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Tea Season


"There are few hours in life more agreeable," Henry James once observed, "than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." Charleston in the spring is happy to oblige James' opinion with the many church tea rooms that appear between Easter and the start of downtown's Spoleto performing arts festival in late May.


The tea room tradition can be traced back seventy-five years ago, to 1948, when a group of women belonging to Old St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in West Ashley were tasked with cleaning out the church's sanctuary, long neglected due to falling attendance at Sunday services. The ladies fortified themselves each day with homemade box lunches and jugs of iced and hot tea.


Old St. Andrews tea servers, c.1974

Soon passersby began commenting on the delicious sandwiches and pastries on view. The fundraising possibilities were not lost on the women, and soon a tea room was established to raise money for refurbishing the sanctuary. The idea caught on at other churches, and today these seasonal tea rooms raise thousands of dollars for philanthropic purposes or for church repairs.


In addition to enjoying such Lowcountry delights as ham biscuits and okra soup, hummingbird cake and Lady Baltimore cake and Tipsy Pudding, the tea rooms offer a relaxing way to visit some of downtown's historic churches and help maintain them. If you'd like to experience this unique and charming Charleston tradition, here are churches offering tea rooms this spring:


  • The St. Phillips Tea Room, 142 Church Street: April 29 - May 4. Monday-Friday 11:30am to 2pm. 843-722-7734 stphillipschurchsc.org

  • Second Presbyterian Church, 342 Meeting St., May 20 - 26, Friday-Saturday, 11:30am-2pm and Sunday, 12:30-3pm. 843-723-9237. 2ndpc,org

  • Grace Church, 98 Wentworth St., May 27 - June 1st and June 3 - 8, 11:30-2pm. 843-723-4575 gracechurchcharleston.org

(Photos courtesy the Post&Courier and Charleston Magazine)

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