first places I suggest to people new in town.

When Eclipse announced their new monthly Afternoon Tea event series, my expectations were high.

Eclipse afternoon tea san diego

Looks like a fairly normal savory tea nibble plate, right?

Would you believe there was a hint of vanilla in the crab salad? Or burnt caramel hollandaise in the shallot tart? Even the butter (used instead of clotted cream) was infused with orange and vanilla. These flavors are subtle and add just a hint of intrigue.

Eclipse North Park tea

I am ALL FOR out-of-the-box flavor combinations, especially when sweet and salty collide. But, I have to say, when so many flavors come together, the combos can be hit and miss. The theme of this tea was:

Be careful with your pairings

Pro pairing tip 1: Garlic parmesan biscuits go very well with fig jam, not so well with lemon curd, and not at all with orange vanilla butter.

The savories were my favorite, which is not unusual, and the coca bacon-wrapped date, caramelized shallot tartlette and the pesto-tomato-goat cheese ‘sandwich’ will haunt my dreams. And adding a hint of vanilla to aioli is absolutely brilliant.

In fact, I was taking a few notes for my next dinner party, because the pesto-tomato finger sandwich looked both easy to reproduce and impressive (the two characteristics I require for a dinner party appetizer).

While the biscuit and butter-jam-curd trio required some trial and error to determine the best combination, the other savories were flawlessly executed.

But the pairing issue reappeared with the tea.

The Tea

Usually, when a restaurant that doesn’t usually offer tea hosts an Afternoon Tea event, the tea can be an afterthought. In such cases, the food is usually amazing, but the tea is in a bag with tepid water. It’s a problem. But, it’s not *that much* of a problem at Eclipse.

I’ll admit, I was concerned when our lovely server said they didn’t have pots of tea, but rather large cups of tea. The tea itself was “unlimited,” so you could try any and all of them, one tea-bag-in-a-cup at a time.

tea menu eclipse

I know what you’re thinking: SOOOOOOO many things could go wrong with that. That is what you were thinking, right? Good. I’ve trained you well.

But, I will allay your fears – the tea was loose leaf and of good quality, packed in copious quantities into single-use paper tea filters. Very civilized. And the water was hot enough to steep them properly. I confess to drinking a lot of tea – my mother used to say I had the “kidneys of a camel” – but as soon as my cup reached 1/3rd full, our attentive server was there to ask what I’d like to try next.

Our server… ah. Such a lovely young man. Not just quick with the tea refills, but also a dedicated knitter and crocheter who appreciates fine millinery. My companion and I had almost as much fun chatting with him as with each other. One in a million.

Tea snob moment (non tea-snobs may skip ahead)

The tea selection, though of excellent quality, is not suited for purists. Every tea is flavored, the closest to a traditional black tea was the lavender earl grey (very nice, not too floral), and there are a lot of green-with-stuff-added and fruity teas. Notice the use of “green leaf” and “black leaf” in the menu – instead of actually telling you what those are. Does “black” mean Assam? Darjeeling? Ceylon? Who knows. And honestly, once you add lavender, vanilla, or a Carmen Miranda topiary of fruit, who cares.

One suggestion I’d like to put forth to Eclipse is to invest in proper mini cream pitchers. Because we made a mess trying to pour milk out of this thing.

Back to Pairing Problems

Pro pairing tip 2: Consider what you’re eating when choosing your tea.

With such a wide selection of teas, it’s very easy to choose a tea that does NOT pair well with the food. My companion made the mistake of ordering the chocolate chai with the savory course, and it did not go well.

I played it safe with the Lavender Earl Grey and the Vanilla Bean Black with the savories, and chose the Rooibos Chai for the desert plate. But I can’t even imagine the travesty of drinking something like the chamomile-lemongrass tea with the pesto-tomato-goat cheese sandwich… *shudder.*

Sweets

Pro pairing tip 3: Drizzle the jam or curd from the ‘savory’ plate onto the shortbread from the ‘sweet’ plate.

Afternoon tea desserts San Diego

Eclipse made its name based on its chocolate bars, and that creates a certain set of expectations for a dessert platter. Low and behold: the flourless brownie bite got top billing on the menu.

Sweets at Eclipse tea

The Amaretto tiramisu was rich, drenched, and decadent. The lavender and orange zest shortbreads crumbled on the outside and melted on the inside. The cocoa nib meringue was like wrapping your tongue around a cloud of sugar.

