The British tradition of Afternoon Tea is alive and well in Shaker, thanks to the particular expertise of a hard-working American woman.
By Diana Simeon
Growing up with a British mother, Barbara Glauser couldn’t help but develop a passion for tea. So in 2013, Glauser decided to take her love of tea – and the British ritual of Afternoon Tea– and launch the Rolling Tea Cart, a Shaker-based catering company that provides a tea-room-like culinary experience in her customers’ homes.
“My mother was from England. She met my father, an American soldier, when he was stationed there during World War II,” explains the longtime resident. After the war, the couple married and settled in Philadelphia. “My mother carried on all the traditions she had learned in England, which included drinking tea morning, noon, and night,” recalls Glauser with a laugh. “It was always tea time.”
During summer vacations, Glauser visited her English family. A big treat: excursions to nearby tea rooms for a proper Afternoon Tea, a ritual said to have started in 1840 with Anna Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford. As the story goes, the Duchess often felt hungry in the late afternoon and so asked for cakes and other treats alongside her pot of tea. Delighted with her innovation, the Duchess invited her friends; soon, sitting down to a formal Afternoon Tea had spread throughout fashionable British society. Even Queen Victoria partook in the practice.
In its heyday, Afternoon Tea – also called low tea – was typically served between 4 and 6 pm. On the menu: finger sandwiches, warm scones with jam and clotted cream, and an assortment of sweets – plus lots and lots of hot tea, traditionally a black tea, like Earl Gray or Darjeeling – all elegantly served with silver, table linens, and fine English china.
Today, few in Britain have time for such leisure, so Afternoon Tea has become a treat enjoyed on special occasions, as well as a tourist activity. That was Glauser’s childhood experience with the formal Afternoon Tea, too.
And she continued the tradition with her own family.
“As my daughters got older, it became entertainment. Every time the kids would come back into town, we really enjoyed visiting tea rooms,” she says. “It became a family adventure.”
That included both here in Cleveland – Glauser moved to Shaker with her husband, a physician at the Cleveland Clinic, more than 30 years ago – and during her frequent travels back across the pond.
“In England, there are certain tea rooms that are just outstanding.” A family favorite: London’s Claridge’s hotel. “I love the elegance,” Glauser says. “And the service. The wait staff is always beyond compare.”
In Cleveland, she recommends Quintealia’s Tea Parlour in Burton or the Emerald Necklace Inn in Fairview Park. But Glauser also enjoyed preparing Afternoon Tea at home, especially since it was the perfect opportunity for baking and showcasing her jams, jellies, and even lemon curd. In fact, Glauser is an award-winning baker and preserves maker, over the years winning numerous Best in Shows and other top prizes at Ohio’s county fairs.
Simple and Delightful
Glauser’s customers prefer Afternoon Tea served in their homes. “People are so much more comfortable in their own homes,” she explains. “They don’t have to be on their best behavior like you feel you must be in a fancy tea room. Can I use that spoon? My fingers? Does cream go in first or second?”
She often serves Afternoon Tea for book clubs and, on occasion, will also cater for local events, including in 2016 when the Cleveland Public Library hosted the original 1623 Shakespeare First Folio. Glauser served tea at the exhibit’s opening.
To be sure, Glauser makes hosting Afternoon Tea simple and delightful. Customers select from three options, named for her two daughters and daughter-in-law: Queen Emma’s Tea, Princess Sarah’s Tea, or Lady Jane’s Tea for a traditional Cream Tea. Each option includes four different teas and Glauser’s scrumptious homemade scones, which she bakes fresh on site.
“When the guests arrive, they can smell the scones baking,” she explains. “It’s a lovely smell.” The scones are served with Glauser’s homemade preserves, lemon curd, and Devonshire cream.
Customers select two types of scone. There are seven on the menu, including classics like lavender and lemon poppy seed, as well as more contemporary takes – chocolate chip – and a seasonal variety. She’ll also take requests. She did a tea over the winter holidays with a gingerbread with a rum sauce frosting.
