Cuisine. Tea Shop in South Side
In America ?afternoon tea? usually brings to mind little girls and ladies who lunch. As students we rarely have the time or the desire to sit down between the hours of 3 and 5 pm for teatime. Tea drinking, after all, is an entirely different culture than coffee drinking, the drink of choice of college students everywhere. For many of us, coffee drinking is a fact of life. It serves a utilitarian need for caffeine. Tea plays the part of the refined and dainty cousin of coffee, demanding more time and attention to be fully appreciated.
Tea drinkers care about quality, not quantity, and believe in savoring food. Tealightful exemplifies this ethos. It was a desire for a specifically tea-oriented establishment that prompted co-owners Donna Westbrooks-Martin and Amye Sledge to open Tealightful, a Victorian-style tearoom in Shadyside. Westbrooks-Martin describes her place as a very traditional and historical space, but gives people the option to learn etiquette and have a formal tea or just come in for a casual cup.
Tealightful is really three spaces in one. Upstairs there is a small tea-related gift shop area that can best be described as a kindly grandmother?s fantasy store. They sell everything from tea cozies to old-fashioned stationery and Victorian home magazines. The shop also sells Tealightful?s signature tea blends. In the same room as the gift shop there is also a so-called casual tearoom. The casual tearoom has four or five small tables, as well as a walk-up register and a display case of pastries.
The atmosphere is that of a springtime garden tea party. All of the tables are perfectly arranged with white tablecloths and color-coordinated flower displays. Each place setting features a delicate teacup, saucer and lavender napkin. To complete the prim and proper atmosphere, the Nutcracker Suite and other classical tunes play softly in the background.
Downstairs there is a formal tearoom for which reservations are recommended. The downstairs room is lavishly decorated, again with a garden theme, and features a large fountain amongst the floral-patterned pastry trays and place settings. By far the most unique feature of the formal tearoom is a dress-up chest. Westbrook-Martin said that the hats, pearls, and gloves of the dress up chest are available to all patrons, regardless of age, to make their tea-drinking experience more authentic.
The upstairs room is formal enough for most occasions, and it is where most patrons take their tea. Tealightful is primarily a tea and snack place, so don?t come here if you are very hungry. The menu features a daily selection of soups, sandwiches, salads, and quiches, as well as fresh-baked pastries. Diners have the option of ordering either fixed price or a la carte. The fixed price menu contains different versions of a full afternoon tea, including a choice of tea and a selection of sweets and savories.
Once the prospective tea drinker is seated by the friendly staff, it is time to survey the extensive menu, which describes each of the more than forty teas offered. The tea menu contains traditional teas ? versions of black, green, white, herbal and rooibos (red) ? and also contains more atypical tearoom offerings such as bubble tea, chai, and yerba mate.
The first thing this writer sampled was the Thai bubble tea. It ended up being similar to a Thai iced tea smoothie with tapioca balls. The bubble tea was good, but had a bit too much cinnamon, throwing the Thai iced tea flavor off. The spice cake rooibos tea was a selection which lived up to its name by having a rich mulled spices flavor. The lemon meringue white tea was equally delightful in its lightness and sweet taste. All of the teas are available by the cup or by the pot. This writer highly recommends ordering a pot, especially when with a group.
A variety of savories and sweets were also offered and sampled. The vegetable quiche was light, delicious and not too cheesy, but the portion size was hardly big enough to be considered a snack and was not filling. The garden salad was fairly standard.
While the savories were decent, where this restaurant really shines is in its sweets. There were three types of scones: cinnamon, white chocolate-ginger, and pear-walnut-bleu cheese. Each scone was perfect: firm, not too sweet and not too doughy. These scones were clearly freshly baked; one could tear off soft chunks. Naturally, jam and cream were provided as toppings magnified the flavor of the already-delicious scones. All of the scones contained small chunks of their signature ingredients. The pear-walnut-bleu cheese may seem questionable to some readers, but the correct ratio of add-ins to dough was used so that the three flavors blended together to create a taste that was complex, but mild enough not to be overpowering.
Almost as cute as the food was the presentation. All of the pastries, as well as the quiche, came on top of doilies on small china plates carefully arranged with tasty morsels of fresh fruit around them. The additional sweets this writer ordered, a raspberry almond tea cake and a peanut butter brownie, were tiny but delicious.
Tealightful?s ambience and food presentation encourage the diner to try many things and to savor her food. In addition to its formal tearoom and dress-up chest, Tealightful also features etiquette classes, a book club, tasting classes, and a tea-of-the-month club. It is actively trying to bring back the pleasure of sipping tea and chatting with friends. Guys take note: All the girls this writer asked attested to Tealightful?s greatness as a date location. This is definitely the type of place you take your parents, significant other, or best friend. It is not the kind of place you take your laptop to study. In fact, the table design and decor inspire quiet conversation and formal manners.
So if you miss having teatime, if you want to dress up like a Victorian lady, if you want to expand your tea-drinking horizons, or if you just want what may be the best scone in Pittsburgh, drop in to Tealightful for an atmosphere and menu you can?t find anywhere else.
Tealightful is located on Ellsworth, across from Dancing Goats Coffeeshop. To get there: Leave CMU by walking down Morewood. Turn right on Ellsworth. Estimated walking time from campus: 15?20 min