Smells of cinnamon waft through the air. An assortment of various brewed teas pour from tea pots into patterned teacups. Vintage tables are decorated in antique table cloths.
The old time feeling is accommodated by smiling faces of the employees at Letty Mae’s Tea Room & Fancy Junk in downtown Morris.
The tea room, which opened on July 23, serves customers assorted sandwiches, salads and desserts. Twelve varieties of hot and iced tea from The Birds and the Teas were also served.
“The tea room opening went very well,” said Lorraine Morris, owner of The Birds and the Teas. “Laurie is very good about the details and we do well together. She sticks with the food and I’m good with the teas.”
The two women, who both owned their own businesses – Morris owned The Birds and the Teas and Belinski owned Letty Mae’s – took their own strengths and merged them to create a business in downtown Morris that is appreciated for its charm and good taste.
“People love the vintage mix matched dishes. It reminds them of their grandma’s. Some same they have the same pattern at home and should dig it out of their attic.”
A bit of food
Belinski said she has customers asking for recipes. Some are recipes her great grandmother and grandmother have passed down to her. In fact, her very talent for cooking is passed down, from her great grandmother, after whom the tea room is named.
“Although I never met her, I was told she loved to bake,” Belinski said, adding that all the sandwiches and salads served at the tea room are named after her great grandmother’s siblings. “My Grandma was a baker too. She was the head baker at the school I attended. My son is an excellent baker too.”
At Letty Mae’s Tea Room and Fancy Junk, you can get a taste of the baked goods in items such as the cake bites.
The cake bites, similar to the popular dessert craze, “cake pops,” but without a stick are a big hit with customers. The current cake pop flavor is hummingbird cake. This is a banana cake with pineapple and a cream cheese frosting.
Despite customer’s requests, Belinski said she is not planning to release any family culinary instructions. But she is planning to expand what is offered.
Also in the future, customers will see afternoon teas with tiered plates of finger sandwiches and pastries. Themed and holiday teas are also being considered, Belinski said.
Not Food Alone
Belinski always wanted to open a tea room. But while she had the culinary talent, she did not have the knowledge of teas. That’s where Morris came in.
Shortly after Letty Mae’s opened, Morris approached Belniski about offering her teas in her tea room. In the past, Morris had rented space in the Milltown Market in Wilmington and even had her own location in Morris, but it was too far north and not close to the downtown area. She even was in with the downtown Morris store Vintage.
“She (Laurie) had wonderful ideas, but wasn’t overly familiar with tea,” Morris said. “We clicked.”
Morris has always had the love for tea. She recalls always having special afternoon teas with her grandmother who lived with her and her family.
But even though her memories are close to home, her passion to find the best teas has taken her far away from Morris. Morris and her husband went to London in 2006 – for tea.
“We had a ball hunting out the tea places in the back country,” Morris said. “My goal is to get to India.”
As for now, she will work with distributors to get the best tasting organic teas. Morris buys her tea in bulk and said she is now offering well-known green and black teas because they go with everything. She sometimes blends her own teas. Seasonal teas, such as a cinnamon spice or a chai will be offered in the fall to complement Belinski’s panini sandwiches, pumpkin pie soup and carmel apple salad.
“I try to strike a balance to make everyone happy,” said Morris, who’s favorite tea is darjeeling, a northeastern Indian tea that comes from the Himalayas and is considered the “champagne of teas.”
Teas are sold as tea bags or loose leaves for brewing. Morris said loose tea is best brewed in a tea basket, which allows the leaves to completely open and allow more flavor and better use of the leaves.
In the future, Morris would like to have tea tastings. She said this will allow customers to taste tea from different regions of the world.
“I think things will get better and better,” Morris said. It’s phenomenal now. I would like everyone to come in and enjoy a nice cup of tea the way I do.”
For her part, Belinski is learning about what teas the customers prefer.
“We can’t keep the peach apricot tea in store because it is so popular,” Belinski said.
And, she feels the same way as Morris about the partnership, the store and the tea room.
“Having this business is a dream come true,” Belinski said.
Letty Mae's is at 208 Liberty Street in Morris.