Afternoon tea is special for Lisa Freel. It reminds her of her grandmother and the time she lived with her in England when she was in high school and college.
“That was our special moment of the afternoon,” Freel said in a phone interview from his home in Frederick.
Freel continues to be a devoted tea drinker, and when the pandemic hit, she thought maybe it was time for a new adventure. Inspired by her own English and Scottish roots, Freel started the company Traveling Tea Time.
The company offers traditional English afternoon teas, served at home. Freel provides tea, china, cutlery, food and everything else needed for a full afternoon tea. All food is homemade by Freel using his own family recipes that date back generations.
“A tea party is a special, beautiful way to get together or celebrate with family and friends,” Freel said.
Freel had spent 30 years in higher education before retiring. Most recently, she was at Frederick Community College as Director of Admissions while working a second job. When COVID hit, she decided she wanted to run her own business — a business that gave people a special day. Traveling Tea Time officially opened in August 2021.
“It’s something I wanted to try because I think COVID has been such a difficult time for everyone,” she said.
With several teahouses closed and COVID recommendations telling people to only gather within their circles, Freel decided to bring tea to people’s homes. For those who want to be more careful about gathering in groups, Freel serves tea outdoors on the terraces and in the gazebos.
Tea time has always been part of Freel’s life. Most of his family was from England and Scotland. His late mother, Patricia Logan, was from England. All Freel recipes are passed down from generation to generation.
“I miss her terribly,” Freel said of her mother. “If she was alive today, she would do this with me.”
By honoring the memory of her mother, Traveling Tea Time allows people to focus on those around them.
“Snacks give us a chance to slow down and enjoy the company around us,” she said.
Not only does Freel bring the afternoon tea to the guest, with sweet and savory scones, but “then we do all the cleaning, so the host can enjoy the time.”
Freel said that before fully launching her business, she took online restaurant courses and obtained ServSafe certification to ensure she was trained in proper food handling. She also tested the teas she wanted to include and determined which recipes would work best.
“I really explored my mother’s and grandmother’s cookbooks to see what recipes I knew from childhood — like, my mother’s trifle was the best,” she said. “And my great-grandmother made the best MacKenzie shortbread.”
She said these recipes were ones she knew she wanted to add to her menu, but she also wanted to rediscover recipes she hadn’t had in a long time.
Food is served on a third level platter. The first level is filled with savory dishes, such as chicken salad, mini quiche or roast beef roses – thin slices of beef rolled in a rose. The second tier is filled with homemade scones, such as lemon, blueberry or orange cranberry, depending on the season. The top layer contains sweet items, such as trifles or mini cheesecakes.
Freel cares deeply about the quality of the teas she serves and buys them from the Tea Emporium in downtown Frederick. Those selected for the event are usually either by Freel’s recommendation or based on what the party host has in mind. And in true English fashion, milk is included on the table.
The most important aspect of an afternoon tea, Freel said, is that it’s not as appropriate as people think. Yes, there are certain rules of etiquette, such as the proper way to place your napkin or what to do with your saucer. “But I tell everyone to do what makes you feel comfortable,” she said.
Freel has hosted tea parties for people in their 20s to 90s and for a wide range of events – birthday parties, baby showers, even a quinceanera.
Kathy Frawley’s Book Club selected Traveling Tea Time as a special event during the holidays. A book club member had previously used the service.
Frawley loved that Freel took care of everything, including his mother’s Christmas china. She said she was able to choose from a long list of sweet and savory items, mini desserts and two types of tea, a served quiche and a trifle.
What Frawley loved most about the experience was that it wasn’t just about sipping tea and eating bites. Freel “has a lot of knowledge,” Frawley said, “and taught us a bit about tea — and afternoon tea versus tea.”
Afternoon tea is often served mid-afternoon and includes scones, tea sandwiches and cakes. A high tea is rather a meal with meats, fish, breads and desserts, served in the early evening.
Jacki Stranathan, who lives in Westminster, wanted to host a tea party in the autumn as her daughter and her family left for England. Because of COVID, she said the event was held outdoors.
“It was amazing,” she said, noting that Freel brought props, hats, linens and cutlery in addition to tea and food.
Stranathan loved “the beautiful art of tea” and “taking time to enjoy the food, the ambiance and the company”.
She recently crossed the pond to England to visit her daughter and family and had three teas while there. “They were so good,” she said. “Lisa’s was just as good.”
After attending a friend’s tea in the summer of 2021, Edie Wood of Rockville decided to contact Freel for her own service in October 2021 for friends, which turned out to be relaxing and fun. Wood enjoyed her experience so much that she booked Freel for another tea in 2022. This time, however, one of the teas was replaced with cocoa.
For Freel, the parties she throws are more than delicious food and a good cup of tea. Her services give the host the chance to spend time with friends and family without worrying about serving guests and having to clean up afterward. Instead, they are in the moment.
Each cup of tea also brings back memories of his loved ones, especially his mother.
“My mum was an amazing, generous person, and people called her the Little British Broad,” she said. “She was just loving and caring, and I feel like I shared a bit of her.”