But the apple & aged cheddar tart was unbalanced, the cheddar too aged, sharp and bitter for the apple, overpowering the fruit. I think with a slightly milder cheese it would have worked.

And then there was the flourless brownie bite. The chocolate that could have been the show piece of the plate, but was nearly identical to the brownie bites you can buy at Albertson’s.

What I love about Eclipse: The element of surprise

I love that Eclipse experiments with unexpected flavor combinations. I even love that it can be hit or miss, that it asks your palate not just to taste, but to think. To wonder. To venture into unexplored territory.

One element of an Afternoon Tea that is very rarely, if ever, discussed is the importance of pleasant surprise. The tea sandwich that uses tarragon instead of dill, or a savory pepper jam on a savory scone instead of sweet-on-sweet.

Eclipse excels at upending culinary tropes, delivering surprises with almost every bite, to the point where you expect them, and are disappointed if they aren’t there.

THE CRITERIA

OVERALL RATING

  • Ambiance – Afternoon tea was held in their back room, a modern space that can get a little loud, but well spaced and comfortable.
  • Service – I want to be bffs with our server, and not just because he was quick with the tea refills. He took a genuine, human to human interest in us, and kicked our whole experience up several notches. Keep being awesome my friend.
  • Quality of the tea served – Excellent loose leaf tea blends, but best if you like fruity and flavored teas.
  • Tea sandwich quality & inventiveness – Pleasant surprises abound, as do ‘take home’ ideas. I feel like my appetizer game has been elevated.
  • Scone quality – Biscuits, not scones, but when you consider that British scones and American biscuits are similar… it just gets confusing. Whatever they were, they were delicious, but too savory to go well with the vanilla butter and citrus curd. Beautiful with the fig jam though.
  • Tea cakes & sweets – Tremendous tiramisu, melting meringue and shiver-inducing shortbread. The one disappointment: The chocolate.
  • China Cuteness Quotient – Nil. Plain white. But it worked.

EXPERIENCE

Is the tea room suitable for:

  • Children – Two babies were present, so while I didn’t see booster seats or high chairs, I would say that this is very kid friendly.
  • Large parties – Yes, the back room is ideally suited for large groups and private parties.
  • Bachelorette Parties / Bridal Showers / Baby Showers – Yes, Yes, and Yes. Lots of caffeine free tea options too.
  • Friend Get-Togethers – Perfect. Also for post-protest-march brunches.
  • Theme Days & Events – This was an Event, they don’t offer afternoon teas as a rule. I recommend following them on Facebook (or join my Facebook group for notifications of future tea events).
  • Hat Lovers – It’s pretty casual, but Bad Madge Vintage is just down the street and has excellent vintage hats. So I say: You do you.
  • Anglophiles & Tea Aficionados – Considering the lack of clotted cream and proper scones, this is not a place for hard core Anglophiles. If Tea Aficionados are open to creative blends, then yes. For purists, probably not.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • Wheelchair accessible? Yes.
  • Are high chairs / child seating available? Not sure, but well behaved young children appear to be welcome.
  • Gluten free options – Possible with advanced notice
  • Vegetarian and/or vegan options – Yes to vegetarian

You & Yours – G&Tea Review

Tea ‘events’ in San Diego have been springing up in unexpected places, like chocolate shops and, in this case, my favorite San Diego distillery and ‘tasting room’ (read: cocktail lounge), You & Yours in the East Village.

When you go to a tea room, you know what to expect. There are unwritten rules for how things should go. But with events like these, it’s anyone’s guess. I came in expecting one thing: Amazing cocktails. I found them – oh yes – and discovered new depths to how much I love this woman-owned distillery.

THE ATTENTION TO DETAIL!

Adorable, multi-page printed menus greeted us as we sat down in a cozy nook for two. My companion today was graphic designer Sarah Salaverria, so there was a bit of gushing over the menu design (and the interior design, and the little branded tea bag ‘flag’). What is the name for the little paper on the end of a tea bag string? Anyhow, this menu immediately set up some very grand expectations.

I’ve never seen a menu like this at a tea room, but it was absolutely brilliant in this context because: You & Yours doesn’t typically offer afternoon tea. Its patrons may not typically go to afternoon teas. So, this menu lays out exactly what to expect for the uninitiated – and, it highlights how they created each menu item around their gin.

Yep, nearly every item was either inspired by their gin flavor profiles, or actually included gin in the making.

Now, I’ve had their cocktails, and they are ALL well crafted, well balanced, never too sweet, never overpowering, with surprising and inspiring flavor juxtapositions. This menu was created with that same sommellier-level palate.

