A Classy Affair— Proper Tea, and proper fun at Clara J’s

. April 9, 2019.
All photos by Courtney Probert
All photos by Courtney Probert

From Boston in 1773 to Toledo in 2019, Americans have always done tea a little differently. And while Clara J’s Tea Room in downtown Maumee doesn’t break British custom with the same vigor as the early colonists, their progressive approach to the high society tradition feels like a revolution of its own.

“It’s funny when people argue about tea etiquette… going back and forth about whether or not you put the milk into the tea first,” laughs Clara J’s proprietor Gretchen Fayerweather. “It’s not my concern. The one thing I really strive for is to make tea time more casual. I just want people to come in to relax and unwind.”

Gretchen Fayerweather, Clara J’s owner.

Gretchen Fayerweather, Clara J’s owner.

Loose-leaf leisure

Forewarning— tea time is a leisurely affair, not one that can be rushed. We arrived at 1pm on a Friday to enjoy a proper high tea and, after three pots of different teas, one three-tier platter of handmade nibbles and plenty of laughter, we found ourselves gasping after checking our phones at 2:45pm— “Would you look at the time,” we exclaimed in our most posh British accents.

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But, “that’s the tea, sis.” Tea time— with or without proper etiquette, floral dresses and fancy hats— is about taking a moment with company to sit back, relax and breathe in the middle of the day. And while we don’t typically set aside two hours to sip tea and giggle with friends and tiny sandwiches atop pieces of charming, mismatched vintage China, it is worth making the time to settle into an afternoon free of phones, screens, office work and other mundane burdens.

Fortunately, Clara J’s let’s you have it both ways. If you’d like a Proper Tea, as we did, it is available by reservation at 11am and 1pm, Thursdays through Saturdays. If you’d like to just stop in for lunch, or a pot of tea and fresh scones with Devonshire cream and lemon curd, you can stop by anytime from 11am-2pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

Our Proper Tea began with two pots of tea and homemade blueberry scones served with lemon curd, Devonshire cream and strawberry jam.

Our Proper Tea began with two pots of tea and homemade blueberry scones served with lemon curd, Devonshire cream and strawberry jam.

Handmade delicacies

Since everything at Clara J’s— from the bread to the sweets to the delicately carved grapes and other accents— is made by hand, either path to tea town (pun intended) will lead to relaxing, but we certainly suggest finding the time to meet with friends for a Proper Tea. Just remember, expect to spend at least one and a half hours, because, as the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun, or at least when your heart is palpating after three pots of tea.

A three-tiered tray, featuring homemade delicacies, including:  caprese bites; asparagus and havarti tartes; beet deviled eggs; signature sandwiches; carrot salad (made with raisins plumped with chamomile tea) served on cinnamon raisin bread; triple chocolate torte; lemon drop cookies; and Pavlova made with blackberry curd.

A three-tiered tray, featuring homemade delicacies, including: caprese bites; asparagus and havarti tartes; beet deviled eggs; signature sandwiches; carrot salad (made with raisins plumped with chamomile tea) served on cinnamon raisin bread; triple chocolate torte; lemon drop cookies; and Pavlova made with blackberry curd.

A bit of histor-tea

Although just shy of 15 years old, the Maumee tearoom and gift shop boast a ton of history. Housed in a gorgeous, colonial-style home built in the 1830s, the building has been home to families, at least two doctors, shops, and other businesses over the years. In 2005, Rebecca Jaessing purchased the house to honor her Aunt Clara, a businesswoman, student of the culinary arts and granddaughter of early Maumee Valley settlers.

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A few years later, Jaessing met Fayerweather, now the owner of Clara J’s. At the time, Fayerweather was working as a culinary arts and hospitality instructor at Owens Community College. As their friendship grew, Fayerweather began helping Jaessing with the menu and offerings at Clara J’s. Not long after, and with Jaessing ready to retire, Fayerweather slowly began taking over until she purchased both the building and the business from Jaessing in September 2018.

“Most of the changes that I’ve made started before I even bought it, but I’ve branched out more with tea, and that’s a big change,” says Fayerweather. “I work with Fangboner Farms (based in Holland, Ohio), serving their tea and using their seasonings in the kitchen. They grow their own herbs and fruits, dry them, and package them. They’re hyperlocal and I love them.”

In addition, Fayerweather hired some of her former culinary arts students from Owens to help her scratch-make everything she serves. She has also reduced the size of the gift shop to allow for more seating and is transforming the upstairs, formerly office spaces, into a bed and breakfast.

Despite any changes, Fayerweather is focused on the particular magic of Clara J’s: creating a moment, free from peculiar etiquette, to emulate British aristocrats, doing what they do best — absolutely nothing.

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For special events, such as Mother’s Day Tea, and the rotating menu, visit clarajsat219.com
Clara J’s Tea Room. 219 W. Wayne St.,
Maumee, Ohio | 419-897-0219.