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Waverly tearoom features high quality food and tea

When someone mentions high tea, you may picture a snobby English gentleman sipping from a painted porcelain cup out of some Oscar Wilde play. Well, this is far from the scene at the Thir-Tea-First Street Café and Tea Room in Waverly.

"We have all kinds of tea societies that come here," said café owner Denise Washington. "We even have a group that rides motorcycles."

Tea societies, you say? That’s right. Washington talks about the Red Hats--a group of women over 50 who wear purple clothes and, of course, red hats. She also mentions the OLT (she’s not supposed to say, but it stands for the Old Ladies of Tea), and the Tea Tootsies to name a few. "And they are tootsies too," she said. With a shake of her head, she added, "They are something else."

As you may have already guessed, this is no ordinary café. Washington bought the old building at an auction three years ago, and quickly converted it to a quaint place to share cookies and cucumber sandwiches.

The first floor houses the café, where you can enjoy homemade soups and sandwiches daily. Upstairs is the tearoom, with a single long table that services from two to ten at a time. The men have their own parlor, complete with a wooden chessboard and big-screen TV.

A collection of porcelain teapots adorns the café walls. Many of them were donated by local residents. "The silver service has been in the family," Washington said. The jewelry and hats belonged to her late grandmother and aunts. "The furniture–some of it was my dining room furniture," she said with a laugh. "Everybody called me a packrat anyway, so a lot of things I had, and it all just came together."

Tea parties are by reservation only because she makes fresh scones and biscuits for them. "We have Americanized it by what we serve with the tea," Washington said. "We do the traditional cucumber sandwiches and tomato sandwiches, but we also do things that we Americans are used to, like tuna toasties and fresh-baked salmon, shrimp and chicken."

When you have a tea party, you can choose between the traditional afternoon tea, a three-course meal for $20; or you can go for the more elaborate five-course high tea for $30. And those who just want to sip a few of the 30 tea varieties can choose the crème tea–one course of scones and biscuits–for $10.

You can even upgrade your afternoon tea by adding a soup or salad without going for the whole high tea shebang. "We call that the happy medium tea, because we’re in America and people want to be catered to," she said.

The English tea tradition may have crept into American culture, but Washington assures the same high quality Queen Victoria would have expected. To capture to full flavor, she uses loose-leaf tea, as opposed to the popular tea bag varieties. "The bag-quality tea is actually the dust of the tea leaves," she said.

With a hint of lavender in the air and warm sunshine breaking through lace curtains, you might feel like you’ve stepped back in time when visiting this Waverly tearoom.

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