Adding gin to the lemon curd and soaking dates in gin before baking them into scones are two tricks I’m taking home to my own kitchen.

As exciting as the savories and sweets were – the real highlight of the afternoon was the cocktail menu. The ‘Welcome Punch’ was the “Shirley Rose” with Y&Y Sunday Gin, rose petal tea cordial and lemon.

Pink, delicious, delightful – and so charming to have a punch bowl of a really good gin-based cocktail. We have lost the art of the party punch. You & Yours found it again.

In addition to that, we had our choice of three cocktails, all involving tea as a primary ingredient.

  • The Green Flash – Y&Y Summer Citrus Vodka + green tea + strawberry + lemon + mint
  • Violet Macaron (pronounced “mack – ah – rawn” please, not macaroon) – London Dry Gin + black tea + blueberry + lemon + honey + lavender sea salt rim
  • San Diego Sunset – Barrel-rested Provisional Gin + rooibos tea + blood orange + lemon + sea salt + bubbles

I ordered the Violet Macaron, of course (don’t bother me with Vodka, even very good vodka, and rooibos is for the weak). It was as lovely as it sounds, but the surprise was in the lavender sea salt rim – they used sugar with the salt! Sweet and savory, with a hint of ground lavender.

For their very first afternoon tea, You & Yours hit it out of the park. Their characteristic attention to detail was evident in every single touch – except one.

An important one.

The Tea

Did you notice I haven’t mentioned the actual tea part of this afternoon tea? Probably not – and I wouldn’t blame you. Because the ambiance, design, food and cocktails are attention-grabbing enough. But the tea was the one tiny gnat in the sangria.

Here’s what they did very, very right:

They sourced the tea locally, from Point Loma Tea, which created a custom blend inspired by their Sunday Gin. Green tea with mint, rose hips and grapefruit paired perfectly with everything on the menu and the cocktails.

That is no mean feat.

And for this reason, I forgive them for not having a selection of teas from which to choose. Sometimes if you give people choices, they make wrong choices. Best not to risk it in this case.

And here’s where they missed a step:

Each person had a single bag of this lovely blend, and a teapot of warm water.

And that was the problem.

You can’t keep water in a teapot from turning tepid without a teapot warmer. And, you can’t properly steep your tea without hot water. Notice how light the water is in the tea cup pictured above.

If they did have properly hot water, a single tea bag would have over-steeped very quickly, ruining the tea. With the single tea bag and warm water, the tea didn’t over-steep, but it also didn’t steep enough. Still, the flavor was good, which is a minor miracle.

Y&Y does get extra points for including steeping instructions in the menu – if only the water was hot enough! Timing is everything with tea, but it’s nothing without hot water.

This was an afternoon tea that was more about the gin and nibbles, and that’s okay

THE CRITERIA

OVERALL RATING

  • Ambiance – Modern and sleek, like Anthropologie but with cocktails and light, breezy jazz.
  • Service – Excellent service, even when we sent them back for hotter water multiple times.
  • Quality of the tea served – Point Loma Tea, loose leaf, custom blend, very good.
  • Tea sandwich quality & inventiveness – Bloody brilliant. Soaking salmon in vodka before rolling it up with cucumbers? Aaaah!
  • Scone quality – Perfect scone, though I did find the explanation of the scone in the menu to be funny. “British scones are more dense and less sweet than American scones.” Because some bumpkins need that explained.
  • Tea cakes & sweets – Gin-infused chocolate truffle with toasted marshmallow on top on a graham cracker crust. Need I say more?
  • China Cuteness Quotient – Top marks. Mismatched China with pretty colors and roses everywhere.

EXPERIENCE

Is the tea room suitable for:

  • Children – Not unless you’re weaning them on gin.
  • Large parties – Yes, there were a couple of large tables for groups.
  • Bachelorette Parties / Bridal Showers / Baby Showers – Yes, Yes, and Yes if you’re into boozy baby showers.
  • Friend Get-Togethers – Perfect.
  • Theme Days & Events – This was an Event, they don’t offer afternoon teas as a rule. I recommend following them on Facebook (or join my Facebook group for notifications of future tea events).
  • Hat Lovers – There were 3 ladies wearing hats, two of those ladies were us. Overall, the dress code was distressingly casual for my taste. C’est San Diego.
  • Anglophiles & Tea Aficionados – Yes for the clotted cream, jam, lemon curd and scone, and the gin, but NO for tea snobs. Or, perhaps I’ll say “not yet.” Y&Y is clearly helmed by perfectionists, and I’d be surprised if they didn’t have teapot warmers the next time they host this event.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • Wheelchair accessible? Yes.
  • Are high chairs / child seating available? No.
  • Gluten free options – Didn’t see any
  • Vegetarian and/or vegan options – Yes to vegetarian

