Allison Ritter and her mother Sue Whitbeck loved the tradition of afternoon tea, and today they share that love with guests in Berryville, and their new location of The Tea Cart at Old Water Street Inn on Boscawen St. While the Berryville location is reminiscent of historic tea rooms with a more formal flair, Allison refers to the Winchester location as more of a southern tea room, or Downton Abbey vs Bridgerton, if you will.
After years of experience at the Berryville location, Allison wanted to create a tea room that doesn’t rely on walk-in traffic, emphasizing that her approach is centered on reservations and providing a special occasion experience. The Boscawen location allows space for larger parties while still having space for individual reservations with 5 separate dining areas that can be combined if needed.
The historic 1840 Federal Style home lends itself perfectly to afternoon tea. The distinction between “high tea” and “afternoon tea” is reversed in most peoples minds according to Allison. High tea, historically served at high-top tables, was associated with the working class and included heartier fare to sustain individuals. In contrast, afternoon tea, or “low tea,” was a more luxurious affair served on coffee tables, often in an opulent setting, and was favored by the upper class.
As we perused our teas including a spiced chai, lapsang souchong, and ginger peach, Allison dispelled the myth of extending one’s pinky finger while drinking tea, explaining that this is a practice often considered offensive to the British. Instead, she emphasizes the importance of holding the tea cup with relaxed elegance. Other etiquette tips include never stirring tea in circles, always back and forth, and the tradition of adding milk to tea to preserve fine china. A tradition Allison has chosen to change slightly is serving the scones before food service, whereas it is traditionally served last in the UK, a moment that has confused some guests from out of the U.S.
Allison’s approach is to adapt to seasonal ingredients and customer preferences while maintaining the integrity of the tea experience with her menus. She prides herself on offering diverse options, including gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian alternatives to cater to various dietary restrictions. While traditional cucumber sandwiches abound, Allison likes to experiment with flavors such as chai shortbread with pumpkin spice buttercream and themed menus for special events.
Make reservations or learn more at Theteacartva.com