Top Hat Special Teas scones
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Tea Room Review: Afternoon Tea at Top Hat Special Teas in Florence, South Carolina

Xak and I treat every afternoon tea as a very special event. After all, you can’t (or in our case, shouldn’t) eat five course meals everyday. It can also be pretty pricey depending on where you go. However, the price can be justified if you’re having a wonderfully luxurious and relaxing experience. We still plan our tea room visits meticulously to space out the costs. 

During our East Coast road trip around Christmastime, we had stopped off at Laura’s Tea Room in Ridgeway, South Carolina before meeting up with family for the holidays. It was such a wonderful experience and on our return trip home, we wanted to stop at another location for afternoon tea.

Since it was the holiday season, we knew most companies were operating on a limited schedule and perhaps with a smaller staff. Luckily, we found a place that we could visit on the way back home: Top Hat Special Teas in Florence, South Carolina.

About Top Hat Special Teas

The Top Hat Special Teas sign in front of the restaurant

Top Hat Special Teas is a restaurant and tea room located in the historic district of Downtown Florence. The restaurant has won awards for best sweet tea and focus on lunch items like sandwiches and soup as well as offers two different afternoon teas: the Traditional tea with four courses, and the Victorian tea with six courses.


Afternoon teas at Top Hat Special Teas require at least a 24 hour advance reservation made via phone. In order to ensure your reservation, you must give your credit card number over the phone, although you aren’t charged. Since we knew we would be heading back up to South Carolina after Christmas, we made a reservation for 2 Victorian Teas on December 28, 2023 at around 1:15 PM. Since the restaurant’s hours are from 11-3PM, we figured 1.5 hours would be a good enough time to enjoy our tea. Since there’s no online aspect, we made sure to put calendar reminders on our phones.


There’s 2 hour parking available in front of and relatively close to Top Hat Special Teas. As we were driving, we also saw that there were a few public parking garages within a half mile walk. According to the Downtown Florence SC website, these parking garages are free except for specified holidays. Since our tea would be less than 2 hours, we decided to park as close to the restaurant as we could.

The Exterior

There’s no way you’ll miss the building!

As we were driving to find a parking spot, we saw the unmistakeable pink building for Top Hat Special Teas. This place might even be more pink on the outside than the Mocatinas tea room I visited last year. The building certainly stands out amongst the row of other businesses. I noticed some outdoor seating in the front, but that was likely for the lunch guests. Although there are two doors, the main entrance is directly under the tea pot shaped sign.

The Tea Room

We entered and saw a huge sign telling us to wait to be seated. As we obediently followed directions, I looked around the dining room and felt a little nervous since there were quite a few people there and no empty seats. Even though we had made a reservation, perhaps we would have to wait for a table after all. Luckily, after a few minutes, we communicated that we had a reservation under Xak’s name and was told that our table was in the other room.

In the adjoining dining room, we were led to our reserved table which was between a waiting area consisting of a couch and rocking chairs, and also a large party who were meeting for lunch. There were a few other tables with guests, but the room did not feel too crowded since it was pretty long.

Our table had a white tablecloth with two plates, some silverware wrapped in a napkin, and a small Christmas tree centerpiece. I, however, was far more intrigued by the little top hat card stand.

The room had a mix of round and rectangular tables, and wooden dining chairs and outdoor garden style chairs. In the background, I heard instrumental piano music playing from a sound system and the entire room was adorned with British and tea themed memorabilia.


Both the dining room upon entering and the room we were seated in had plenty of things to look at. The room we were in felt a little less formal than the other dining room, perhaps because of the wallpaper. As we waited for each course to arrive, I got up to take a few pics and examine our surroundings. So much to see!

The Tea menu

Our server came by and we were handed tea menus, a tall bottle of water, and informed us that we could choose to have hot or iced tea with the opportunity to change out teas. We spent a few minutes reviewing the menu and I was excited to see Lemon Drop tea on here, however after reading the description, I realized it was actually a green tea which was much different from the Lemon Drop tea I enjoyed from a previous tea place. As intriguing as the Farmer’s Market Kettle Corn tea sounded, I unsurprisingly opted for my normal English Breakfast. Xak decided on the Florence, which was described as a chocolate tea.

