A Spot of Tea in the South Sound


By Shelby Taylor

Whether or not Kate Middleton is to credit, afternoon and high teas are more popular than ever. The beloved English pastime is perhaps best experienced at South Sound tea rooms during the coldest month of the year. Each of these five picks promises to ward off the winter chill with piping hot teas, be they traditional or exotic. 


Mad Hat Tea Company
I first stumbled upon Mad Hat during my carless college years. Across from a bus stop, my buddy spotted the maroon awning of the tea company. Given that both of us consumed the brew on the daily, we owed it to ourselves to check it out. What first struck me about Mad Hat was the timeline of tea that spanned the right side of the tea place. The handwritten timeline is in good company with many eclectic pieces, from Buddha head to terracotta warrior.

If sitting in, Mad Hat's teas are sold "by the cup" for a mere $2.50.
If sitting in, Mad Hat’s teas are sold “by the cup” for a mere $2.50.

Mad Hat Tea Company has been in business for about 8 years and is run by the charming duo of Tobin and Maureen. Comfy seating is situated throughout, so pull up a chair and fuel a game of chess or mancala with a cup of warm tea served in a glass teapot. If you’re buying bulk tea, Mad Hat assures that all tastings are free, and they have just about every flavor to tempt the connoisseur: white, green, oolong, black, pu-erh, Yerba mate, kava, Rooibos, honeybush, and botanicals.

Mad Hat Tea Company
1130 Commerce St
Tacoma, WA 98402

Olive Branch Cafe and Tea Room
Nestled right behind Tacoma’s Theater District Link stop is the Olive Branch Cafe, done up delicate with lace cloths and elegantly draped curtains. Victorian vintage reigns at the tea room from the seating area, where antique wares are available for purchase, to the beautifully adorned wooden tea cabinet, housing loose leaf teas. A cozy fireplace adds to the homey setting, making it the perfect place to warm oneself on a crisp winter’s day.

Terry has been doing teas and homemade sammies since 2012, and has a taste for balance, contrasting her savory Rueben or chicken pesto with tangy fruits and dainty sweets. She also makes a point to introduce herself to diners, her hospitality as welcoming as a well-prepared cup of cozy. (Did I mention that tea is on the house for first-time guests?)

Olive Branch Cafe and Tea Room
731 Commerce St
Tacoma, WA 98402

*Reservations recommended

Ubiquitous Journey
Ubiquitous Journey, or “Ubi’s,” as it’s often called, offers more than just tea. This 6th Avenue tea shop is also ground zero for high quality spices and herbs sourced from across the world. As you can imagine, a visit to Ubi’s has the ability to trigger your olfactory senses with the aromatic fragrances its inventory provides. You can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee in house (while perusing Ubi’s vast selection), then load up on your favorites to take home.

When hunger strikes you can fill up on creatively curated sandwiches like Ubi’s Moroccan curry, apple Muenster, or the tantalizing pizzalicious. Pair your sandwich with a cup of Ubi’s homemade creamy tomato soup and a slice of raw cheesecake for dessert.

Secret Garden's well-cultivated tea room is housed in a Victorian style mansion. Photo courtesy of the Secret Garden.
Secret Garden’s well-cultivated tea room is housed in a Victorian style mansion. Photo courtesy of the Secret Garden.

Ubiquitous Journey
2607 6th Ave
Tacoma, WA 98406


Vashon Tea Shop
Situated between an art gallery and a bookstore, Vashon Island’s own tea shop is an oasis of calm. From the more natural table seating to Asia inspired accents of bamboo, paper lanterns, and carp streamer, Vashon Tea Shop’s Assam, Kyoto Cherry, Green Jasmine, Gen Mai Cha, and oolong brews are in harmony with their surroundings.

Owner Elizabeth, known to customers as “Boo,” finds tea the perfect product to promote and sell as it has ties to politics, culture and history. Just like with 17th and 18th century English coffeehouses, Vashon Tea Shop welcomes the community to gather and visit, and staff is more than happy to educate on the legacy of tea. Those looking for more in the way of eats can snack on biscotti, apple strudel, and lemon squares or else fill up with a cheese plate featuring two kinds of cheese, fruit, chutney, and crackers.

Vashon Tea Shop
17608 Vashon Hwy SW
Vashon, WA 98070

The Vashon Island shop boasts bulk tea in a tranquil space. Photo courtesy of the Vashon Tea Shop.
The Vashon Island shop boasts bulk tea in a tranquil space. Photo courtesy of the Vashon Tea Shop. Photo credit: Bill Buehl.

Secret Garden Tea Room and Gift Shop
Step back in time with Secret Garden Tea Room. On the outside, the Sumner treasure charms with original Queen Anne and Italianate architecture trimmed by rambling front gardens, which guests are welcome to stroll through following tea. The inside keeps with the Victorian theme, with cutesy-kitschy décor tucked into the tea room’s nooks and crannies.

In addition to assorted black, white, fruit, and flower teas, the Secret Garden’s menu is cooked up from scratch, often drawing on herbs from their very own garden. Scrumptious scones are unlimited, as is hot water (it is $1 extra for new tea leaves). Several of owner Elizabeth’s homespun recipes are also shared during Secret Garden cooking classes, where attendees sit back and relax during demonstrations, sampling the savory and the sweet.

Secret Garden Tea Room and Gift Shop
1711 Elm St E
Sumner, WA 98390

*Reservations recommended

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