Ready for a spot of tea? Thanks to the popularity of PBS Masterpiece series “Downton Abbey,” people are seeking out elegant places where they can indulge in formal tea-taking traditions. You’ll find enclaves in Chapel Hill, Cary and Durham to take “high tea,” but tea experiences that reflect local culture also are blooming in unexpected places in the Triangle.
From an earthy teahouse on a farm that grows its own tea plants and healing herbs to a small cafe perched in the woods to a Japanese teahouse centered in an Asiatic arboretum to a groovy spot in a renovated textile mill, tea shops draw those seeking to nourish the body and soul in unusual places.
Honeysuckle Tea House reflects a growing back-to-nature movement taking root in Chapel Hill. Opened in 2014, the teahouse sits on a 5-acre tea and elderberry organic farm that produces its own blends, grows herbs and promotes holistic living and plant-based remedies. Honeysuckle Tea House’s products range from medicinal sprays, honey, syrups and vinegar to tinctures designed to help with digestion and stress.
One of the leading, antioxidant immunity-boosting berries popular in Colonial America, elderberries later fell out of common use, says Whitney Dane, who manages the Honeysuckle Tea House. “We brought back a lot of these heritage and native plants,” Dane said. “You can also buy plants from us in the summertime for your garden. We are kind of like a one-stop shop/farm/tea experience.”
Honeysuckle Tea House showcases its farm-grown tea and herbs in a unique structure made of repurposed materials and designed to let visitors savor the outdoors.
“It’s open air, so there are no walls, but if a rainstorm comes, you actually have this really magnificent view from inside of the rainstorm, where you’re not getting wet,” Dane said. “The slope of the roof is modeled after a Japanese tea house, even though we built it on top of shipping containers from Norfolk, Virginia. The beams of the structure are from telephone phones.”
Open March 16-Nov. 15, Honeysuckle Tea House also serves pastries from local bakeries, but visitors also go for family yoga, classes, live music, guest speakers and “new age” entertainment.
“Whoever in the healing community wants to (can) come and bring what they are doing and set up … it’s real quiet and informal, but kind of fun and different,” Dane said.
Also in Chapel Hill, Caffe Driade—a small rustic room surrounded by patios—draws young and old from many walks of life to the escarpment where it sits backing up to old-growth woods.
Although Café Driade’s entrance is on busy Franklin Street, its three terraces offer a secluded, natural setting to enjoy homemade pastry from local bakers and a selection of teas—and espresso—while working on a laptop or meeting friends.
Students from nearby University of North Carolina frequent Caffé Driade. Joggers and walkers on the Bolin Creek Trail in the woods also arrive at the teahouse by taking the “teahouse trail,” a short jaunt up the wooded bluff. Caffe Driade features live music on weekends and also serves beer and wine.
If you’re looking for a classic tea experience, you can find it at The Carolina Inn, where tea is offered with delicacies made by hotel chefs. Choose from savory sandwiches, assorted sweets and fresh-baked scones served with fresh lemon curd, English Devonshire cream, jams and preserves. Tea is served in in the hotel’s cozy lobby, elegant Piedmont Dining Room or garden terrace.
In Cary, The Umstead Hotel and Spa offers an elegant, upscale, peaceful lounge setting to unwind and enjoy tea Wednesdays through Sundays 2:30-4 pm. Listen to live harp music while sipping on tea and snacking on tasty tea sandwiches, scones and sweets. Champagne is also available. Reservations are required a day ahead.
From its rich history as a tobacco and textile town to its current status as a city of medicine, research and innovation, Durham caters to both international and local tastes.
The Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club on the Duke University campus serves a traditional afternoon tea in its Fairview Dining Room featuring scones, sweets and sandwiches prepared with a Southern twist by the inn’s executive culinary and pastry teams. Tea is served Wednesday through Sunday, 2:30-4:30 pm, and reservations are required.
A traditional Japanese tea experience awaits visitors at the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum teahouse at Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham. Visitors meet at the Doris Duke Center and are escorted on foot through the gardens to the Tea Garden entrance, where their host welcomes them.
They leave their shoes on the doorstep of the teahouse and sit on the floor for an intimate gathering that provides insight into rules of tea etiquette—although the event is not a formal tea ceremony. Whisked green tea is served with Japanese sweets. Registration is required.
Oasis in Carr Mill owner Robert Roskind describes his Carrboro teahouse/coffee shop/café as a beautiful “chill spot.” Roskind, also an author, has published books that include “Memoires of an Ex-Hippie: Seven Years in the Counterculture,” “Rasta Heart” and “The Beauty Path.” He says he opened Oasis to serve as a relaxed place where “wisdom was disseminated” and where people could come to feel uplifted.
Depending on when you visit, you can catch presentations from “wisdom keepers on holistic subjects,” live music or spiritual movies. By day enjoy organic tea, coffee, pastries, smoothies, hot chocolates, beer, wine and food—including Indian fare from a local restaurant. The shop is located in Carr Mill Mall, a restored 1899 textile mill listed on the National Register of Historic Places that now houses locally owned and operated specialty shops.
Whether you’re interested in sampling the exotic or homegrown delights, teahouses of the Triangle offer a respite for the weary and a way to meet locals — from natives to transplants — who are dancing to their own beat.