Afternoon Tea in Unexpected Places

Image from Eclipse Chocolate, San Diego

Dear readers – I am flabbergasted and very pleased to say that Afternoon Tea is becoming quite THE THING in San Diego. In starting this blog, I expected to cover the dozen or so afternoon tea establishments in San Diego county, and little else. But then Afternoon Teas began popping up in the most unexpected places!

Here is a quick roundup of the upcoming Afternoon Tea events I’m most excited about. Get your tickets fast, because most of these are one-time things and sell out quickly.

Eclipse Chocolate: Sugar & Salt Afternoon Tea

Date: Saturday, September 14th 2019, 10am-1pm. Register for seats here.

Eclipse is one of my favorite places in South Park (2145 Fern Street) for their brunches, their chocolates, and their cupcakes. They infuse chocolate into everything, sweet and savory, creating one of the most imaginative menus in San Diego. And now they’re hosting a tea! Tea for 2 is $55, and get in on this fast, because September 14th is next weekend!

You & Yours Afternoon Tea

Date: Sunday, September 22nd 2019, 3-5pm. Get tickets here.

You & Yours (1495 G Street) is a very fine cocktail establishment and gin distillery with bonus points for having a woman owner/distiller at the helm. Her gins are delightful and the cocktails fanciful and well-balanced (yes, when I’m not a tea snob, I moonlight as a cocktail snob). This Afternoon Tea will be held in their tasting room, and includes hot tea, a tea cocktail, and a tiered tray of the usual suspects. I’ve got my tickets – how about you? $45/pp.

Fairmont Grand Del Mar Downton Abbey Movie Tea

Date: Tickets go on sale September 6th, tea date is Sunday September 29th from 2-4pm. Get tickets here.

There are a number of Downton Abbey Movie teas – Shakespeare’s just had a week of them – but this one at the Fairmont Grand Del Mar (5300 Del Mar Court) has a few more bells and whistles than usual, like live music and a hat pop-up shop. I have misgivings about the hat pop-up shop. Part of me is happy to encourage people to enjoy the wearing of hats in any way. But the persnickety part of me tends to be disappointed by poor quality and mass-produced millinery. I’m half tempted to show up in a very fine hat just to show people what they’re missing.

Get your San Diego tea event notifications all in one place – join my private Facebook group San Diego Afternoon Tea Lovers. When I spot a tea event, I share it there!

The London Bakery, Ramona

An Anglophile’s oasis in an Old West Stagecoach Stop

The first time I stepped into The London Bakery in Old Town Ramona, my jaw dropped, and not a little drool escaped before I remembered to shut my mouth like a lady.

How did this get here? Oooooh, look at those pastries!

Now, if you are well read in British literature or regularly watch historical British dramas, you may be familiar with the tea room.

The tea room was like our Starbucks today, a place for the working person to get a cup of hot caffeine and a snack. In Victorian London, it was one of the few places respectable working girls could safely go for a cuppa and a bite to eat.

The tea room wasn’t an elegant ‘high tea’ or afternoon tea place. But, it did offer a respite from the noise and dust of the street. I’ve always thought the idea sounded lovely.

In fact, I’ve frequently wished for a tea shop where I could walk in, have a properly brewed cuppa and a scone, just as a civilized break in the day. Not as on occasion, or an event. Just as a moment to pause, to appreciate, to savor, and to re-center. I didn’t think it existed; I never thought I’d find it.

But here it is, in Ramona.

While The London Bakery does offer a full Afternoon Tea, it’s the simple cream tea (house-made scone, house-made clotted cream and house-made jam or lemon curd), served with Stash tea, that won me over.

Now for my Persnickety Moment: Stash is a bagged tea, not loose leaf. BUT, it’s one of the best bagged teas on the market, and I was very pleased with my Double Bergamot Earl Grey. Clearly, the proprietor has thought her tea choices through – as one might expect, because she IS British.

Now, for the important details: The clotted cream, lemon curd and strawberry jam are all made in-house. The clotted cream, in particular, is excellent. Don’t expect it to be sweet, it shouldn’t be. The sweet part – the curd or the jam – goes on top (or, shudder, below the cream).

