The Christmas countdown in the Bay Area has officially begun, not because of Black Friday, but because of the opening of The Great Dickens Christmas Fair! And of course, given the fact that tea became England’s national drink near the beginning of Charles Dickens’ lifetime, there are several places where you can get a nice cup of tea and a treat at the Dickens Fair. Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe, the only sit-down tea room at Dickens, is the most popular place.
Tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe is so popular that it is almost impossible to walk in and find an empty table. Advance reservations are highly recommended, and the traditional plan is to arrive at the Cow Palace at least an hour before opening time so that you can get in line near the front. That will enable you to walk through the Fair to the Tea Shoppe without having to waste too much time stuck in the crowd at the entrance. This year, opening time is 11 a.m. Once you’ve entered, immediately head for Cuthbert’s and get in line to make a reservation for later!
This year, Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe is also offering an online reservation service for customers, and they have expanded the Shoppe to include a Solarium dining area! Reserved seatings for afternoon tea in the Solarium are 11:45 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:15 p.m. and 4 p.m., and online reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance. There is a $5 per person deposit required for online reservations, or you can pay for your afternoon tea in full, through PayPal. Once Cuthbert’s is booked, they don’t open the shop for walk-ins! Once you have your reservation, you are free to walk around and see the Fair, and come back when it’s your time for tea.
You’ll need to check in and confirm your reservation around 15 minutes before your reserved tea time; if you’re running late, they’ll only hold your table for 10 minutes! Once you are seated at your table inside the shop, you can choose from a menu of a la carte items, or order the full afternoon tea, which costs $21 without tax; this is a prix fixe menu that includes one pot of tea, two scones or crumpets with butter, honey, whipped cream, lemon curd or jam (you can ask for more than one topping), one kind of tea sandwich (you get two sandwiches, both the same flavor) and one dessert item, plus a small commemorative teapot to take home. The a la carte menu enables you to order each item separately. The High Tea is served at 4 p.m. and also includes a fixed menu and a teapot to take home.
If you can’t get a reservation, you can buy all the a la carte menu items from the take-out window at the back of the tea shop, and there are a few small tables and chairs outside the shop windows where you can sit to eat your treats. There is also a tea booth – Mr. Brown’s Fine Coffee and Tea — elsewhere in the Fair, but seating nearby is on the regular picnic tables scattered throughout the venue.
To get to the Dickens Fair from San Jose, take 101N, towards San Francisco, and take Exit 426 A/Brisbane. Merge on to Bayshore Highway, and take Bayshore to Daly City. Make a left off of Bayshore and onto Geneva Ave. once you get to Daly City, and follow the signs to 2600 Geneva Ave. You can also get to the Cow Palace on BART, and take the free shuttle from the Glen Park station. Admission is $25 per person – although there is a $3 discount if you purchase your tickets in advance online – and parking is $10 per car. The Dickens Fair runs on weekends from the Friday after Thanksgiving, to the Sunday before Christmas. Having tea at Cuthbert’s – especially if you are dressed in Victorian costume – is an experience not to be missed!
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach
For more information:
The 33rd Annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party website
Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe
“When the exhibits are people: first-person cultural interpreters at Dickens Christmas Fair.”
“Where can I have an English or European-style afternoon tea in the San Jose area?”
“Tea history: what type of tea did American founders drink?”
“Tea 101: what do we mean when we talk about tea?”
“What you need to make a good pot of hot tea”
The official Dickens Fair costume guide
“By Dickens, a Victorian Pacifican serves up delectables at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe”
Food booths at the Dickens Fair
“Take BART to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair”
“The Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco (photos)”
“Victorian costumes at the Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco”
“The Great Dickens Christmas Fair launches SF’s holiday season”