I am a firm believer that you don’t truly know people until you live with them. Elaine, Regina, and I lived together in college (messy rooms and all) and we have been friends ever since. They are some of the most creative, crafty, and inspirational people I know.
I credit Elaine with my desire to obtain my own tea set. During one of my overnight stays with her family, she brought out a tray with a full tea service and we happily drank Irish Breakfast tea (alongside a few baked goods). Ever since then, I wanted to have my own tea set and now I have two and an afternoon tea blog!
When I suggested that the three of us have our annual Fall reunion at The Tea Cart in Winchester, Virginia near where Elaine lives now, we all agreed immediately and I booked a reservation for the three of us on October 21st at 11 AM.
Sadly, Regina found out two days before our designated reunion weekend that she wouldn’t be able to make it, so Xak volunteered to be our third attendee. While I was bummed that Regina wouldn’t be joining us, I was still excited to have afternoon tea at a new location and of course, to see Elaine. Oh yeah, and Xak isn’t so bad as a tea companion either 😊
About the Tea Cart in Winchester, Virginia
The Tea Cart has two locations: Winchester and Berryville. The flagship tea room in Berryville, Virginia is one of my favorite tea rooms ever. Xak and I visited the Berryville Tea Cart as the last stop on our honeymoon a few months ago and had a wonderful time.
The Winchester Tea Cart location opened its glass doors in 2023. It was previously a bed and breakfast called the Old Water Street Inn. The Federal style home was built in 1840 and has lovely historic features and charm including archways, fireplaces, and a beautiful staircase, perfect for walking down in a prom dress. 😄
Just like the Berryville location, reservations are made online through the Tea Cart website. Make sure you select the right location!
You can request a morning seating from 11 AM to 1 PM (2 hours) which allows kids or afternoon seating starting at 2 pm which is intended for adults only. Reservations can be made online for up to six people. Any more than that will require some human interaction.
While selecting the time and number of guests, you also select your “meal”. Although you can’t select the exact food items, you can choose how much food you want and also view the monthly menus on the website so you know what’s being served in advance. There are also options for vegetarian, gluten free, and dairy free for an additional fee.
There’s plenty of downtown street parking available throughout Old Town Winchester which can be paid with coins or through an app. There are also parking garages with an hourly rate. According to the Winchester government website, parking is free after 6 pm, Saturdays, Sundays, and “most” holidays. Unclear if National Fried Chicken Day (July 6th) makes the cut as a holiday.
Since we visited on a Saturday, metered parking was free. After nervously triple checking the fine print on the meter, we walked away from our car and towards the direction of the tea room.
Although there is street parking closer to the Tea Cart, we opted to park a few streets away because it was such a pleasant Autumn day and we wanted to walk around and catch Pokemon and spin new stops.
The Tea Room
The Tea Cart doesn’t open to the public until the first seating at 11 and you know it’s time to go in when the pink flag goes up.
The building truly is beautiful. In fact, all the buildings in this area are oozing with charm. Elaine and Xak patiently waited for me to finish snapping pictures in admiration before we all headed up the stairs to check in.
The Check In Counter
There were several other groups that arrived for the 11 am seating and we got in the line of people trying to check in at the counter in front of a beautiful staircase.
As the line moved forward and we got to the counter, the employee who checked us in announced that she would be serving our table and led us to the dining room to the right of the entrance for us to be seated.
There are two rooms with fireplaces filled with several tables to support different party sizes including enough seating for a few larger groups. Each table had a different flower tablecloth, mismatched place settings, glasses of water, and a tea timer. According to the website, there are additional rooms you can rent out including an option for the entire building.
The place was packed! We were seated at a larger table for six and I experienced brief panic at the thought of another group of three joining us at the table, but luckily no one did. I noticed enviously that all the other tables had small vases with flowers, but Elaine (who has a much greener thumb than me) pointed out that the flowers weren’t real and my envy subsided… a little. Real or fake, they still looked pretty.
There were wooden floors throughout the first floor and the walls were adorned with several pieces of art in elaborately gilded frames. There were built-in cabinets that held teacups and teapots and floor lamps and wall sconces for lighting.
