When one thinks of Central Florida, one might be familiar with the acres of orange groves where so much of our orange juice is grown. Or perhaps the fields of delicious strawberries ripening to be shipped north. Maybe you even know about the cattle nurseries, where many of our beef and dairy cattle begin their lives.
But who knew that Central Florida was a hotbed of high tea?
It turns out that it is a place of charming, restful tea rooms with proprietary blends, delicate china and genteel service. There are, in fact, two lovely and different tea rooms to sample, only a few miles apart.
Lavender and Lace, located in Lake Albert, Florida, just up the hill from the lake and public park, is housed in a charming 1920s-era Craftsman-style cottage nestled in a cottage garden full of legacy plants and little nooks. The spreading branches of an ancient tree dripping with Spanish moss beckons you toward the garden, filled with delightful furniture, colorful flowers and little seating areas. It has the slightly disheveled appearance of a house that is much loved and lived in.
The cottage dictates the entire experience at Lavender and Lace. It is delightful, but largely informal and with a friendly, English country-influenced feel. Like a lovely visit to the house of the 19th Century English grandmother that you never knew you had. Every corner contains something new and charming to look at, but it is a bit overstuffed with elegant, breakable tea-related objects and furniture in which to store them. It’s actually more like the power of a dozen or so English grandmothers all concentrated in one mass of bone china, teapots and elegant tablecloths.
The ambience inside celebrates the antique architecture as well as the light and bright nature of a cottage. It is full of vintage furniture, fabrics, woodwork and china, beautifully displayed around the sitting areas. The rooms are full of mismatched tables and chairs. The tea pots and cups are as unique as your orders and so each diner is given an individualized experience. And there are small arrangements of live flowers on the tables.
The menu is very affordable, limited, and leans heavily on country-style favorites like pot pie and chicken salad and crepes as well as English-style curries. Lavender and Lace is notable for the incredibly delicious muffins that come with your tea. They are so good; you’ll want to eat plates of them. While it is deceptively simple, everything is prepared to perfection and beautifully presented. It epitomizes country charm, perfect for its rural cottage garden setting.
The tea list is English-style again and many of the fruit infused teas are among the best, particularly those with berry notes. Our party enjoyed both the Tibetan Raspberry and Himalayan Strawberry. They make a perfect complement to the delicious, light fare and the scrumptious desserts, leaning heavily on chiffon pies and trifle.
We went for lunch, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who was looking to eat a substantial meal in a charming setting. And I had a delightful, not too hot English-style curry, that would have been perfectly at home on a menu in Kent somewhere. My companions enjoyed fish and a fruit plate.
A few miles away, The Twisted Teapot has somewhat grander ambitions. Set in an ordinary neighborhood of Winter Haven, FL, it has a less charming location, with a neat backyard with tables instead of a sprawling cottage garden. It is the more traditional tea room of the two, concentrating on presenting High Tea in the English style. No curries or full meals here. While there are a few sandwiches and substantial salads, the focus is on bite-sized lighter fare to accompany tea.
It is also the more upscale of the two tea rooms, with a secondary focus on art, including a spectacular antique quilt displayed on one wall, and the collected work of various artists admired by the owner, Tara, on display throughout the rooms.
The furnishings are also more formal and less country cottage with grand dining tables interspersed with smaller tea tables around the rooms and elegant looking glasses and chandeliers everywhere you look. Though there are several porches fitted with picture windows and a more garden style theme, the rooms have a grand feeling. There is a lot of heavy, antique furniture displaying elegant china and formal candelabra giving it a bit more of an English manor feeling in some spaces.
We sampled all three of the high teas, while one of our number iconoclastically had the Royal Roast Beef Ciabatta.
All the High Teas were splendidly presented on tiered serving plates that were delightful to look at, and they all contained absolutely scrumptious offerings like cream puff swans, tea sandwiches, scones and Devonshire cream.
It might seem simple, but there was one tea sandwich with a chicken salad in it that is simply the best chicken salad I’ve ever eaten in my life. Nothing was disappointing and all was as it should have been. Your liking for each of the treats, sandwiches and pastries had only to do with your own preference and not with the skill with which anything was prepared. Everything was delicious.
Because of the amount of sugar that I was going to consume with my tea, I kept to an ordinary black tea, Black Velvet. But Twisted Teapot is notable for its proprietary blends, with all manner of spices and fruit combinations, that it also sells for you to take home. Others sampled the fruitier blends and the chai.
While ambience and presentation is excellent at Twisted Teapot, it’s really the deliciousness of the tea and the food that should encourage you to visit. But if you do the high tea, watch out for sugar overload. The sweets are delicious, but very sweet. The Twisted Tea and Swan Tea are my recommendations because they contain tea sandwiches as well, that help break up the sweetness.
As I was taking photographs, the owner, Tara, showed me some of her art collection. Many of the things at Twisted Teapot are for sale in addition to the tea, so if you see something you very much admire, check it for a price tag. But some of it is her personal collection on display.
You also can’t really go wrong at Twisted Teapot. If it’s formal afternoon tea you’re after, you’ll get all that you could wish in Winter Haven.
Both of these tea rooms are unique, charming and filled with delicious choices. You will find many things to delight you with every taste and both can be enjoyed during your trip to Central Florida.
For more information or to make reservations, visit their websites.
All photography by Suzanne Magnuson.