The Daily Gamecock

The Market Tea Room: A home for Columbia's tea lovers

The Market Tea Room sits hidden in a back corner off Senate Street. It is reopening Oct. 7.
The Market Tea Room sits hidden in a back corner off Senate Street. It is reopening Oct. 7.

The Market Tea Room, housed at Senate’s End overlooking the Congaree River, offers unique tea services, local foods and a relaxing environment. 

The Tea Room serves a three-course afternoon tea and hosts guests for "a quick cuppa tea" and private events such as weddings, according to its Facebook page. Upon arriving at the Tea Room, guests choose from the selection of hundreds of tea flavors and beautiful china teacups.

Jennifer Gerdes, a USC alumna, is the “tea mistress” at the Tea Room. Tea mistress, a title given to her by a guest, entails tasting and serving teas and planning and hosting events.

“I spent the entire quarantine tasting teas that people sent me from all over the world,” Gerdes said.

The extensive shelf of teas includes teas from China, South Africa, Japan, Charleston and more.

Aside from being delicious and refreshing, tea offers a variety of benefits that Gerdes studied extensively. She said the first benefit is spiritual, as drinking and serving tea is sort of a ritual.

“It forces you to take a few quiet minutes to yourself,” Gerdes said. “You can’t rush it.” 

There are health benefits, too. For example, Gerdes said she recommends rooibos to athletes due to its high magnesium and potassium and how it helps with cramps.

The Tea Room started out as just a vision for Gerdes. She retired early and decided to follow her bliss: tea. Gerdes hosted "pop-up tea parties" and sold tea wherever she could. She opened The Market Tea Room in February 2017 at the state farmers market.

With the help of Dupre Percival, owner of Senate’s End and Dupre Catering Company, she finally opened up the shop at its current location.

“He just walked in and said, ‘How would you like to have an actual tea room?’” Gerdes said. 

Gerdes took him up on the offer. Although the Tea Room is close to the Vista, guests feel encapsulated in the nature that surrounds the property. On the back porch, guests can sip on a warm or cold cup of tea and take in the wildlife, Congaree River and greenery. 

The Market Tea Room provides a comfortable environment for all tea lovers.
The Market Tea Room provides a comfortable environment for all tea lovers.

Restrictions brought on by COVID-19 have kept the Tea Room temporarily closed, but a post on its Facebook page announced a phased reopening on Oct. 7.

In the meantime, Gerdes has been thinking of ways to accommodate social distancing measures while still hosting guests.

“There’s no way to get over the intimacy of tea, which is why we’ve waited so long,” Gerdes said.

Gerdes said its biggest obstacle will be afternoon tea, which is a "touchy-feely experience," as groups share scones and sandwiches from the tower at the center of the table.

Along with the marvelous tea and cozy atmosphere, what the Tea Room does best is hospitality. Tammy Bergman, a Tea Room customer and tea lover, said she agrees.

“If you're by yourself, [Gerdes] will ask if you want company,” Bergman said. “She'll just sit and talk with you for hours.”

Bergman first tried the Tea Room when it was at the farmers market, then attended the Mother’s Day tea.

“It was a pleasant experience that I immediately fell in love with,” Bergman said.

Bergman said she is grateful for the Tea Room for being a place that is "just for the tea lovers."

"Jennifer makes it special in that she is going out of her way to have a place that people can come to that's intimate," Stephanie Bridgers, owner of The Local Buzz coffee shop, said.

Gerdes said groups that have come in to do tastings as strangers are now best friends. 

People can come to the Tea Room dressed up in hats and dresses or with schoolwork and a sweatshirt. Gerdes said her job as a tea mistress comes down to more than just serving tea.

“It is about interpersonal relationships,” Gerdes said. "We welcome everybody with open arms."