Sometimes you need to take a break from the brusque and busy life you lead every day and step into another age—a time when eating and drinking were indulgent, table manners were paramount, and everybody was British. It’s a bit of historical fiction, perhaps, but never mind that. An afternoon at a tea room is a relaxing and delightful experience, and if you find yourself in San Diego, the tearoom for you is Tea-Upon-Chatsworth.
Before you go a reservation is in order. If you go early enough and order the smallest tea service you can get away with a walk-in, but given the tearoom’s size reservations are recommended—in the prim words of the official website, “to avoid disappointment.” You select one of three 2-hour sittings, at 11:30, 2 o’clock or 4:30. There are three levels of tea service to choose from. Each one involves unlimited tea of as many varieties as you’d like to sample, but the distinction lies in the food that accompanies it. All three involve a prix fixe selection in four (for the Queen’s or slightly smaller Chatsworth tea) or three (for the Windsor) courses. As is apparently customary in British-style teahouses, the menu changes once per month, allowing frequent teagoers to replicate their experience or taste a new array of light dishes according to the calendar. If you make your reservation several days in advance you can request gluten-free or vegan menus, and large parties can reserve the entire premises.
The place is cozy and cozily decorated, with lace curtains, dishes hanging on the walls, shelves of flowery teacups and a charming assortment of fancy mismatched wooden chairs (Google Maps has a 360° interior view if you’d like to check it out ahead of time). There’s a sort of pageantry in taking high tea; one that is best expressed in costume. If you and your lady-friends lack a Victorian-chic wardrobe, Tea-Upon-Chatsworth’s bureau has you covered, with a selection of hats, gloves, feather boas and pearls to wear while you sip.
Once you’re seated it’s time for some tea. The selection of loose-leaf teas is considerable and seasonally changing, so unless you know what you like the task of choosing can be daunting. If you’re uncertain, follow our lead: a good place to start is a black tea with cream and sugar. Toward the end of your first pot the food is brought in on plates mounted in a tower, one above the other. All the courses are here, one per plate—while you could boorishly pick and choose, it’s traditional to start at the bottom and work your way up. A final tea pairing suggestion: take green tea straight while eating the sandwiches, then switch to a sweeter tea with cream as you reach the scones, savories and sweets.
The teahouse can be found at 2180 Chatsworth Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92107.