At the DeGolyer Garden Café and Tea Room, R.W. NELSON is a fixture. He buzzes from table to table, serving cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream, and fills and refills ornate porcelain cups with loose-leaf tea, explaining each flavor’s intricate nuances as he pours. He doesn’t often stray off topic, except perhaps to interject a couple of Nelson-isms, which only add to the experience.
How long have you been serving tea at the Dallas Arboretum?
Four or five years. Last year in December, we had 1,900 reservations, and people were booking in October and November.
That must be some good tea.
It’s not all about drinking tea. It’s about the ambience and the service.
With all those women, you must overhear some interesting conversations.
They discuss everything from politics to financial subjects to what’s going on in this club and that club to what’s going on within the neighborhood. I try not to listen because then when you intervene into a conversation they know you’ve been listening. I’ve got enough business of my own and don’t need to be in your business.
How do you introduce the tea?
When I walk up to the tables, first thing, ‘My name is Nelson, welcome to the tea, and this is our first tea, and we will have this tea and this tea and this tea and this tea.’ But when we have somebody say, ‘I just want one,’ I say, ‘Fine, but I want to make sure you have a chance to try all of them.’ I tell them, ‘This is peach longleaf cinnamon hibiscus tea.’ A lady asked me, ‘Why are they all longleaf teas? Are there any shortleaf teas?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out.’
What have you learned while serving tea?
I’ve learned respect for culture because I’ve had people from Canada, Australia, Switzerland — I had one lady from England and she said, ‘You’re doing a fine job. You rank up there with the best of them. But one thing, we pour the milk first then the tea. And not everybody in England drinks Earl Grey.’
What tea is the most popular?
I base the tea on whether it’s good when you drink it cold. Last year it was strawberry vanilla; this year it’s longleaf cinnamon hibiscus. Most teas are good hot, but when you can drink it cold, you can really taste the flavor.
How do you like your tea?
I like cold teas. We make them hot, and then we pour them over ice and put sugar in them. It tastes just as good to me. I don’t drink hot stuff. I don’t even like coffee. I’m already excited. I don’t need to be that excited every day.
How much time should someone allocate for tea?
At least two hours. At least. Because that’s another thing — you don’t rush tea.
Holiday Tea at the Dallas Arboretum is a three-course full-service tea at the DeGolyer Garden Café and Tea Room that takes place Wednesdays through Sundays, Nov. 28 through Dec. 30, with seating at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. The cost is $33.50 per person and advanced reservations are required at 214.515.6610.
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