After Xak and I placed our tea orders, we talked about the past week visiting with family and our upcoming tea party plans at home in a few weeks. At this point, the room was quite filled up with other guests, including people waiting for a seat in the waiting area directly next to us. While reservations are required for afternoon tea, they’re only encouraged for lunch patrons. It was clear that not everyone makes advanced reservations. As it turned out, some people ended up leaving after waiting for a bit since there were no open tables.

Afternoon Tea Food

A Note from Dani: Around the time we started eating our first course and until almost the dessert course, there was an extremely unpleasant smell in the room. It severely affected my taste and experience and I’ve tried to be as fair and as focused on the actual food for this review. More information is included at the end of this review.

Since we had ordered the Victorian afternoon tea option, we were expecting six courses. This is actually more courses than I’ve ever experienced. Typically we’ve had a soup or salad, scones, and a three tiered tray. We were eager to see how full we would get.

Tea Sandwiches

Although our tea was not ready yet, our first course was being served. A Royal Albert Country Roses plate held the following sandwiches:

  • Chicken Salad in a croissant
  • Pimento Cheese on white bread
  • Cucumber on wheat bread

I noticed that both the chicken salad and pimento cheese sandwiches could also be ordered from the lunch menu.

Chicken Salad Croissant

I’m always overjoyed when I see chicken salad croissants at afternoon tea. This one was pretty stuffed too which delighted me even further. Xak and I love our croissants because they’re buttery, flaky, and a little indulgent. We also love chicken salad sandwiches because of how much flavor and crunch you get in one bite.

However, for this particular sandwich, the croissant tasted more like very soft bread that was a little wet. It could be from condensation since it tasted like it was just taken out of the refrigerator. The chicken salad itself had a very neutral flavor and sadly no crunch.

cucumber Sandwich

You will be hard pressed to find any tea room that does not serve the classic cucumber sandwich. I wish I could do a cucumber sandwich taste-off; it would be great to see which tea room wins. This particular cucumber sandwich was open faced and served on wheat bread. While the cream cheese itself was plain, there were dry herbs sprinkled on top along with what tasted like garlic salt. I’m not a huge fan of open faced sandwiches or dry herbs, but this wasn’t bad at all.

Pimento Cheese Sandwich

Before this trip, I had only one pimento cheese sandwich at afternoon tea and that was at the South Carolina Tea room I had visited five days before. Wikipedia supposedly calls pimento cheese “Carolina Caviar”, although I’m not sure if any locals actually refer to it that way.

The sandwich was very thick. It tasted salty, which I like and while not the same flavor as cottage cheese, it had a similar consistency. I’m still undecided on if I’m a pimento cheese fan or not, but I can appreciate regional delicacies during a meal. After all, when in Rome… (or in this case, South Carolina).

The Tea

After we finished our sandwiches, our tea finally came out. Our server apologized for the delay and announced that our tea had steeped for much longer than it should have since she had forgotten about it. 🤔 She offered to make us another pot, however that meant we would have to wait even longer to drink our tea, so Xak and I decided to just chance it with the oversteeped tea and hope for the best.

After we poured our tea into our cups, the server placed some crocheted tea cozies on top to keep it warm and Xak and I studied them wondering if we should crochet some of our own once we got home. We also had sugar packets already on the table, and a small pitcher of milk was served on a plate.

Unfortunately, the tea did taste very oversteeped. Xak commented that he could not detect the chocolate in his tea at all. As someone who enjoys extremely strong tea, I also had a difficult time overcoming the bitterness even after pouring in a ton of milk and several sugar packets. Xak ended up asking for another pot of tea for a flavor called Almond Gentleman, but that came out after some of the other courses so we ended up drinking the original tea we had for most of the meal.

Fruit and Cheese Plate

Note: this is one of two extra courses for the Victorian Tea.

