Having afternoon tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe at the Dickens Fair is a popular holiday activity in the Bay Area. The tables are full of Dickens Fair patrons from the time it opens in the morning until the last tea seating in the late afternoon, and for good reason: having tea at Cuthbert’s is a wonderful way to spend some time at Dickens. The staff, and many customers dress in Victorian costume, and add to the seasonal atmosphere, making the people-watching inside the tea room as much fun as it is outside the tea room.
If you want to have tea seated inside the tea room, you’ll need to make a reservation first thing upon arriving at the Dickens Fair, or make your reservation in advance, online. Otherwise, you can take your chances that they’ll have room for walk-ins, or order your tea and treats a la carte from the take-out window at the back of the shop.
The English afternoon tea in the shop is a fun way to refresh yourself at the Dickens Fair, however. Pots of tea and treats are available a la carte, but the most popular choice is to order the afternoon tea for $21 per person. This includes: a pot of tea (regular, decaf or herbal), scones or crumpets with butter, cream, lemon curd and jam, assorted tea sandwiches (choice between salmon, cucumber, watercress, or egg salad), English trifle, and a commemorative teapot to take home.
The San Jose Tea Examiner met with some members of the South Bay Ladies’ Tea Guild, the Greater Bay Area Costumer’s Guild and the San Diego Costumer’s Guild, for tea at Cuthbert’s. Several of us ordered tea and sandwiches a la carte, but most of us chose the prix fixe afternoon tea. The food quality is good, it is tasty and filling; most of it is purchased, but the tea and sandwiches are made on site. The tea is loose-leaf, served in individual teapots, and you get a choice of lemon curd, cream, or jam with your scones or crumpets (you get two small scones or crumpets). The sandwiches are large; basically they make a whole sandwich with two full slices of bread, cut off the crusts, cut the sandwich in half, and serve you both halves. You get two large tea sandwiches, both with the same filling; I usually order the smoked salmon, but the other fillings are also tasty. Although it’s not listed on the menu, the Rum Cake served at Cuthbert’s is apparently famous for its richness and flavor, and you could probably ask your server to bring you some rum cake instead of English trifle! Your take-home teapot is brought to you with your bill, and it’s a small 2-cup teapot with the Cuthbert’s logo on it. Altogether, the tea is a good value and worth $21.
There is some room for improvement, however. Since Cuthbert’s is so popular, it is always crowded, and the servers often get flustered with all the customers and are not entirely organized. The last time I was there, we had our food order mixed up several times, and we seemed to have three different servers waiting on us. Also, the lemon curd, jam and cream are served in tiny bowls, containing one spoonful to share with everyone in your party, and you have to flag someone down to ask for more. I briefly considered bringing a jar of my homemade Meyer lemon curd to the Dickens Fair with me just to avoid this! Also, the tea leaves are left in the teapot when it’s served to you, so the tea tends to get bitter by the end of your tea time. A tea strainer comes to the table with the teapot, so try to strain and drink your tea quickly! However, these are small quibbles compared to the fun of participating in the whole scene, especially if you have dressed in costume! It is also a wonderful photo opportunity.
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. Parking is $10 per car. You can also take BART to the Dickens Fair and use your BART pass for a discount on your entrance ticket!
Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.
For more information:
Dickens Christmas Fair website
Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe website
“By Dickens, a Victorian Pacifican serves up delectables at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe”
Review of Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe on Yelp!
“How to have afternoon tea at the Dickens Fair in San Francisco”
“When the exhibits are people: first-person cultural interpreters at Dickens Christmas Fair.”
“Favorite tea-time recipe from Gourmet magazine: Meyer lemon curd”
“Where can I have an English or European-style afternoon tea in the San Jose area?”
“Tea 101: what do we mean when we talk about tea?”
“What you need to make a good pot of hot tea”
“Tea and San Jose’s Christmas in the Park”
“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”
The official Dickens Fair costume guide
Food booths at the Dickens Fair
“Take BART to the Great Dickens Christmas Fair”