Depending on the option, Glauser’s Afternoon Tea can also include a selection of finger sandwiches – the menu again offers seven kinds – and additional sweet or savory items, like Fairy Cakes, chocolate-dipped strawberries, or vegetable quiche. (View packages, pricing, and menus at
Best of all, her customers don’t need to lift a finger. Glauser provides everything, including the vintage china, table linens, silver, and the traditional three-tier serving platter. “I only need a working oven,” she says.
Her Afternoon Teas get rave reviews, especially from fellow tea-room enthusiasts. “I’ve had clients who have said to me, ‘We have been to the Ritz and yours is much better,’” says Glauser. “I take that as a wonderful compliment. I really do.”
What’s in the Cup?
The Rolling Tea Cart menu offers 23 different varieties of tea. Trying to pick just four might seem like a daunting task, but spend a few minutes with Glauser and you realize you’re in the hands of a true expert.
“One of the ways I increased my passion for tea was to become a Certified Tea Specialist through the Specialty Tea Institute of the United States,” says Glauser. It’s a two-year process, during which Glauser spent up to four days at a time learning about a particular category of tea. “Black Tea took four sessions and we still didn’t learn everything there is to know,” she says.
All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences between types of tea depend on where the leaves are grown and how they are processed. The estimated 3,000 available tea varieties fall into six basic categories: Black Tea, Green Tea, Oolong Tea, White Tea, Tisane, and Pu’erh. Traditional English teas are usually Black Teas. Black Teas are the most processed; English tea varieties are often blends of Black Tea from China and India. “For example, English Breakfast Tea is a blend, usually an Assam from India and a Chinese tea as well,” says Glauser.
And the other categories? White Tea is the most delicate, least processed type of tea, “almost as if you’d just picked the leaves and steamed them,” says Glauser. Oolong (or WuLong) Tea is “more or less from mountainous regions and probably the most flavorful of teas.” Green Tea is also minimally processed. Tisane is not actually tea, but a mix of herbs – chamomile or mint, for example. Many of us refer to Tisanes as herbal tea.
Pu’erh Tea is an ancient form of tea from China. “It was developed on the Silk Road, when merchants would carry tea up the road. They realized that the tea was often not fresh by the time they got where they were going, so what they learned to do was to ferment it and press it into shapes, most often a flat cylinder.”
To this day, the production of Pu’erh is a closely guarded state secret in China. And because it’s fermented, it’s possible to get Pu’erh teas that are more than 200 years old.
Glauser only uses loose leaves (as any tea connoisseur will tell you, loose tea is the way to get the best cuppa). Guests at Glauser’s Afternoon Teas are invited to select from one of the four teas pre-selected by the host.
“When the guests arrive, I have four tea cups set up with loose tea on each cup, so they can see and smell the different teas” says Glauser.
Those who want to learn more about tea can take advantage of another of the Rolling Tea Cart’s services: a Tea Tasting Workshop during which Glauser provides samples of teas in each category and helps guests understand the tea’s history, the best way to prepare it (there are differences, often in the temperature of the water), and the tea’s health benefits.
Glauser runs her business, while also working at her longtime career as an occupational therapist for Euclid City Schools. She’s busy, yes. But her love of tea keeps her going.
Americans often refer to the British tradition of Afternoon Tea as a High Tea. But the British do not.
“Some places that cater to tourists call it High Tea,” explains Barbara Glauser, a longtime Shaker resident and owner of the Rolling Tea Cart. “But most of the time, you’ll see it advertised in Britain as Afternoon Tea. And, in fact, a lot of British will get angry if you ask for a High Tea.”
That’s because High Tea is actually something else entirely. “In Britain, High Tea was what the people who worked in factories, the laborers, would have around 6 o’clock and it was almost like dinner,” explains Glauser. It included tea, yes, but also meat pies, cold cuts, and other hearty fare. It was called High Tea because it was served at a high table, usually the dining table.
“But somehow or other, because Afternoon Tea is a fancy event, in the United States, they call it High Tea.”
In Britain, Low Tea is the correct term for an Afternoon Tea. That’s because it was typically served at low tables in the drawing rooms of the British upper crust. “It was a tradition for people who had money,” says Glauser.
And Cream Tea? That’s a variant on Afternoon Tea (or Low Tea) in which tea is served with only scones with clotted cream and jam. Cream tea is a particular tradition in Devon and Cornwall, two English counties prized for their clotted cream.