After having our first snow last week and with the holiday spirit in the air, you can’t help but want to pop in a cozy tea room and warm up with a cup of cheer (aka tea). With its sophisticated decor, the charming English-style Queen Mary Tea Room, owned by “Queen” Mary Greengo, makes for the perfect locale. I recently stopped by the University District-area store and, in an effort to slowly convert the rest of the crew into tea lovers, brought Kaylie along for the ride.
Upon entering the Queen Mary Tea Room, we were seated next to the home of Princess, the tea room’s resident dove, who enjoys watching guests from her perch (I later found out her counterpart, Earl, a five-year-old pied dove, makes his home at the Queen Mary Tea Emporium down the street). I was curious to learn more about these feathered friends, so I asked Queen Mary’s Brand Ambassador, Michael Zaborowski, to tell me about their story. According to Michael, “Mary has always been a great lover of birds. She even has a Macaw and a Lovebird at home! They add to the elegance of the environment here, just as anywhere.” Both doves used to live at the tea room, but when Mary opened the Tea Emporium three years ago Earl was relocated there so he can greet guests with a coo as they enter the store.
Our table was decorated for the season, with miniature Christmas trees, a bowl of sparkling green, red and white sugar and beautiful floral bone china. After pouring over the menu of over 80 different teas from all over the world, Kaylie and I decided to select one of the special holiday teas. With six teas to choose from, we had a hard decision to make. However, in the end we decided upon Holiday Harvest, a flavored black tea described on the menu as being “infused with orange slices, cardamom pods, pink peppercorn, clove, cinnamon, coriander and apple pieces.” According to our server, this tea is a perennial favorite, so while the other holiday teas change every year, the Holiday Harvest is always featured.
The tea came in a pretty silver teapot and our server told us to steep the tea for three to four minutes. So we flipped over the hourglass timer on our table and waited anxiously for the last grains of sand to trickle through the timer so we could try our tea. The tea had a mild orange flavor, with a hint of spiciness and smelled like cloves, cinnamon and citrus. Kaylie described it best when she exclaimed, “This smells like Christmas! Like what Santa’s house at the North Pole would smell like.” We also got to sample the Roasted Chestnut tea (also flavored black tea), which had a very sweet smell (like a cinnamon roll) but a smoky, nutty taste.
Though the Holiday Harvest and Roasted Chestnut tea were very different, both of the teas were quite tasty. If you aren’t able to make to it Queen Mary Tea in time to try one of the limited-time Christmas teas, never fear, the shop does feature teas for different holidays as well. According to Michael, “Last February saw the ‘Romeo’s Raspberry Rose’ and March featured ‘Luck of the Irish Vanilla Cream’.”
Although I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting Mary in person, I did get the opportunity to chat with her and Michael via email. Launched in 1988, Mary proudly admits that Queen Mary Tea Room is the oldest independently owned tea room in the United States.
Mary came up with the idea to create the tea room during one fateful lunch with friends. While all of Mary’s friends ordered coffee, she ordered tea, which Mary claims arrived “weak, watery and flavorless.” Thus, Mary adds, “The idea for the Queen Mary Tea Room was born. I want[ed] a place where guests fe[lt] warm and welcome to sit and enjoy the traditional tea experience with the best cup of tea they have ever had.”
While this incredible idea may have just been a passing fancy for some, Mary had the necessary skills to turn her dream into a reality. Prior to opening the tea room, Mary spent years as a banquet chef at a five-star hotel (she has a degree in culinary arts) and always had the desire to run her own business. Tea also comes naturally to Mary. A native of Seattle, which might as well be the coffee capitol of America, she has never had a cup of coffee in her life (neither had her mother and grandmother). But Mary’s background wasn’t the only sign the store was meant to be. Mary explains that she and her brother came up with the store name at the same time, on the same day. Mary says coming up with a layout for the store was equally painless, “The design just popped into my head and the vision came together in all of two minutes. I bought all of my kitchen equipment at auction and it all fit with only ¼ inch to spare.”
Whether you believe in things being kismet or not, one thing is for certain – Mary has created a unique and wonderful atmosphere. With tea and food designed to please everyone who enters, you certainly won’t find another tea room like Queen Mary (although Mary says customers keep requesting that she open another tea room elsewhere). Mary isn’t afraid to share her royal status either. If you ask, she or her staff will happily offer up tiaras for kids (and adults too!) to wear during birthday parties or other special occasions, allowing everyone a chance to be “queen” for the day.