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Atlanta’s Modern Tearooms Are Still Steeped in Tradition
Restaurants & Bars

Atlanta’s Modern Tearooms Are Still Steeped in Tradition

Amy Barnes
almost 2 years ago

“The very act of preparing and serving tea encourages conversation. The little spaces in time created by teatime rituals call out to be filled with conversation. Even the tea itself—warm and comforting—inspires a feeling of relaxation and trust that fosters shared confidences.” - Emilie Barnes

There are really only two beverages to order in Atlanta: Coca-Cola and tea. For the latter, generations gather over delicate china cups and tiered tea trays of finger sandwiches, scones, and steaming hot teapots at one of the city’s many tearooms. Tea and scones are as Southern as “Gone with the Wind,” however, what defines the “traditional Southern tearoom”—typically women in formalwear amid plush and floral decor—is slowly going out with those Southern winds like department store lunch counters.

As I searched for tearooms, I found Yelp reviews lamenting many closed Atlanta locations. Changing tea times mean dads and grandpas now drink tea next to grandmothers and daughters. Tea-infused cocktails, surprising industrial décor and innovative menus are now the new norm. No matter the changes, two constants in every Atlanta tearoom remain: tea, of course, and community.

As old and new generations dine and sip together, combining modern with customary, this trio of Atlanta tearooms celebrate and cater to both crowds.

Warmth of the South: Jessa's Tea Parlor

Owner Jessica James’ friendly tone matches her tearoom’s warmth. Drawing inspiration from her family’s wedding venue, she opened the business after attending a tearoom event with her mother. The parlor has been operating since September 2016.

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Jessica’s menu is chef-inspired with all-natural meats and fresh produce from local Cherokee County farmers and small businesses. Afternoon teas offer promises of Southern charm and even Princess Teas for the tiniest tea drinkers. Food staples include egg salad and scones, coupled with Southern staples like pork sliders on cheese and rosemary biscuits, as well as a fried green tomato panini with “momma’s homemade pimento cheese.”

Jessa’s Tea Parlor also boasts a gift shop that shines with homemade items nestled next to top hats and fascinators. James plans to expand with a bed and breakfast, offering tea on the daily menu, of course. Her closing message to visitors: “Come to Jessa’s y’all and make yourself at home!” She’ll keep the teapot warm for you.

Tea with a Mission: Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party

Over a decade ago, Katrell Christie opened Dr. Bombay’s to give Candler Park an eccentric, beautiful place to gather. While a tearoom by nature, Dr. Bombay’s backdrop focuses on The Learning Tea, the shop’s foundation in Darjeeling, India, granting scholarships to impoverished, orphaned, or trafficked young women. 100 Indian bird photographs are on display and for sale to benefit The Learning Tea’s efforts to keep education opportunities alive. Established in 2009, a majority of the tea house’s profits go to the foundation with Christie traveling twice a year to spend time with her young woman scholars.

Christie is sentimental about the tearoom community, recalling memories of her own childhood where she baked with her Tennessee grandmother and spent birthdays, bridal showers, and first dates in tearooms.

Dr. Bombay’s food features traditional tearoom fare with vegetarian and gluten-free options, along with eight tubs of locally-made ice cream that “dwindles quickly during the hot Atlanta summers.” Special events are as eclectic as the hanging origami and parasol décor: open mics, painting workshops, book signings, and poetry sessions, to name a few. Most consistent and gratifying to Christie are the ticket-only “Taste of India” dinners held the last Monday of every month, offering a three-course feast with Indian samosas, Indian curry, and dessert featuring a different tea each month.

Christie’s message to tearoom visitors is to “slow down, sip and savor” and enjoy conversation and community.

Let It All Steep In: Steep, A Moye Tea House

The historic downtown Canton square holds a light-filled tearoom treasure that breaks the mold of traditional tea rooms while still preserving familiar details: Steep, a Moye Tea House. An extensive renovation of the historic space by owners Lyn and Ruffin Moye created high ceilings and an industrial feel not found in other tearooms. The natural light makes the tearoom not only a community spot but also a sought-after place for photographs, parties, and even an upcoming movie set.

Tea is the focus at Steep with over 50 loose-leaf teas brewed to order and personally customized by hand. A tea flight option gives diners the opportunity to sample four tea options that could include Formosa Oolong, Yerba Mate, Apple Fig, and Champagne and Berry, all served on a chalkboard tray. Moye tea-infused cocktails are also featured and chef Lauri Grizzle won first place for her tea-based Peach Pie at the Canton Farmers Market pie contest this past season.

In addition to award-winning desserts, Steep’s food ranges from traditional tearoom chicken salad to sweet potato hash topped with a fried egg, crumbled bacon, and rosemary. 

Even salad dressing options are tea-centric with orange-raspberry and Meyer lemon-tahini Moye tea-infused dressings. Steep also takes on the avocado toast trend and brings it into tea room territory with sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, a drizzle olive oil and balsamic.

Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party

About the Author

Foodie. Mommy. Writer. Explorer. Midwesterner by birth. Southerner at heart.