Tea Time

Photos by Kamala Kirk

When visiting the Rose Garden Tea Room, set amidst the historic Rose Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, it feels as if you’ve been transported back in time to a charming cottage in the countryside. Offering beautiful views of the gardens from every window, the Rose Garden Tea Room serves traditional tea service in a cozy, intimate setting.

The Rose Garden Tea Room building was originally used by Henry Huntington, one of the founders of the city of San Marino, as a game room for billiards and bowling. A year after his death, the museum and grounds opened to the public in 1928, and the building was readapted as a tea room, serving luncheons for visitors, staff, and researchers. Food service was eliminated in the 1940s and 1950s and then, during the following two decades the space served as an extension of the cafeteria dining room for staff and visiting researchers.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the Rose Garden Tea Room began to offer traditional English-style afternoon tea service. In 2016, Bon Appétit Management Company—The Huntington’s dining service provider—took over the Rose Garden Tea Room and all of the property’s other onsite cafes.

“We take pride in serving fresh and flavorful food made with sustainable ingredients, so one of the first things we did in 2016 was change the format from a buffet to a traditional tea service,” said Hannah Katalbas, Director of Marketing and Social for Bon Appétit Management Company. “The fixed menu changes every six months to highlight ingredients that are in season and at their freshest. We also offer a vegan menu and dishes made without gluten-containing ingredients.”

During tea service, each table receives a three-tier tea tray with a fixed menu of house-made scones baked fresh daily, assorted savory sandwiches and bites, and petite sweets. The Rose Garden Tea Room offers 16 tea varieties, all sourced from Art of Tea, and every guest receives their own pot of tea so they may choose their own blend to enjoy.

“I like to incorporate things that are in season and that can be found in the garden, such as oranges and lemon zest,” said Sous Chef Claudia Engle, who oversees the Rose Garden Tea Room menu. “We like to maintain a balance between sweet and savory. Currently, we are serving a cheddar and chive scone, along with a cranberry scone. Our sandwiches include egg salad in a phyllo cup, a mushroom and cheddar cheese quiche, salmon with dill spread and caviar, an onion sandwich that was inspired by James Beard’s famous sandwich, and a roasted chicken sandwich with brown sugar and spices—which is my personal favorite. Our desserts, which are also seasonal, currently include chocolate mousse in a chocolate cup, a fruit tart, and a cupcake with cinnamon frosting and fresh-cut apples on top.”

In addition to tea trays, guests can order wine, cocktails, a cheese board, and even caviar blinis. The Rose Garden Tea Room also offers an herb salad made with ingredients sourced from The Huntington’s Herb Garden, which is adjacent to the Tea Room. There is also a children’s menu with modified items.

“We enjoy hosting birthdays, bridal showers, baby showers, and most other special occasions,” said Katalbas. “Our maximum capacity for a private party is 44. For larger parties, our catering and events team can help arrange private events where the same afternoon tea menu may be served at other rentable event spaces on the property.”

Admission to The Huntington is a separate fee that is required for all visitors to the Rose Garden Tea Room. It is open for most holidays, and occasionally offers special menus to celebrate different occasions. Special offerings and seasonal menu changes are shared via Facebook and Instagram (@rosegardentearoom).

“Our guests love the surroundings when they come here,” added Engle. “Being in the middle of a beautiful garden and sitting down to enjoy tea service just like the way it is in England is what makes this place so special.”

The Huntington’s Rose Garden Tea Room is located at 1151 Oxford Rd. in San Marino. It is open Mon. from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Wed. – Fri. from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sat. – Sun. from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed Tuesdays. For more information, call (626)405-2236 or visit www.huntington.org.

The Huntington Rose Garden Tea Room Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 2.8.19. Support Local Business.