Since the tea room looked to be fully booked, the place was VERY loud and I noticed there was no background music to dull the chatter. Still, overall the environment seemed very pleasant for a Victorian style tea party. I felt a tad underdressed but made sure to sit a little straighter in my seat.
The tea at both Tea Cart locations is loose leaf and needs to steep when the pots are brought to your table. There are tea timers for each guest to let their tea steep to their preference and strainers at each place setting to catch the leaves from falling into your cup.
The tea menu printout was a little blurry, but still legible. I noted the Lemon Cake tea and wondered if it would be similar to the Lemon Drop tea that Xak and I enjoyed so much on our previous visit to the Berryville Tea Cart. I also eyed the Holiday Winter Spice tea. Since I knew that we could switch out teas, I ordered my usual English Breakfast, as did Elaine. Pumpkin loving Xak decided on the Pumpkin Chai Spice for his first tea.
Our tea came out along with the first course of scones. The English Breakfast tea was put into one pot for Elaine and I to share while Xak got his own pot of tea. We flipped over our tea timer to allow the tea to steep before diving into our scones.
There were also food menus at our table which listed out the different available options which all included scones:
- Royal Ascot (soup, savory, three tiered tray)
- Duchess of York (three tiered tray)
- Just Eat Cake (4 desserts)
- Little Poppet (for the kids)
We preselected the Royal Ascot during the reservation process. While we made our reservation, we had also reviewed a more detailed version of the October menu uploaded to the Tea Cart website, which helped us make our choice. However, I noticed there were some slight differences between the online menu and this printout we received at the restaurant. For example, the online menu mentioned a chicken salad croissant whereas this menu listed it as a chicken salad sandwich. For the most part though, things looked very similar which was good. We kept a menu with us to make sure we knew what we were eating when our food arrived.
First Course: Scones
During my previous visit at the Tea Cart in Berryville, I was surprised that my scones were served as a first course instead of on the traditional three tiered tray. I actually think this Cream Tea approach is a good thing since scones are very pleasant to eat with a good cup of tea.
While the scones had a good flavor and were served with Devonshire cream and preserves, the interior of the scone was very soft and seemed slightly underbaked. Both Elaine and Xak agreed with my assessment.
Second Course: Vichyssoise Soup
I’ll save you a google search: vichyssoise is a creamy potato and leek soup usually served chilled. I’ve made my own potato and leek soup (hot) and I like to serve it during our winter month afternoon teas. Delicious.
The potato leek soup here at The Tea Cart was nice and creamy and had a good amount of salt. I’m a huge crouton fan. Sometimes I’ll eat them straight out of the bag like they’re chips 😄 While I appreciated the presence of the solitaire, floating crouton, it really didn’t contribute much in the way of flavor. Despite the plain crouton, the soup course was a solid choice.
Third Course: Bacon Fig Galette Savory
A galette is a French free form pastry that can be sweet or savory. You’ve likely seen apple or fruit galettes (or crostata, as it’s known in Italian) at the bakery or grocery store. The base is a rolled out circle of crust, slightly enveloping exposed slices of fruit. I think it looks like a large fruit cookie or pizza. While Xak is always eager to make pies, he has never expressed interest in making a galette. In fact, he seems to have an irrational amount of disdain for galettes.
The bacon and fig galette served as our second course was individually portioned on its own plate. Since it was served in a puff pastry base, I was uncertain how to eat it: cut with a knife and fork and make a crumbly, flaky mess or get the sticky glaze all over my fingers. I opted for eating with my hands.
The puff pastry base was nice and crisp and the bacon added a salty flavor that I enjoyed. The fig added some sweetness for a pleasant combination of flavors. It reminded me of a fancy, sweet adult pig in a blanket. However the galette had a very sweet glaze on top that put it a little past my sweetness tolerance level.
Elaine doesn’t particularly like figs, but still enjoyed eating the galette. Xak, however, who is a fig fan surprisingly did not enjoy the figs at all. Overall, the galette received mixed reviews from our group, but we were all in agreement that the galette would have benefited without the extra sweetness.
