Every afternoon starting when she was five years old, Jenn Dodsworth had high tea with her grandmother in their native Australia. “My parents tricked me to make sure I was home from school,” explains Dodsworth. “I had to be at my grandmother’s house by ten ‘til four for what I thought was ‘special time’ with Granny. We sat down to tea at four o’clock.”
The daily ritual gave her a good understanding of the ‘old school’ way of serving tea. She continues the tradition at High Tea Cottage in Woodland Hills, CA where patrons go to ‘enjoy the moment at hand.’
According to High Tea Society editor Michelle Milton, it is not good tea etiquette to rush through the experience without enjoying it. “Part of the experience is the time you spend with good friends. Take your time and enjoy the moment.”
Dodsworth points out, “The object of High Tea Cottage is not to turn the tables over quickly. We want people to be able to come in and relax. A lot of people say to me ‘it’s like a spa.’ They come in and they’ll just totally de-stress. Somebody will make a reservation for 11:30 and they’ll leave at 5:00.”
Tea time includes butler service at a properly set table. “If you were to open your grandmother’s closet to see all the nice tablecloths and the napkins, the fine China and the crystal—that’s what adorns the tables,” Dodsworth explains before adding, “Lots of fresh flowers, little milk jugs, square sugar cubes…”
English bone china is used exclusively at High Tea Cottage. Some of the approximate forty different patterns are two hundred years old and all have to be hand-washed. “Oh, this is my mother’s china,” is frequently heard in the private salon where up to twenty-four people can hold functions in a section of the cottage.
A rolling tea cart is brought to the table with samples of over one hundred loose leaf teas available from around the world. “I don’t know of any other establishment that does this,” states Dodsworth proudly. Up to ten different kinds of tea are presented to choose from after a process of elimination where favorite flavors, the presence of caffeine and even desired health benefits are discovered. “We have quite a few doctors that come into the cottage who recommend tea for their patients.”
Finger-sized food is served on silver or crystal three-tiered trays. The correct order to consume tea fare is from savory to sweet. “You always start out with cute little tea sandwiches,” said Dodsworth. “Then you have English scones, small, round, slightly sweet. The only sugar we use is what comes from the dried fruits we put in them. They come with jams and Devonshire cream, not buttercream.” Petite desserts adorn the top tier.
Reservations fill quickly for holidays and special events such as Downtown Abbey, where guests dress the part, including fascinator hats brought back into fashion by Princesses Kate, Beatrice and Eugenie. Teas from the Royal Collection are available to those who want to sip what the Queen does. Having tea with Royalty has been a part of Dodsworth’s life since she left Australia in her twenties.
“The one thing I took with me was my good cup and saucer, so I could have tea,” remembers Dodsworth. “When I arrived in London, a friend of mine was very good friends with Princess Anne. I became mixed in that circle as well, and was invited to many functions at Buckingham Palace. I still am today–I go back to the UK on a regular basis.”
Dodsworth has thirty years’ experience in the restaurant industry. She offered her china and expertise to a friend who wanted to enter the business. “My husband had recently passed away, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. When my friend saw how much hard work it was, she backed out. I just stayed with it.” Dodsworth remarried. Her husband, Ken, lives in Australia several months of the year. He shares his knowledge of tea with customers when he is stateside.
In the early 80’s, Dodsworth did quite a bit of catering for celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor. “She would have high tea and enjoyed that. It was good for her to find someone who knew exactly how the English way of doing it was,” recalls Dodsworth.
These days, High Tea Cottage continues to provide catering with an English flair. The car manufacturer Aston Martin has Dodsworth serve afternoon tea to their clients who test-drive or pick up a new car. Southern California MINI Coupe dealers put on a show to celebrate Brit Week and set up tea service for attendees.
It’s not unusual for Dodsworth to travel out of state to assist clients planning a high tea breakfast as part of a wedding. “They’ve flown me in to consult for them and outline it all so they can have their local people do it,” said Dodsworth. “Wedding receptions for tea, figuring it is a morning thing, is very inexpensive and it’s also beautiful.”
To learn more, visit: http://www.HighTeaCottage.com.