Tea for Kecklers
May 12, 2004

I Lovejoy's very, very much.

Okay, now that I got that lame joke out of my system, let me be more coherent. Lovejoy's is this tiny tea shop in Noe Valley I'd been hearing about since we moved out here. Since my mother and I have a long-standing tradition of going to tea shops for tea (high or otherwise) all over the country, it was my job to ferret out the best tearoom in San Francisco. I asked my friend Cat (who had just finished researching an article on the subject) for her advice, and she immediately responded with: "Lovejoy's, no question about it." That settled it: I decided to make reservations so I could order "Tea. Earl Grey. Hot." Too many Star Trek references for you? Tough. Count yourself lucky I'm a Trekkie and not an American Idolater. Lovejoy's Tea Room is described as being "your British Auntie's over-stuffed, over-antiqued living room."

That's putting it mildly.

When we walked in, I held my little sister back with one protective arm while I fought off a herd of rampaging doilies led by a pack of gilded teacups with the other. Breathless, we made it over to our four velvet setees and waited for Dad to come back from parking the car. While Nessa looked around at all the antique cups and saucers settled on every available space and suddenly decided she wanted to start a teacup and saucers collection, the rest of us looked at the menu. Dad interrupted us (and everyone else in the establishment) as he blustered through the door. On his way to our table, he was slightly sidetracked by the food at another table. "What is that woman [jabs his finger in "that woman"'s direction] eating? It looks good!" Our waitress tried to explain that it was a pasty, but Dad insisted it was a fruit pie. We calmed him down with his own menu.

Nessa and I decided to each order the "Queen's Tea", which came on a multi-tiered silver tray groaning with scones, crumpets, shortbread, our choice of two different tea sandwiches, fresh fruit, decadent Devon clotted cream, ruby preserves, tart lemon curd, fresh organic greens, coleslaw, and a single petit four. My parents and Mathra decided on slightly smaller teas. A decision they were to regret as the tea went on.

There were so many sandwiches to choose from: cucumber and cream cheese, tomato and cheese, smoked salmon, roast beef and horseradish, smoked haddock, and many others. For my tea, I selected a bay shrimp salad sandwich and a Stilton and pear sandwich. They came with their crusts trimmed (natch) and cut into delicate triangles of soft white bread. They were simply delicious. In addition to the usual tea fare, Lovejoy's offers other Britishy food things like Cornish pasties, Ploughman's lunch, Shepherd's pies, and sausage rolls.

We could each choose our own kind of tea -- Nessa and Dad ended up both wanting a vanilla tisane, so they shared a pot, Mom and I shared their Taylor's of London house blend, and Mathra had his own pot of Darjeeling. This would have been a great idea if it hadn't been my family. No one could remember which pot was theirs, and loud protests and arguments arose when someone tried to use the wrong strainer for their tea.

Nessa and I aren't big coleslaw lovers, so we handed our remains over to my father and Mathra, who were both in the middle of politely refusing to eat the small cup allotted to them as they thought the other should have it. When we convinced them we were really, really sure that we really, really didn't plan on eating our coleslaw, I added: "Waste not, want not" as the final encouragement. "What does that even mean?" Mathra asked. "Well, it comes from people being taught not to waste the food they had so they would not want for it later," I replied. "Okay, so, when you're explaining an antiquated expression, can you not use other antiquated expressions like 'not want for something'?" Mathra requested.

I firmly believe that there's a certain way one should consume the English trio of scones, clotted cream, and jam. There's an order that must be followed for maximum taste and minimum mess. You should split the scone in half and spread each half with cream. The preserves should only go on after the cream. If you screw up and do the reverse -- scone, jam, cream -- you end up making a big mess, because the cream is usually more solid than the jam, so the cream adheres to the jam and doesn't really spread properly. I was explaining to Mathra how he messed up in the preparation of his scone when my father interrupted: "Oh, there's cream? Where's the cream? I didn't know we were supposed to put cream on it. Oh, I ate my scone already without the cream. Did we get cream?" I silently pointed to the porcelain ramekin of cream on his tea tray. "Oh," Dad said, all disappointed, "I didn't know that was cream." I reminded him about all the cream teas we had eaten in England. "I didn't know we had cream," Dad repeated firmly. After consulting with my mother, Dad decided he wanted another scone -- "To make the right way. With cream," he explained to the group -- and Nessa decided she wanted more shortbread. When the requested food came, Dad asked me to re-explain the correct way of eating the scone with cream. I had just finished my scientific treatise on why adding the solid cream second made a mess of the looser component of jam when I noticed my mother quietly doing exactly that. She was encountering great difficulty spreading the cream. "See, that's exactly what I mean -- why don't you people listen to me?" I demanded. Nessa then announced that she had neglected to spread lemon curd on her crumpet. "I didn't know that's what it was for," she said defensively. I sighed and pointed to the relevant place on the menu. Mathra informed me that I had roundly failed in my duty to educate the table on the proper way to eat all their food. Dad, after eating his second ordered scone with cream, noted: "You know, two scones is probably excessive."

It was at this point that Nessa decided to order a second petit four from our rapidly wilting waitress. Unfortunately, they had run out of the one that Nessa wanted, so an in-depth discussion took place after the waitress listed every other one on the tray. "Have the chocolate orange one -- look it has a little candied orange wedge on top!" "Ick, no. Wait, what is the yellow one again? No, I don't like lemon. Is the pink one cherry? Oh, it's strawberry shortcake? Okay, I think I'll have that -- wait, what's that one?" My mother leaned over and asked, "Are you going to write about this? Make sure you write about this -- I like it when you write about the family. Poor Stephanie, she suffers SO much!"

I don't think it was coincidence that the picture the waitress took of us at our table didn't come out.

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