Three tiered Tray
Once our second course was done, our plates were removed and we patiently waited for our three tiered tray to make its grand appearance. In the meantime, we placed another order of tea including Chamomile for Elaine, Chocolate Almond for Xak, and Lemon Cake for me. We leisurely passed the time with conversation including our awesome Star Wars themed wedding held a few months earlier and also the upcoming spring Winchester Apple Festival. Who (besides Winchester resident Elaine) would have known that Winchester was so known for their apples? Xak and I were fascinated.
In no time, our tray arrived and was placed with convenient access for all of us to fill our plates with delightful looking tea fare.
Since there were three of us, the sandwiches were split between the bottom tier and the middle tier. I wonder if this is why they serve the scones as a first course. 🤔
We each received the following sandwiches:
- Carrot + Cheese
- Turkey Apple
- House Made Chicken Salad
- Cucumber + Dill
Carrot and Cheese Sandwich
The first sandwich was a Carrot and Cheese sandwich. According to the online menu, it was listed as Carrot Cheddar and described as having tarragon and chives on whole wheat bread.
I like eating cooked carrots in chicken noodle soup or even raw carrots with some hummus, but I have never had carrots during afternoon tea. If the online menu was accurate, I could not detect any cheddar. In fact all I could taste were the carrots and herbs. It seemed a little like salad on bread. While it’s nice to have healthier options, I probably won’t make this one at home.
Turkey and Apple Slaw Sandwich
Next up was another new-to-me sandwich: turkey and apple slaw.
Since our visit was right in the middle of Fall, it was nice to see an Autumn flavored sandwich on the menu. Online, the sandwich was listed as Turkey Apple with White House apple butter, white cheddar, and slaw on honey wheat. The physical menu however listed it as Turkey and Apple Slaw so I expected it to have a little bit of sweetness. The sandwich was definitely “different”: more savory than I expected and also a bit soggy and fell apart while I ate it. I’m not sure if I liked it or not. While Elaine was not a fan of this sandwich, Xak (lover of turkey pinwheels) expressed his approval.
House Chicken Salad Sandwich
I’m a huge chicken salad sandwich fan! This is another afternoon tea classic at our house. While the online menu listed a Chicken Salad Croissant with dried cranberries, celery, and onion, I noticed that the in person menu listed it as a House Chicken Salad sandwich, so I adjusted my expectations.
However, I was a little surprised by the half slice of bread with a little bit of lettuce and a dollop of chicken salad served open faced. It’s a little bit of an exaggeration to call this a sandwich! 😄 Regardless, the “sandwich” was still really good! Both Elaine and I agreed this was our favorite sandwich of the day.
cucumber Dill Sandwich
Every single tea room I’ve visited has served a different version of a cucumber sandwich with some being more flavorful than others. Xak and I have also served cucumber sandwiches in about 90% of our afternoon teas at home. The sandwich on The Tea Cart menu was listed specifically as a Cucumber + Dill sandwich which is a good indicator that it should have some flavor. On the online menu, however, it was listed as just Cucumber Sandwich. Hm…
After taking a bite, I realized the sandwich was a little more plain than I hoped and the online name was more accurate. Since the cream cheese layer was so thin, the dill was sadly more subtle than I anticipated. The good news is I can always make some at home with extra dill.
After the sandwiches, we received our second tea orders with two new tea pots and the pink teapot, previously full of English Breakfast, was now filled with Lemon Cake tea just for me. I was pleased to see that each of us had our own tea pot this time!
We were eager to get to the desserts on the tray. According to both the physical and the online menu, we would be eating the following:
- Holiday Winter Spice Shortbread
- Pistachio Cake
- Pumpkin Chiffon Mousse
However, as I looked closer, I noticed… the desserts were different from what was on the menu!
It looked like we would instead be eating the following:
- Holiday Winter Spice Shortbread (same)
- Coconut Macaroon
- Chocolate Mousse Cup
Holiday Winter Spice Shortbread
At our previous visit to The Tea Cart in Berryville, Virginia, we had a lavender shortbread cookie which had similar frosting on top, except in purple.