Since I was very hungry, I also got a sausage roll, not included in the basic Cream Tea. Good pastry (slightly underbaked on this occasion), excellent British style sausage. If you’ve been the UK and long for a good sausage roll, this is the place.

Ah, is there any sound more soothing that the tinkle of a tiny spoon stirring cream into a tea cup? British voices from the kitchen add to the ambiance, and good humor abounds. This is a tea room with a strong sense of humor.

Will & Kate approve. I think I have that dress…
The Queen is WATCHING YOU.
Skinny people ARE easier to kidnap.

Overall, I would say The London Tea Room is a delightful surprise, and a place I plan to return to often. It’s one of the few tea establishments in San Diego county that allows a casual walk-in (though you do need to make a reservation for their full Afternoon Tea), and is the perfect midday restorative for a day of antiquing in Ramona.

OVERALL RATING:

  • Ambiance – New & classy? Historic? Elegant? Doily n’ Dolls? – Uniquely Ramonan. It’s a British tea room plonked into the middle of an Old West stagecoach stop, and thus defies expectations.
  • Service – are servers attentive? Are they knowledgeable? Do they leave the tea to OVERSTEEP?! – Bonus points for the owner actually being British and upholding the highest standards in clotted cream, lemon curd and jam, but the servers in the shop won’t babysit you with your tea bag. You’ve got to take on that responsibility yourself. Four minutes, my friends. Set a timer.
  • Quality of the tea served – Bagged, but Stash is very good. Better than a bad loose-leaf tea any day.
  • Tea sandwich quality & inventiveness – So far, I’ve only partaken of the Cream Tea, which doesn’t come with sandwiches. But, since I was hungry, I also tried one of their sausage rolls, which was an exemplary specimen of its kind. I look forward to investigating their full Afternoon Tea soon.
  • Scone quality – fresh baked in-house? Light and fluffy? Mary Berry-worthy? – The scone varieties are inventive, delicious, and substantial. I very much enjoyed my strawberry & lavender scone, and the cherry almond scone. The clotted cream is as good as it gets, the lemon curd was a little runny (but I still finished it off with a spoon), and the strawberry jam was a little tart, which is a nice surprise if you aren’t fond of overly sweet American-style jam.
  • Tea cakes & sweets – N/A, though their bakery case is packed with chocolate macaroons (not to be confused with fussy French macarons), cakes, cupcakes, “Better than the Factory” cheesecake, cream puffs and pavlovas. Even a Queen Victoria Sponge, which I haven’t seen before except on The Great British Baking Show. Mary Berry would approve.
  • Fine China Cuteness Quotient – Medium. A mix-and-match style that varies between plain-Jane, and cute-as-buttons. I’ve had one tea served in a glass mug, another with a cute mis-matched tea pot and cup/saucer.

Is the tea room suitable for:

EXPERIENCE

  • Children – yes, it’s casual and family-friendly. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my friend and her darling 2-year-old (who is remarkably well-behaved and loves a good tea outing. Your results may vary.)
  • Large parties – it’s a small shop, but they do cater for wedding showers, baby showers, weddings, anniversaries, and kids tea parties, and offer an Afternoon Tea discount on parties over 12 people.
  • Bachelorette Parties / Bridal Showers / Baby Showers – If they’re on the small side, and expectations for fanciness are managed
  • Friend Get-Togethers – Definitely, this is where it shines
  • Theme Days & EventsFollow them on Facebook for announcements, because they do come up with some surprising, and very fun, events, like the Tea & Tarot Reading day I attended. Such fun!
  • Hat Lovers – While not fancy, this establishment does appreciate the effort of a stylish hat. Wear with pride.
  • Anglophiles & Tea Aficionados – Yes for Anglophiles, Yes for pastry enthusiasts, and ‘it depends’ for Tea Aficionados. I am a self-avowed tea snob and was utterly charmed by the place, but its claim to fame is not the tea itself.

SPECIAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • Wheelchair accessible? Yes
  • Are high chairs / child seating available? Not yet tested
  • Gluten free options – Did not see any
  • Vegetarian and/or vegan options – Vegetarian, would not recommend for Vegan

The London Bakery

Address: 632 Main St, Ramona, CA 92065

Phone(858) 900-7363

HOURS

Saturday7AM–8PM
Sunday7AM–8PM
MondayClosed
Tuesday10AM–4PM
Wednesday10AM–4PM
Thursday10AM–4PM
Friday7AM–8PM
Mmmm shortbread…
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