There is something absolutely magical about tea. I don’t mean sweet tea (although sweet tea still merits praise and adoration). I mean freshly prepared hot tea. It’s warm. It’s comforting. It is steeped in tradition and can cure almost anything.
As a child, I loved playing with tea sets. Pretending to pour out pots of tea while handing out tiny imaginary cakes for eager guests of stuffed animals and dolls was a staple playroom activity. While it wasn’t Kensington Palace, I reckon I thought I was somebody. With its 19th century British origins, afternoon tea parties are often associated with the upper class sophistication of fancy hats, lace gloves, and idle chatter about everything and everyone. While afternoon tea is more accessible and widespread today, it is still an event to behold and definitely one that should be enjoyed regularly and by anyone who wants to take the time.
Michelle Nichols, founder of Almost Home Catering in Waveland, agrees. With 15 years of catering feathers under her cap, Nichols wanted to bring a new element of fun and sophistication to the Gulf Coast. She wanted people to enjoy her food in a warm atmosphere that combined the opportunities of relaxation and decompression with a sense of being pampered. Having always loved tea, Nichols knew just what was needed and in January 2023, Gardenia Tea Room poured its first Earl Grey.
Gardenia Tea Room offers a full afternoon tea service complete with everything you need to make sure your tea experience is lovely and fit for a royal. Presented in true order, tiny sandwiches followed by scones and finally desserts are paraded out, dish after dish – a marvel for the eyes as much as anything else. The tea room also offers an assortment of six (crustless!) sandwiches ranging from Egg Salad to Pimento Cheese to Roast Beef with Mustard Horseradish. And of course, no tea sandwich offering would be complete without the mandatory service of a Cucumber Sandwich.
An additional assortment of savory snacks that rotate throughout the seasons is also available. Nichols’ signature Shrimp Paste on Toast is a customer favorite, but goes along perfectly with Mini Crab Quiche, Spinach and Artichoke Phyllo Cup and the Cranberry Cheese Ball, to name a few. House-made Apple Cinnamon and Earl Grey Scones are served next, and each come with their own addition of Clotted Cream and Lemon Curd. The dessert course (yes, there’s more!) features Biscotti, Pecan Tarts, Macarons and a signature presentation of Pecan Praline Bread Pudding. Every bite is perfection.
Although the food is a highlight of any afternoon tea, the real star of the show is – and should always be – the tea. Gardenia Tea Room shines in this arena, offering a full assortment of black, oolong, white, green, and herbal teas. Traditional Earl Grey is a go-to choice, but Nichols suggests stepping out of your comfort zone. I love all things green tea, so the White Peach Matcha was my first selection. The Banana Split Herbal and the Black Dragon Oolong were also table favorites. Gardenia Tea Room allows its guests to sample the teas of other guests, which is an excellent way to explore and discover something new.
The Gardenia Tea Room is a unique gem and somewhere I could easily visit once a week. Nichols emphasizes the need to take time for each other and find a place where you can slow down and enjoy the company of friends and family. A family affair of her own, Nichols’ daughter Syndey is on hand, arranging beautiful floral accents for the tea room and offering grab-n-go bouquets as a take home treat, while daughter Milan helps with all aspects of the tea service.
Afternoon tea is available Thursday through Saturday with seatings at 1 and 3 p.m., and Sundays with a seating at 2 p.m. This is truly a magical experience, so let that inner child in you shine and don’t worry – it’s okay to add a little (or a lot) of sugar. This is the South, after all.
Thursday-Saturday Seatings at 1 and 3 p.m.
Sunday Seatings at 2 p.m.