New and improved tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe

English Trifle at Cuthbert's Tea Shoppe. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

Hurry and get your tickets to the Dickens Fair, because December 17 and 18 is the last weekend!  New for 2011, afternoon tea at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe has a new format.  Instead of ordering your full tea off the menu when you arrive, as in the past, Afternoon Tea or High Tea at Cuthbert’s is now completely prix-fixe, down to the kind of tea you are served, and they are now only served at certain times of day, with a la carte items available in between.  Reservations are still highly recommended!

High Tea, served late in the afternoon, begins with a small pot of English Breakfast tea on the table waiting for you when you sit down.  Shortly after that, the servers bring each person two 2-inch scones with a small amount of lemon curd, strawberry jam, and whipped cream in individual mini paper cups.  Then, a plate of tea sandwiches with a variety of fillings (4 small sandwiches for each person), and lastly, a small plastic goblet full of English trifle, made with pound cake, strawberries, vanilla pudding and whipped cream.

Cuthbert's Tea Shoppe commemorative teapot. Photo: Virginia Urbach.

I was pleased to discover, when I was at Cuthbert’s for the 2011 season, that even though the staff were serving close to 100 people at one time, the scones were still warm when they reached our table!  They were your standard cream scone, crumbly and slightly sweet, but very nice.  The sandwiches included one or two of each kind of tea sandwich on the main menu, and for my party of two, we had four cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, two smoked salmon, and two egg mayo (egg salad) sandwiches.  Each of these sandwiches was the more usual ¼ of a whole sandwich, instead of the half sandwiches formerly served at Cuthbert’s; it was nice to have a variety of fillings this time, though.  The English trifle was tasty, but I thought the pound cake and vanilla pudding tasted slightly artificial in flavor.  Last, but not least, the tea was bagged instead of loose, and the servers only replenished the pot with hot water throughout the meal, instead of offering fresh tea, so the last pots of tea were considerably weaker than the first.  However, allowances must be made when dealing with non-standard food preparation areas like behind the scenes at Dickens!

Coventry Carolers at Cuthbert's Tea Shoppe. Photo: Virginia Urbach.

Also new this year was a little bit of entertainment included with the tea.  The Coventry Carolers were in the tea shop, providing live music as the guests were seated.  After about 15 to 20 minutes, their performance ended, and the food began to be served.  Halfway through tea time, there was a great deal of noise coming from one wall of the shop, where there was a decorative fireplace and mantel.  This noise turned out to be a group of chimney-sweeps, who literally climbed down the “chimney” and through the fireplace, into the tea shop, accompanied by more noise and lots of dust.  Authentically covered in soot and wielding chimney brushes, they spent a few minutes walking around the tea shop handing out “business cards” for their “sweeping service”, Miracle Sweeps of London (“If it’s a clean sweep, it’s a miracle!”), before gathering at the front of the shop to sing a funny song in fake Cockney accents that made the words almost unintelligible. Unexpected guests at tea!

Chimney sweeps at Cuthbert's Tea Shoppe. Photo: Virginia Urbach.

Another change from last year was the small teapot included in the $21 price; instead of it being a 3-cup commemorative teapot with the Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe logo on it, they were 3-cup teapots in a solid color, with no commemorative logo.  My guest and I both received solid purple teapots.  Perhaps, with the increased service of the prix-fixe afternoon and high teas, they ran out of the commemorative teapots?  Or, perhaps they decided that a solid-color pot with no logo would be more fitting for year-round use in the customers’ homes.

Cuthbert’s has a new location within the Dickens Fair layout, and has doubled its size with a second dining area called the Solarium.  If you make your reservations for tea online, before you arrive at the Dickens Fair, you are automatically seated in the Solarium; if you make your reservations immediately upon arriving at the Dickens Fair (and they sell out all their seatings very quickly!) you are seated in the main dining area of the shop.  There still seem to be some bugs to work out in their system, as indicated by the fact that we were seated almost 10 minutes later than our reservation, but the crowding was considerably less with the new expanded location, and the organization and staffing seemed to go much more smoothly than in past years.  At any rate, the $21 price was still a reasonable one for the food and entertainment that the customers receive.  It has the Ladies’ Tea Guild and the San Jose Tea Examiner’s “Seal of Approval”!

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach

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For more information:
The 33rd Annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party website
Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe website
“By Dickens, a Victorian Pacifican serves up delectables at Cuthbert’s Tea Shoppe”
“When the exhibits are people: first-person cultural interpreters at Dickens Christmas Fair.”
“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”

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