Tea shop owner has a taste for a 'forgotten era'

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Afternoons reserved for polite conversation over tea served in fine china cups could be a scene from Downton Abbey -- or Bethel Park today.

Such is the refined ambiance at Bella's House of Fine Teas and Gift Shop, 2822 South Park Road, in which owner Bella Howard strives -- using soft colors, vintage decor and classical music --to re-create a slower era when people set time aside each day to nourish their spirits with tea and talk.

At 12:45 p.m. today, Miss Howard will speak on the practice of an afternoon tea, the etiquette of hosting such a tea, types of tea and tea's health benefits in the meeting room of St. David's Anglican Church, 905 E. McMurray Road, Peters.

Naturally, tea and scones will be served.

The free talk will follow lunch at 11:15 a.m. provided by event sponsor, Giant Oaks Garden Club. Lunch is $6.

Peg Barrows of South Strabane, program chairwoman for the 90-member club, said of particular interest to members is the use of herbs.

Miss Howard, who began drinking tea at age 3, is a fan of herbal teas, often called tisanes, which are non-caffeinated beverages made from leaves, berries and herbs.

"Teas are so well blended today that the flavors are delightful, so we encourage to try them first before adding sugar, cream, or honey,'' she said.

The Bethel Park woman said while coffee stimulates, tea stimulates the mind but also has a calming effect on the body.

Tea's health benefits lie in its antioxidants, which are substances that may protect one's cells against the effects of free radicals. The latter are molecules that may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.

Foods high in antioxidants are high in fiber, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and are good sources of other vitamins and minerals.

Miss Howard, a registered nurse, originally planned to stage tea parties in homes as a way to share her joy in tea. However, a tea master class inspired her to open her own shop five years ago.

The business consists of three rooms: a main dining room with comfortable seating for 38 people and two private rooms for six or more.

She said the vintage wedding dresses and hats, tea pot collections, antique photographs and paintings that fill the rooms often serve to spark fond memories of childhoods and of a less complicated past.

There is also an antique gallery and gift shop; a tea store with more than 80 premium teas; and a scones bakery.

Menu offerings include a morning cream tea; lunch and an "elegant afternoon tea,'' with soup, scones, tea sandwiches, desserts and unlimited tea of one's choice.

Beyond its pleasurable taste and health benefits, tea with friends brings out lots of conversation, Miss Howard said.

"Tea time promotes communication and friendship and relaxation,'' she said. "You get caught up in the atmosphere and are taken back to a forgotten era.''

The amenities play a crucial role in the journey to refinement, she noted.

"Using tablecloths and china is so different from using paper plates.''

Details: www.bellastearoom.com or 412-835-3702.

neigh_south - neigh_washington

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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