Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A McHugh Tea Moment

In the quiet outskirts of Houston, Texas, lies the quiet little town of Bellaire, known as "The City of Homes." Well, wherever there are homes, there are people. And people need a place to gather. Kim McHugh, born and raised among these homes, had always noticed there was a decided lack of gathering places, and so on August 2, 2013 she opened the doors to the first tea room Bellaire has ever seen, McHugh Tea. And the gathering began.

I had just an hour and a half before my flight left Houston, so I stepped in the front door, just as they were opening at 11 a.m.  Kim was kind enough to give me the grand tour of the tea room. From the front "Sun Room" with Grandpa's headboard fashioned into the perfect bench (with Grandma's tea pots displayed above)...

to the middle dining area (with a wall showcasing celebrity tea drinkers) that can be closed off for parties of up to 25 (booked through the middle of July, by the way)...

to the front bar with VIP tea cup cubbies that can be reserved by the month to store your own favorite tea cup for your own personal use...

no detail was overlooked. And especially not the food!

Ana, my delightful server, walked me through the extensive selection of True Leaf teas (Kim's tea brand), and with my choice of Monk's Blend finalized, she brought out my tiered tray of the most heavenly traditional tea service I think I've ever eaten.  

The scones - fresh, warm, fluffy scones with Devonshire cream and homemade jelly! The sandwiches - chicken salad, 

a ham and provolone rose,

a pimento sandwich, and then there was the cucumber sandwich. Be still my beating heart. It was so breathtaking, so fresh, so delicious that I didn't even think the take a photo. I just savored it and tried to figure out the components that made it so incredibly perfect.

But then, there was more! The desserts - a mini pie and a strawberry delight, both covered in what might as well have been pixie dust - they shimmered and shone. The pastry crust was so flaky and delicate, the cream in all the desserts was rich and simply perfect. 

I was thrilled when the queen of the kitchen, Billie Stafford, Kim's mom, came out to see how I was doing. I waxed poetic about my love of all she had prepared. She shared how each recipe was carefully selected by herself and Kim from their family recipes, many of which have been passed down through the generations. Yes the ingredients were fresh, yes, most of the choices were very traditional afternoon tea choices, but there was something more. There was love and happiness in these recipes, and I could taste the difference. (Plus she let me guess the ingredients of the cucumber sandwich, and confirmed my suspicions! We'll see if I can come close to replicating!)

The story of McHugh Tea is a beautiful one to me. Kim first became interested in herbal infusions when a childhood friend developed breast cancer. In addition to the medicinal properties some herbs can have, she realized that herbs and teas are one thing that cancer patients can have without (many) restrictions. It's a small luxury that is accessible to them, regardless of appetite or energy level or location. And so Kim began meeting with cancer support groups and teaching them the benefits of tea and encouraging them to create their own tea ritual that could be a small luxury to indulge in even during their most difficult days.

As she explored more teas, she decided to begin her own tea brand, and True Leaf Tea Company was born in 2009. But that wasn't enough. There was a desire to create a gathering place where people could come and enjoy those teas. And the fact of the matter was that in Bellaire, there was not one single place to get together with friends that seated less than 75 people. In her words, "There was the hotel ballroom or the Taco Bell." 

With her mom heading up the kitchen, her dad, Joe, managing the books, her husband (a Scotsman) offering food and design opinions and much moral support, and brothers being the much needed handyman (she and her brother designed this etched tea cup chandelier),

 ...it was truly a family affair. And not only did it bring the family together in a new way, it brought the community together.  Within a half hour of my arrival at the tea room on a late Fridaymorning, this is what the place looked like:

Friends, families, young, old, men, women, it's a place where all are welcome.  

If I could, I'd clone this entire place and the staff and anchor it in my neighborhood. Every town needs a place like this, where all truly feel at home.

To Visit:

McHugh Tea

5305 Bissonnet St, Bellaire, Texas, 77401

Lunch Served Daily 

Monday - Saturday 11AM–5PM Closed Sundays

No reservations needed for parties of 4 or less
Reservations appreciated for all parties on Saturdays

Afternoon Teas Served Daily 

Monday - Saturday 2PM–4PM*

Reservations required for all parties
2 person minimum, 12 person maximun
*last reservation taken at 4 pm

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