After our sandwich plate was taken away, the second course came out. Xak and I both love fruit which is one of the reasons we opted to pay the extra $3 for the 6 course tea. The plate contained the following:

  • kiwi
  • grapes
  • cherries
  • strawberries
  • oranges
  • blueberries
  • smoked Gouda
The fruit and cheese plate had plenty of fruit for both Xak and me, but seemed to be a little lacking in the cheese department.

I enjoyed the variety of fruit (how often does one eat kiwi?), but was a little surprised that there was only one piece of cheese for each of us. Then again, I guess we did just have a whole pimento cheese sandwich earlier.

Scones with Lemon Curd and Devonshire Cream

Xak aka the Scone of Scones and Doughns, was very excited for our next course. This plate consisted of two scones in the shape of seasonally appropriate snowflakes along with some Lemon curd and Devonshire Cream that was made in house.

Two snowflake scones with individually portioned lemon curd and Devonshire cream

The scone had a crust of sugar on top and while the scone didn’t pass the rip test (aka ripping it horizontally in half), I did break off pieces to eat plain, with the lemon curd, and with the Devonshire cream. It was served very hot and was a little crisp at the edges. The scone by itself was great! The lemon curd wasn’t very tart and tasted a bit muted, but the best bite was the scone with some of the cream on it. Scone loving Xak was very pleased.

Banana Tea Bread

The next course that was brought out was a banana tea bread. The slices were pre-cut and the top was sprinkled with powdered sugar. Xak and I took pieces to nibble on over our plates. It was very sweet, very crumbly, but also, very tasty.

Pre-sliced banana bread for the tea bread course

While I don’t typically eat banana bread with my tea, I do enjoy it occasionally when Xak and I end up with overripe leftover bananas at the end of the week. Usually it’s part of our weekend breakfast coffee trays, but I can see it going well with our weekday tea time.

Mini Quiches

Note: this is one of two extra courses included in the Victorian Tea.

As the person who is in charge of the savories during our afternoon teas, I particularly enjoy mini quiches, especially quiche lorraines, so I was especially eager to get the Victorian tea just for this course. One of the reasons why I prefer mini quiches over a slice of quiche is because the filling is completely encased in crisp pastry and you can eat about 3 or 4 of these without dirtying a fork.

Two mini quiches for each of us: spinach and bacon/mozzarella.

The quiches at this tea included one with spinach and one with bacon with mozzarella cheese. The quiches were served hot and were slightly crisp which made me very pleased. I could taste the spinach in the first quiche but it needed a bit of salt. The bacon and mozzarella also lacked some salt. Still, they were decent bites and I’m glad we at least had two different flavors to try.


For our final course, we were served 3 desserts each. The desserts included the following:

  • Gingerbread man (1 for each of us)
  • Hot cocoa cupcakes (1 for each of us)
  • Macarons (2 total)
Desserts course included gingerbread, hot chocolate cupcakes, and two macarons.

I love gingerbread and spice cookies in general so I was pleased to see this on the plate. Usually we make a crisper cookie like ginger snaps or the gingerbread houses we’ve made in the past. This gingerbread man did taste of spices but was very soft and spongey like a cake.

After eating the gingerbread, the bill was brought out and saw that it was around 2:30 PM and closing time was 3 PM. We wanted to make sure we finished soon so as to not burden the staff. We quickly moved onto the cocoa cupcakes which had a tiny candy cane, whipped cream, and mini marshmallows on top. The cupcake tasted chocolatey and like hot cocoa which may sound like I’m saying the same thing, but hot cocoa has a very distinctive taste. Xak (hot cocoa lover) was quite pleased. There was also something else in the center that wasn’t bad tasting, but I couldn’t quite identify since I was trying to eat fast.

Finally we got to the last part of the desserts. The macarons were pistachio and raspberry. Xak and I absolutely love macarons so in order for each of us to experience both flavors, we split them equally in half and quickly popped them in our mouths. My motto in life is to find someone who is happy to split macarons with you. You’re great, Xak. 🥰


Our server had brought out our bill while we were still eating, but we waited until we finished before paying. Each Victorian tea was $23.99 each. The 10% on the receipt is for tax, and there’s a 3.5% convenience fee if you pay with credit card (not shown on this receipt). After adding a tip, your total will likely exceed $60+. This is far more affordable than the majority of tea rooms I’ve been to which can easily be $60 per person.