The first dessert, which seemed to match the menu, tasted of cloves, nutmeg, and perhaps ginger. I love spices in dessert, probably because it reminds me of autumn and Christmas time. I am not a huge fan of frosting, but the sweetness complemented the warm flavors of the cookie. Both Xak and I enjoyed this tasty cookie very much and we wondered how to recreate.
Pistachio Cake Coconut Macaroon
The second dessert was sadly not a pistachio cake, as listed in both the physical and online menu. I was a little bummed since pistachio desserts are delicious. Instead, we received a coconut macaroon that was dipped in chocolate on the bottom. We had similar coconut macaroons at our previous visit to the Berryville Tea Cart. I do enjoy these both at tea and as a standalone sweet snack so it did help ease the disappointment from the lack of pistachio cake. This was Elaine’s favorite of all the desserts.
Pumpkin Chiffon Mousse Chocolate Mousse
The final dessert which was supposed to be a Pumpkin Chiffon Mousse (or a Pumpkin Chiffon Parfait according to the online menu) turned out to be a chocolate mousse cup.
While I was a little disappointed to miss out on a seasonal dessert (Pumpkin loving Xak was in complete shambles), I am always happy with chocolate! The mousse cup was served in a real glass and the chocolate was a little more bittersweet than the Hershey Kisses that fill up my pug cookie jar at home. It tasted like an adult Dirt cup, similar to the chocolate pot de creme I had the week before at Lady Camellia. Not pumpkin, but still yummy.
After we finished eating, we received our bill of $48 for each person + gratuity and paid with a credit card. We waited a few minutes and our server returned, but instead of returning my card she apologized and informed us there were some issues with the credit card machine (not an issue with my credit card). We would have to wait for that to get resolved before we could leave. While we were waiting, the remaining customers filed out while we sat at our table discussing our baking adventures and watched as servers cleared other tables in preparation for the 2 pm seating to arrive. I anxiously wondered if we had been forgotten.
Restrooms (and Gift Shop)
As we waited for our bill, I decided now would be a good time to check out the bathroom. When you drink several cups of tea, it’s not a bad idea to get acquainted with the bathroom if you’re going to be driving for a while afterwards.
In order to get to the bathroom, I had to walk through the dining room that was across from us. I was very surprised to see there was another room attached to that dining room across from us containing gifts and tea for purchase, and lots of hats, likely for the guests to wear while they have tea.
Since we were already past the 2 hour reservation mark and the bill was still not ready, I felt it was inappropriate for me to linger in the gift shop in case our server returned. Also, if they were already having trouble with their credit card machine, it’s not like I could buy anything.
At this point, the entire place was empty with the exception of the staff. After about 15 minutes, our server returned, apologized again for the delay and we were able to sign the check. After taking one final swig of my Lemon Cake tea, we exited quickly to allow our table to be cleared for the incoming 2 PM crowd.
The Tea Cart in Winchester is such a beautiful place. I really enjoyed the atmosphere, the decor, the architecture, and of course a chance to see Elaine. However, when it comes to the actual afternoon tea experience, I was a little let down by some of the food including the menu changes. I wish I had thought to ask why the food that was served was different from the menu.
I was also surprised our server didn’t mention the available hats or the gift shop available in the other room. I would never have seen it if I did not go to the bathroom.
I’m happy that Winchester residents can now enjoy afternoon tea locally, however I hope Elaine, Regina, and I can have a future reunion in the Berryville location.
Bonus: Exploring Old Town Winchester
After our tea, we decided to walk through downtown Winchester to window shop and try to find apple cider. Although our search for apple cider turned out to be fruitless (heh), we did end up seeing plenty of awesome stuff. The Handley Regional Library for example is an absolute work of art. I doubt anyone needs to be told to shush in this library because you feel as if you’re walking into a cathedral.
The downtown area is also really nice! As Elaine explained during tea, Winchester is known for its apples (not apple cider apparently) which explained the very large apple statue we saw during our walk. We also saw a ton more beautiful buildings, lots of restaurants and shops.
We headed to Elaine’s house for a bit to finally satiate our apple cider craving and then said goodbye, full of apple cider and happiness. Even if our afternoon tea experience didn’t fully live up to our expectations, we still had a wonderful day.