English Rose Tea Room

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We’ll take you to the English Rose Tea Room in Carefree, which has seen a rise in business with the popularity of Masterpiece’s Downton Abbey.

Ted Simons: The PBS sensation Downton Abbey will air its final episode this Sunday. For six seasons we have watched the dignified yet curiously scandalous lives of the Grantham's unfold. Downtown Abbey and its cast and directors are responsible for many trends in many things Englify-related, including tea. Producer Shana Fischer and photographer Langston Fields take us to Carefree and the English rose tea room.

Jo Gemmill: I opened up the English rose tea room because as an English girl moving to Arizona it was very hard to find a decent cup of tea. So I looked and looked and I thought, I better do it myself.

Shana Fischer: While Jo Gemmill has been serving a proper cup of tea since 2002, now more than ever people are flocking to her business, the English rose tea room. She credits that to the popularity of masterpiece's Downton Abbey where tea is a supporting star.

Jo Gemmill: Both the up Sayres and downstairs drink tea but in a slightly different way. Mrs. Patmore has that enormous brown teapot. It serves at least 15 cups of tea. Similarly upstairs it's a grander affair but tea is all about sitting, talking, socializing, and drinking tea.

Shana Fischer: Tea itself was discovered by a Chinese emporer more than 4,000 years ago but the tea ceremony was created by Anna, the duchess of Bedford.

Jo Gemmill: This was back in the 18th century when back then women wore very refined, very confining clothes. You know the corsets that cinched the waistline in. They couldn't eat very much. They tended to have a big meal later in the evening about 8:00 and that was a very elaborate affair where you would have all the courses. But during the day women were expected to just look very pale and interesting. But not eat.

Shana Fischer: That didn't sit well with Anna so she insisted that tea and pastries be served in the after and it turned into a grand affair. Tea was very expensive, as precious as gold, only available in the most upscale homes.

Jo Gemmill: So the servants, the downstairs folk, would bring up the beautiful tea service with all the Silver and the Cutlery and bone China and all the delicacies, but it was the lady of the house that always unlocked the tea caddy and put the leaves into the pot and she poured the tea. It was very much her realm and her tea party. If you were invited it was a great honor to go to the big house and have tea.

Shana Fischer: Because the ceremony was a great honor, she says knowing proper etiquette was important.

You sat at a high table, you always left the teacup on the table and brought the cup toward you. If you were in the library at downtown sitting on one of those lovely red leather or velvet couches usually you would have a low table in front of you. It's very awkward to pull it towards you so you would keep the teacup and have it in your hand like this and bring the teacup up towards you this way.

Shana Fischer: The tea ceremony also had an effect on the emancipation of women. Until this point it was unseemly for women to go out unchaperoned. Coffee houses were for men only.

Jo Gemmill: Tea houses were a completely different thing. Women of the day then could be seen out and about unchaperoned. You'll remember in Downton Edith is quite excited that she can go into a cafe on her own and not have anyone else with her. Feels rather risqué.

Shana Fischer: At the English rose tea room you don't need a chaperone, just a good friend. Laura Olson is visiting from Wyoming.

Laura Olson: Especially since we live apart just the opportunity to catch up, we both have small children so the opportunity to sit and have a conversation without being interrupted, to let our conversation flow and to enjoy each other's company has been great.

Shana Fischer: Tea at the English rose is served the traditional way with scones and finger sandwiches. Lunch items are also available. Another popular item not on the menu, the hat box. Customers can pick out a fanciful topper from the collection. The English rose served 50 types of tea and there is a correct way to prepare tea, says Gemmill.

Jo Gemmill: The tea is left to steep for about three minutes, then you pour the tea through a strainer into a fine bone China teacup. Then I like to put the milk in last. There's always a dilemma should you put it in first or last. Years ago they used to say you put the milk in first because the China was so fine that by putting cold milk into the cup you helped prevent it from cracking. But now generally I suggest to people put the milk in last then you can tell how much you need. Tea always tastes better with milk, not with cream. With milk.

Shana Fischer: But it doesn't matter how you take your tea. Gammill says tea time is a lovely respite from the traditional coffee break.

Jo Gemmill: The whole process of waiting for the tea to steep, pouring the tea, adding the milk and sugar, all of that takes time. It's not something you can rush. So tea really makes you feel that you're spending quality time with somebody when you're drinking it.

Ted Simons: Jo Gemmill teaches etiquette classes at the English rose and is hosting a goodbye party for Downton Abbey. For more information, head to their website, carefreetea.com.

Ted Simons: That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Jo Gemmill: owner of English Rose Tea Room

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