While we waited to pay, I decided to find a restroom since we would be getting back on the road for a long drive soon.


In the back of the dining room is a slightly partitioned off section separated by the curtains you see above.

The restroom is located in the back of the restaurant. In order to access it, you must walk past all of the tables, through some thin curtains, and actually walk through what looked like a food prep area. When I walked past the curtains, I saw some baked gingerbread men still sitting in their silicon molds. Hm…

The restroom itself wasn’t memorable to me, because I was very distracted and deep in thought. During the entire meal, there was an extremely strong and unpleasant stench floating in the air coming in the general direction of where I now realized was the restroom. After I exited the restroom, Xak and I made sure the bill was settled before we left and headed out, snapping some pics of the empty restaurant along the way.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think you’ll find many places that offer a six course afternoon tea for less than $35 all inclusive. That’s seriously an incredible price. There were a few high points, particularly the snowflake scones. However, I left feeling quite disappointed. While I appreciate the honesty from our server admitting that they forgot about our tea and the offer to remake them, it didn’t make sense for us to wait for yet another several minutes while our food was already served. Because of this, the tea itself, which is usually one of my favorite parts, actually detracted from the experience. Still, there are things even worse than extremely bitter tea…

I can only speculate what we were smelling during our visit, and honestly I don’t want to think too hard about it. While I could have certainly made a complaint, there really wasn’t much that could have been done since there were no other tables for us to move to in either dining room. This definitely contributed to a very disappointing experience since it affected everything I ate and drank, and even made me not want to talk much during our tea which is extremely rare. Sadly, it was quite the opposite of a luxurious and relaxing experience.

Bonus: My First time at Buc-cee’s

If you’re driving down I-95, you’re going to start seeing billboards with some smiling beaver’s face on it. This, of course, is the mascot for the very well known gas station and convenience store chain called Buc-cee’s. Since I had never been to one and it was only about 10 minutes away, I was curious to see just how clean these bathrooms really were and why people go nuts over this place. When we arrived, we had to park quite far away since there were so many people there. Oh boy.

Inside, the place had the energy and sound level of an amusement park. There was so much chaos and so much noise around me and I was surrounded by hundred of smiling beaver mascots on packaging for almost every product imaginable. The line for the bathroom was so insanely long and I debated getting into it, but my curiosity was just too strong. Surprisingly, the line was moving very efficiently and quite fast. There was artwork for sale on the walls which I was trying to look at but in no time, I was at the front of the line. There was a bathroom attendant who was informing those of us in line where the next available stall was which explained why the line was moving very fast. As I headed into the stall I was directed to, I was pleasantly surprised to see it wasn’t a stall at all. It was an actual enclosed room with a floor to ceiling door! If you’re reading this and you’re not from America, trust me, this is a huge deal!

After exiting the bathroom, I headed to our pre-designated meeting place and stared at quail eggs and other branded merchandise wondering if they just slapped Buc-cee’s stickers on random objects. This place literally has everything. Once Xak and I met up, we roamed around the entire store, stopping for a long time at the beef jerky section for Xak to make some selections. I was especially impressed with the bakery items and thought how much fun it would be to do an afternoon tea here similar to what we did with Pablo when we had Sheetz afternoon tea in his RV. Honestly, I think Buc-cee’s might beat Sheetz in that regard.

As we walked by Buc-cee’s clothing, outdoor gear, and even bbq pits, we headed to check out and escape the madhouse. The checkout line again moved very efficiently, and Xak and I were out to our car in no time. It probably took longer for us to walk to our car than the amount of time we spent in the place!

While I’m not planning on buying any Buc-cee’s branded gear any time soon, I can see the appeal of this place and… ok yeah, maybe we will return one day to have afternoon tea here 😄

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