By Josette Keelor
When looking to leave their inn in Loudoun County and open a colonial tea house in Frederick, Mick and Jane Nelson found exactly what they wanted in the 1790s house at 949 Cedar Creek Grade west of Winchester.
The Coach & Horses Tea Room opened for business on Dec. 1, and though its grand opening was understated, its offerings aim to be extraordinary.
Though customers are welcome to stop in for a spot of tea during operating hours, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, its owners encourage reservations, particularly for afternoon tea in its three dining rooms.
But customers can expect to be rewarded for planning ahead.
Meals are prepared from scratch fresh on the premises, and Coach & Horses serves 52 teas from the five main groups -- black, white, green, tisanes and organic.
"We've got a whole range of organic flavored," Nelson said.
Tea, he said, "it's part of a $2 billion worldwide industry right now." It's growing in the United States, too, such as in South Carolina, where he said farmers have traded out their crops of tobacco for tea.
Nelson orders the tea from four importers in Boston and makes use of the endless options by mixing together various unlikely flavors into something unique -- like Mango/Rose green tea or Gunpowder/Mint.
"And on the list goes, there are many," he said. The idea is to be unique. People come for the tea, he said, so he plans to wow them with choices.
Other tea rooms Nelson has encountered offer only a small selection of tea, and often they restrict which teas they'll serve with which meals. Not so at Coach & Horses.
"We're different," he said. "We deliberately use these small two-cup teapots," he said, which allow the couple to offer a different type or combination of tea to every customer, even mixing it up through a meal.
Nelson has seen an even demand on all tea, so far, so he doesn't have to push one to customers above another.
One of his favorites is Chocolate/Chai.
"The aroma is wonderful," he said. "It's great if you're having dessert."
The food also might come as a surprise to customers. A native of Edinburgh, Ireland, Nelson said he anticipated a divide between the traditional tea house fare of cucumber sandwiches and biscuits and the sort of luncheon items Americans might expect.
The menu includes its share of the expected -- like shepherd's pie, Cornish pasties, scones and biscuits (cookies,) but Nelson assured that a full range of savory lunch items will ensure that no one leaves hungry. In fact, he said, most people head home with doggie bags.
For morning tea, prices range from $10.50 for The Boston Cream Tea Party, which includes fresh fruit and homemade scones with Devonshire cream and fruit spreads, to the Pot 'O' Eggs (scones, hash browns, sliced ham, English cheddar and eggs) at $13.
Afternoon tea offers a larger selection of meals listed in the online menu. On the low end are Coach and Horses Toasties -- "the British version of grilled cheese" -- for $7.50 and Shepherds Pie for $8.50. Capping the high end at $22 is The George Washington, like a trumped up Boston Cream Tea Party with an additional tiered tray of dainty tea sandwiches, small savories and sweets, and soup or salad.
Savory dishes on the lunch menu do not include tea, but an additional $3.95 per person will buy bottomless tea. Teas are served from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and savory dishes from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Coach & Horses also offers catering locally, using three industrial kitchens used for Mrs. Nelson's catering company.
Previously home to country store Homespun, owned by Mary and R.J. Turner, of Winchester, Coach and Horses went through extensive renovations to become a restaurant, Nelson said. But already, when the couple purchased the building in 2011, it wasn't a typical 1790s-style structure.
The doorways are higher than expected and the house, which originally was two log cabins with a breezeway in between, even has an attic. To keep the look of the original home, Mrs. Nelson used stenciling in the style of Moses Eaton, an 18th century muralist and painter, in each of the dining rooms, focusing on pineapples, a traditional symbol of hospitality.
The Nelsons are making strides to convert an upstairs office into a fourth dining room, and a stone smokehouse behind the tea room eventually will be used for selling ice cream. Their plans were made easier, though, through their meetings with county officials.
Nelson called the move to Frederick County a "breath of fresh air," and he said he appreciates how the county aided the couple in starting their business.
"You've got to just admire that approach," Nelson said of the process. "The appearance [of Frederick County] ... they are just open for business."
Since the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, Nelson said he and his wife worked with the county, the board of supervisors and the historic review board when changing the zoning design.
While planning to open the tea room, the couple intended a second building that they want to use for a farm market and shop, and a showcase for locally produced products by artists who previously sold their items at Homespun. They also plan to expand out onto the house's decks to offer tea parties for all ages in a child-friendly environment.
Mostly, Nelson said he wants each customer's experience at the restaurant to feel special. Requiring reservations for afternoon tea means that the Nelsons and their staff can provide a visceral meal of tiered tea cakes and sandwiches that would not be possible if they didn't know ahead of time who was coming for lunch.
"You eat with your eyes, as the saying goes," Nelson said.
He noted that in the United Kingdom, eating out was special in a way he has not witnessed in the U.S. where, as he said, so many restaurants are just copies of each other.
"[We] wanted to think outside of the box," he said. "Everywhere you go, there's not a big difference."
For more information about The Coach & Horses Tea Room, at 949 Cedar Creek Grade, Winchester, call 323-7390 or visit www.of-tea-I-sing.com.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org