For the finest English tea experience in Texas, one must travel to The Woodlands, close to a 3-hour drive from Austin. I recently had High Tea at the Driskill hotel in downtown Austin, and while the ambiance was very fine, the entire ‘tea experience’ fell short of what is on offer at the Hummingbird Tea Room.
I interviewed owner Nasim Bell about how it all developed. Her parents were born in India, but she and her five siblings were all born in Zambia, which at that time was a British Protectorate. With a basic grounding in English traditions, she moved at age 15 to England where she attended a girls’ school in Bedford. It was housed in a former grand mansion. “There were rumours of the house still being haunted. People would claim to see the silhouette of a woman in the grand ballroom!”
One thing that particularly struck her were the number of aged. “I had never seen so many old women in particular. Africa is such a young continent that I was mostly accustomed to seeing only young people.” After getting her degree at the Northeast London Polytechnic, Bell taught biology in London for a couple of years.
With a sister in Chicago, and her soon-to-be husband getting a job in the United States, Bell lived for a bit in Peoria, Illinois. She resumed her academic career there, teaching in a Community College. Her stay in Texas began 16 years ago. This is when “I decided to start my own business, first by making and selling mango chutney, which was available at HEB and Kroeger’s.” When her son turned 4, Bell said “I thought of opening a tea room. Many people in my life would have tea and cakes at the traditional time of 3pm, so the idea germinated from that.” July 12, 2022 will mark 10 years since the establishment of her tea room in The Woodlands.
“I did not have a business plan, I just went my instinct. I thought there would be a queque out my door when I opened. That didn’t happen, but I stuck to my core principles of being environmentally conscious, serving food sourced locally, and natural or organic as much as possible. I have never wavered from the quality of the food: the foundation of the business was always strong.”
Now a decade old, Bell and her all-female staff have “created a brand for ourselves. It is the only place to offer tea for many miles.”
When Covid hit, she had to become creative. How do we still keep going? “PPP helped immensely, and many people ordered food to-go.” She began shipping scones all over the country, and now has many selections including complete High Tea boxes for shipment.
One key to the success of her scones is the use of einkorn flour. “It is an ancient grain that has never been hybridized. It does not have the same form of gluten as regular flour. It’s also expensive – I can’t find it in 50-pound bags.” For now she uses King Arthur flour for biscuits and cakes, but hopes to expand the einkorn to there as well.
Explaining the allure of a tea, she said “Taking time out for tea is so important in our constant, busy lives. Our motto is It’s Never Not Tea Time. My husband came up with that one!”
A typical High Tea includes 7 savoury items, 5 finger sandwiches and three mini-desserts that change seasonally. The main event, the tea itself, is unlimited, with a wide selection to choose from. “We also offer gluten-free and dairy-free options,” she said.
Some people wonder if scones should be served with clotted dream or double Devon cream. Bell prefers the clotted cream. “It is pale yellow and is slightly sweeter even though it has no sugar. It’s also a little thicker than double Devon.” For that she prefers to dip bread into, with a little cinnamon and honey.
Looking forward, Bell’s main goal is to make her scones available in major grocery stores in Texas.
High Tea is served Monday to Saturday, from 1130am to 3pm. Call ahead to make reservations, or to place a large take-out order: (281) 419-8362
With the warm energy of reclaimed wood tables, and a friendly staff, this place is Highly recommended!!
The Hummingbird Tea Room is located in the western edge of The Woodlands (Greater Houston). 30420 FM2978 #160, Magnolia, TX 77354.