Tina's Traditonal Old English Kitchen

When you walk into Tina’s Traditional Old English Kitchen, you’ll immediately know you have stepped into another culture – and you will delight in every second of it.

Authenticity & tradition are the first words that come to mind.  It’s a captivating place that lets you experience everything old English charm has to offer.

My 7-year old daughter accompanied me to interview Tina, and the moment we arrived my little girl was enchanted.  We first put on tea-room hats that Tina has available in a lovely box by the front door.  Just as I was having a mom-moment, thinking my daughter should “not touch a thing,” she was drawn to a small section called “Mr. McGregor’s Garden.”  Tina designed this spot specifically for children and filled it with books & dainty items. She literally has thought of everything!  There are so many details to look at, to ponder on and to ask about.  And what we discovered is that there is purpose and tradition behind every detail.  No matter how small, they each have a meaning.

It is wonderful to learn about the tea tradition from an expert, and Tina is the perfect tutor.

Q:  When did you decide to open a tea room?

A:  I have wanted to open a tea room since I was 28, when I visited one in England that made a big impression on me.  It had such an immaculate culture. The service was everything it should have been, so you left feeling as if you had an experience, not just “tea.”   

Q:  Tell me about your tea room.

A:  It is 100% traditional.  I wanted to keep it vintage and authentic, so if you walked into a tea room in England, it would look and feel like this.  Everything you see was chosen with that in mind, from the vintage chairs, to the white lace, to the combination of tea cups, loose-leaf teas, jams and sandwiches.  You’ll also find a British tie-in with the royal family.

Q:  Where in England are you from? 

A:  I moved to Indiana from Devonshire, England in 2008.  It was quite a culture difference!  Most notably, I would use terms that were familiar in the states, but I would use them with a totally different meaning.  It’s been an adventure to say the least.

Q:  What does tea mean to you?

A:  In England, tea is a way of life and represents so much.  It is the most widely-drunk liquid in the UK…people typically have 2 – 6 cups a day.  It provides an opportunity to slow down and enjoy life and the people around you.  I like to think of it as “nature’s health drink”.  It helps digestion, it’s a source of rich antioxidants and the caffeine from tea is released in a slower way that keeps you going instead of making you jittery.  In that way, tea is kinder to the heart.

There is a science as well as an art to tea. Our teas are loose leaf, which means they are fresher and a higher quality of tea.  With fresh loose-leaf tea, you can get 2-3 refills from the same leaves.  But it also means the tea takes a bit longer to brew.  Black tea needs to seep just a little longer than green, so we put tea timers at every table.  Also, for the perfect cup of tea, temperature matters!  Black tea needs to be made with boiling water, while herbal and green teas should be made with a slightly lower temperature of water.  Boiling water would make those teas bitter.

Q:  Tell me about your food menu. 

A:   All of the recipes are traditionally English, and many of them are my family recipes passed down through the years.  We update our menu seasonally, but it always has soups, salads, some hot items like sausage rolls, as well as an array of tea sandwiches.  We make our own jams/jellys – like fig & ginger jam, and vanilla chai tea jelly.  And we bake our own scones, tarts and crumpets.  People love clotted cream – it’s a slightly sweet fresh cream you spread on scones.  Ours comes from a special cow in Devon.  (My daughter giggled as she heard stories of this special cow).

Q:  There are so many new things to try on your menu!  What do you suggest a person begin with?  

A:  Doing a sandwich sampling is a wonderful way to give you an array of English tastes to enjoy with your tea; it is what would be experienced with a “high tea” in England.  Something everyone loves for its taste and history is the “Victorian Sandwich Cake”.  The story is that the queen had asked the kitchen for a jam sandwich, but the kitchen staff thought that was too plain for the queen.  They wouldn’t dare serve her something so simple.  Instead, they put the jam on layers of a tender cake which is called “Victorian Sandwich Cake” to this day.  It is not as overtly sweet as traditional cake, and because the cake is made with butter – not oil – it is very moist and sticky.  Just delightful.

Q:  Do you have tea parties for children?

A:  Absolutely!  We have Little Prince/Princess High Teas, and we serve a selection of sandwiches, shortbread, & tarts.  There is so much for children to learn from teas and etiquette around a table…respect for themselves and for others, to begin with.

Q:  And you’ve started doing special events, correct?

A:  One of the things I’ve loved the most is offering themed nights.  We did a Harry Potter “Hogwarts High Tea in the Dark” in October where we served butter beer and had a sorting hat! This year, we are starting with a“Dinner at Downton” – a chance for all of the Downton Abbey fans to get dressed up and experience an elegant evening.   In February we will have a Mr. Darcy Evening, complete with actors.  We have so much fun!  Often there are other items for people to taste and try – like sticky toffee pudding and Yorkshire puddings.  You can register for any of the special events on our website.  They are pre-ticketed because they are becoming so popular!

Q:  How has English tea been embraced in Carmel?

A:  Oh goodness!  They have welcomed us with open arms and been excited about everything we do!  It is such an honor to share a part of my country and culture with the people of Carmel.

Q:  What do you want people to think when they leave?

A:  First, I want people to feel at home when they walk in.  When they leave, I want them to feel like they have learned something, tried something new, and experienced a piece of the country I love so dearly.

We left having done just that and enjoyed ourselves from start to finish.  I was so in love with the Earl Grey that I purchased a bag of loose leaf for myself, along with two delicious jams for our own tea time at home.  I would encourage anyone who wants to experience a delightful moment with an intensely flavorful cup of hot tea to stop in and get to know – and learn from – Tina.  She has so much to share!

Tina is available for talks and presentations on everything about tea, from its health benefits to its history and culture.  She also offers etiquette classes for groups.  To inquire about her tea room and services, contact Tina at www.tinastraditional.com or call 317-565-9716.

Interview by Annessa Chumbley, RD