Tudor Rose: High Time for Tea Time in Santa Rosa

Next+to+the+fireplace+there+is+a+lounge+area+for+those+looking+for+a+more+casual+tea+experience.+Puzzles+and+books+are+available+for+those+who+would+like+to+relax.

Next to the fireplace there is a lounge area for those looking for a more casual tea experience. Puzzles and books are available for those who would like to relax.

William Rohrs, News Editor

The silver bell echoes through the room like a mockingbird trilling its lungs for the first time. The entire room succumbs to the rings, snuffing out the quietest whisper during its cry for attention.

All eyes focus on the hostess, beaming at her patrons with thinly concealed appreciation for the men and women who braved the cold morning for a seat in the crowded teahouse. The audience turns their collective gaze to SRJC students Abigail Chambers and Rosie Frater.

Throughout the morning, the pair wades through the tables, bantering with customers with rapier wits while bringing the finest blends of black, red and green teas to connoisseurs and Starbucks regulars alike.

But instead of sassy tea-slinging sensations, the two stand in front of the glass doorway, staring each person in the eye in anticipation. A moment of silence passes through the tables; all heads swivel to the duo.

Without warning, a piano signals the start of the morning’s entertainment. Chambers and Frater put their experience in SRJC musical theatre to good use, their voices harmonizing to the tune of “Sisters.” And when the voices subside, thunderous applause roars throughout the teahouse until everyone turns back to their tables, awaiting the next aromatic blend to make its way into their teacups.

The Tudor Rose is an oddity to behold. Few would believe the building sharing a wall with the Russian River Brewery could hold a wormhole straight back in time to “Downton Abbey”: a teahouse complete with a fully functioning fountain in the corner and pence pieces pancaked into the floor. Every teacup comes with its own set of plates, and no set is the same. For the customer desiring intellectual stimuli while drinking teas, the Tudor Rose boasts a modest library and several puzzle and board games on a first-come-first-serve basis.

If the atmosphere wasn’t reason enough to throw money at the hostess, the tea will certainly guarantee repeat customers. For $8.50, the Tudor Rose offers bottomless tea.

Infinite. Tea.

And if that wasn’t attractive enough, customers aren’t locked into a single blend. By paying for a bottomless teapot, it’s possible to taste every blend in the house in one sitting. Just be prepared to visit the bathroom a lot, because each pot contains roughly six cups of tea.

The Tudor Rose offers eight black teas, four green teas and six red tea blends. Red tea “drinks like a black, but isn’t caffeinated like one,” Chambers said. The tea is picked in China, but the infusing agents are local and organic. Flavors range from classic Earl Grey and Scottish Highland blends to aromatic key lime and orange chocolate reds. Like wines, each blend has a mix of robust and subtle flavors, which pair nicely with the accompanying morsels.

When people sit down to tea, they receive the full experience of an English-sanctioned teatime extravaganza. Angela Grant, partial owner of the Tudor Rose, brings an iconic English tradition to Fourth Street. Customers can purchase individual baked goods or finger sandwiches with their teas, or choose to spend a little extra to get everything on a triple-terraced serving platter.

“It’s hard to make a bad choice with our menu,” Frater said.

For $25, ordering the Catherine of Aragon includes endless tea, four finger sandwiches, two savory pasties and a signature raspberry meringue cookie.

The finger sandwiches can be traditional, with cucumber and salmon mousse, to adventurous, like a French chevre with watercress. The Tudor Rose offers savory and sweet sets, accompanied by a homemade herb mustards, apple butters, raspberry compote, lemon curd and Devonshire cream. According to Chambers, Devonshire cream is the combination of the best parts of whipped cream and butter.

Chef Monique Wallace is responsible for crafting the baked delicacies. Formerly of John Ash, her mastery of all things pastry combined with smart tea pairings makes the Tudor Rose an experience on par with fine wine tasting for a fraction of the cost.

The Tudor Rose offers entertainment that could be considered out of place in the quiet teahouse atmosphere: live singing. But to call it live singing alone cannot do justice to the skill the staff upholds in the teahouse.

Frater and Chambers perform in the Santa Rosa Junior College Theatre Arts Program, and they use their experience on stage to serenade the audience with live renditions of popular hits from the 1950s and ‘60s. Their voices ring with clarity in the teahouse, its bare walls providing excellent acoustics without echoing. While front row seats near the double glass doors where they sing are loudest, the hourly performances are pleasant to experience and always evoked a grand applause from the patrons.

Despite the impression of the Tudor Rose as a grand teahouse, the space is actually quite small. Some areas are still under construction, and the main lobby only fits a handful of people. Regardless, the place feels warm and accommodating.

The teahouse itself is like a poorly kept secret. Next to the world-famous brewery, it seems like the last place for a cup of England’s finest brew. But here it stands, open and inviting, waiting for people to come in and stay a while, enjoy their tea and listen to the music of some of the local theater’s best performers.

If someone is prioritizing improvements, the nature of the Tudor Rose suggests multiple restrooms would best suit the hardcore tea drinkers who could stay the entire afternoon sampling the different combinations of tea and tarts. And while having portraits of the Beatles adds atmosphere to the restroom, it is unsettling for males relieving themselves to look directly ahead and see Paul McCartney staring back.

It becomes very easy to forget the world outside when a pretty woman sings to the crowd over a cup of Scottish Highland with a freshly dressed scone hanging seductively over the porcelain platter. And remember the golden rule of teahouses: when in doubt, pinky out.