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Potluck: Miss Spencer's Tea

New Virginia

A Spot of Tea in Warren County

Compiled by Carol Bodensteiner
and Mary Gottschalk

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the royal wedding, and the Olympics gave Iowans a chance to see a bit of jolly old England. The experience can continue closer to home.

Donna Hardin and her daughter Spenser began hosting authentic English teas at their home in the New Virginia countryside as a first step in what they hoped would be a trip to England. They established Miss Spenser’s Teas in 2005 to give visitors a true English cultural experience.

What constitutes an English tea? Donna points to good-quality loose-leaf tea (not bag tea) and a wide variety of foods, including finger sandwiches, scones with whipped cream and jam, tea cakes, and cookies, all home-baked and served on beautiful china.

The teas are not quite “high tea,” which would be served in late afternoon. Rather, Donna describes tea at Miss Spenser’s as a “formal afternoon” tea.

“Our goal is to give our friends the best English tea experience this side of the pond,” says Donna, pointing out that their teas are about more than eating. “We strive to provide an experience that nourishes body and soul. Women are so busy and stressed. We want our tearoom to be a haven that speaks to women’s hearts.”

Special-event teas held one Saturday each month offer programs by daughter Spenser, who is often dressed in historical garb. “We like to home in on historical characters,” says Donna, describing programs that revolve around English authors such as Beatrix Potter, Lewis Carroll, and Charles Dickens. English roses and the popular PBS series Downton Abbey have also provided program themes.

Though Donna and Spenser haven’t made it to England yet, visitors from England confirm the authenticity of their teas. One gentleman called Spenser aside to talk about her scones. “In his very proper English accent, he assured her, ‘You’ve got them just right.’”

In addition to event teas, Miss Spenser’s is also open on periodic weekdays. Check the website for events and days. For a longer visit, the Hardins offer a bed and breakfast.

Photo courtesy Zachary Hardin.


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