What do you think when you hear the term “tea room?” Whatever you think, you probably need to revise your definition. The Twisted Teapot is likely not what you expect—its very name tells you there’s something very special here.
Entering the beautifully renovated 1923 farmhouse on 1st Street in Winter Haven is like walking into a Victorian dream. There is an electric energy of excitement that bounces off the sparkling chandeliers, the rich antique furniture, and the vintage shining silver, which not only adorns the tables but the walls, uniquely mounted in frames. Everywhere you look, there are charming details that peek out, surprising you with sophisticated whimsy—like the teapot and silverware craftily repurposed as curtain holders or the Mad Hatter made of teaspoons in the china cabinet in the women’s restroom.
Inside another cabinet is a photo of two little girls in pinafore dresses—and this is the beginning of the story of this tea room. Owner Tara Messieh and her sister were taken to tea as young girls by their mother, a tradition the siblings continued into their adulthood, sampling tea all over the world.
Eventually the Canadian Tara decided she wanted to recreate for others the special moments of peace and joy she had experienced in the globe’s most exquisite tea rooms. As Tara searched for a suitable location in Winter Haven, she befriended Renaissance man, Tim Bryant, an artist and interior designer who owned a local antique furniture store. Also a gifted chef often asked to cater for his furniture clients, it wasn’t long before Tim signed on to make Tara’s vision a reality.
Beauty is an apt description —the china is vintage but in mint condition, often antiques which many patrons remember from their childhoods. Tim’s artist eye chose four complementary shades of beige and cream for the walls and ceilings, the result of which is that the changing light makes the rooms shimmer softly no matter the time of day. Each season, many of the unique treasures that grace the walls are replaced by other finds that suit the changing season. Thus, beautiful pictures of winter scenes will at some point be replaced by spring florals. This attention to detail ensures that visitors will never be bored on their return visits.
“I want people to have a bit of magic,” Tara explained to me as I sampled some of the house’s 22 tea blends. “People need a place where they can take time out of the chaos and enjoy a lunch in beauty and fun.”
Grand as the ambiance is, the magic and fun come from the people. Tara and Tim both radiate with genuine passion not just for tea but for the entire experience they are creating for their guests. This is hospitality and edu-tainment at their best. Staff bring a large tray with tea blends to the table and guide the undecided or those stuck in a rut, educating in an effervescent style that is frankly irresistible.
Guests, certainly this guest, are instantly caught up in the pleasure of discovery and learning. Tara brought in a tea plant, explaining how the different tastes are achieved not by different plants but by when and how the tea leaves are cut. Tim taught me about tisanes, such as the popular Berry Berry, which actually have no tea leaves in them but are a concoction of dried fruits and spices. Then there is the way in which some teas are to be complemented—some with milk, some with sugar, some with neither as certain teas will curdle milk.
You are guided into an appreciation for subtleties of which you never dreamed. You may enter thinking you have a preference for a certain black or chai blend, but you may well leave welcoming a new tea into your life. In fact, guests often purchase a bag of tea on their way out.
The Twisted Teapot serves lunch five days a week. On the menu are substantial entrees including royal roast beef, quiches, and soups. But Tim says that most people come for the desserts. Because of the time and way in which tea is served at The Twisted Teapot, you will technically partake in neither high nor low tea but rather a hybrid dubbed Swan Tea.
Multi-tiered plates are filled with traditional English delicacies, all made daily on premises from fresh local ingredients. On this day, the platter had a wide variety including the staples: a buttertart, a Canadian specialty similar to pecan pie with golden raisins but without the nuts, delicious shortbreads, swan pastries, their signature strawberry scones, and mini sandwiches of egg salad, asparagus, and chicken salad. What else is on the platter depends on what Tim purchased at market that morning.
Today I sampled a bubbleberry tart, a combination of fresh cranberries and raspberries, as well as tiny sugar cookies decorated with a poinsettia. All of the tastes are truly scrumptious, and the plethora of small bites is exactly what Tara wants her guests to experience. “Little bites allow big imagination,” she said.
One of the most appealing things about The Twisted Teapot is its spacious feeling. Multiple rooms and an English garden-inspired courtyard create a generous traffic pattern that does not make one feel cramped even though the Twisted Teapot is filled to capacity most days.
Reservations two days in advance are highly suggested, unless you are willing to sit outside, where seating is generally more flexible.“I want to bring back tradition in a fun and uplifting way,” Tara told me toward the end of my visit. Tim added that the Twisted Teapot does not cater to just one constituency, everyone is welcome and will feel wanted.
In the ten months the restaurant has been open, bridal and baby showers have been enjoyed, children have experienced afternoon tea with older family members, a graduating high school class learned life lessons from the Teapot’s wait staff, nine people 100 years or older have celebrated their birthdays there, and construction workers outside came in to enjoy the full lunch menu.
“We love what we hear all the time—thank you for bringing this to Winter Haven; I had fun!”
The Twisted Teapot Tea Room 200 1st St. South Winter Haven, FL. 33880 863.299.5000 TwistedTeapot.com