The skies were clear and the heat of Pueblo threatened to burn all those in the wake of its rays. Finding solace in the shade of a building or the shade of a tree can be a most wonderful pleasure during these summer days, but as I was about to discover, finding a cup of tea proved to be an even more wonderful pleasure.
I quickly picked up my friend, Sheela, from her home, and we raced the heat of the day to make it to Sister’s Courtyard, located on 5th Street, in time to meet my mom for lunch.
We arrived, stepping lightly into the coolness of the indoors and over the threshold of elegance. At a glance, tables were set with crystal glasses, a fluffy folded napkin nestled neatly inside them, and various patterned china to mark a seat at the table.
My mother had arrived before us, she was poised in a corner next to the window staring out and watching the world. With her eyes glowing and the flecks of glitter sparkling on her cheeks, she had her fingertips at her lips, bangles loosely clinging to her wrist, and was dressed in a black and green floral dress that stopped at her knees, she was fit for a tea party.
We found our places around the small table decorated with a crisp white linen. Above us was a cream-colored umbrella hanging upside down with flowers overflowing from it. Teapots lined where the wall meets the ceiling. Small photos of dainty things vacated the wallspace and there was a ledge stuffed with various books. Beside me, a ladybug traveled on the window, trying to find it’s way to the outside.
A gentleman approached our table, a bright plaid button up, and a bow tie complimented his horn-rimmed glasses. He inquired what teas we desired. We each picked one. White Ginger Pear. Serene Green. Southern Pecan. Within several minutes, the gentleman returned carrying a fresh pot of tea placing a silver votive holder underneath each one to keep them warm.
He filled each of our cups, but only three quarters full, the rest of the room left for our emotions.
He returned several more times, providing a small pitcher of milk and a large scoop filled with raw sugar. Then came the scones, clotted cream and lemon curd. Handling the spoons delicately, we scooped small portions, placing them onto the fine china. The soft clinks of china, and the sound of a spoon swirling sugar and milk into a fresh cup of tea was a most relaxing sound.
The lightly-sweetened scones crumbled on my tongue mixing with the heavenly smoothness of the clotted cream. The scones are meant to be eaten slowly, taking sips of tea in between, but before a dainty eyelash bats and somehow at the most perfect time, another course is being set on the table and another cup of tea is poured.
A fluffy quiche lorraine and a light vegetable medley soup was next. This savory course wasn’t too savory, but just enough to leave me wanting much, much more. We glanced around the table with that, “holy crap, this is delicious” thought in mind, because this was a fancy place and we simply couldn’t say it out loud.
Just when the quiche and soup had filled us up, the last and final course, before dessert, was added to our table as other plates were removed.
This was two tiers worth of delectable goodies, complete with turkey swiss pinwheels, cucumber sandwiches, roast beef and red-pepper on rye, chicken salad triangle sandwiches, multigrain crackers topped with cream cheese, a walnut and a grape. There was also chocolate covered strawberries, cinnamon chocolate cake and cherry and lemon bars.
Dessert was a creamy and smooth cherry cheesecake. Chocolate sauce danced across the China. We took our bites of the scrumptious cheesecake but simply could not finish.
It was three years ago in March 2011, that Beth Gladney opened this little place called Sister’s Courtyard. The name itself was inspired by a restaurant favorite of hers in New Orleans also of the same name.
Ultimately, she named her tea room Sister’s Courtyard as a way to honor the many feminine bonds that run in her family. But all names aside, in Southern Colorado, tea shops are not as popular and the next nearest one is located in Canon City.
I asked her why she opened her business here and what inspired her to open a tea shop, since Pueblo doesn’t seem to suit a tea culture. Being a Pueblo resident for many years, and spending much time at a tea room that used to be open on Union Ave., Tivoli’s Tea Room, with her girlfriends in her teen years, she expressed her great love for tea and her even greater love for Pueblo.
“I love Pueblo,” Gladney said. “I want people to stay here instead of having to go Denver or somewhere else (for tea).”
Gladney had first experienced the splendor of the tea culture during her travel abroad in Europe, more specifically, London.A traditional tea service in London is an afternoon ritual designed by the 7th Duchess of Bedford who was frustrated with the hunger pangs she got in the middle of the day. The duchess scheduled afternoon snack and tea for each day and thus the afternoon tea service was born.
Gladney found her love for tea in London but learned how to make it a business in Kentucky at the Perryville Inn. She learned the history of tea, how to be the tea connoisseur, how to perfect the art of making tea and how to successfully run a tea room.
Her own personal love for tea and desire to bring tea to the community, motivated her to open one of the most unique tea rooms by far.
“I love the pomp and circumstance of tea and how you have to wait for it. My favorite part is the setting of tea and how you become reflective and conducive during the experience,” she said.
Looking around Sister’s Courtyard, I could feel the pensive atmosphere she was aiming for. The feeling was in between the books, it filled all the pots on the wall and it hung with the curtains.
Sister’s Courtyard, carries Elmwood Inn and Tea Forte brands of up to 40 different teas, from blacks to whites to greens to oolongs. Her staff contributes in all areas of their customer service, whether it be cooking or serving.
Gladney admits she occasionally jumps back in the kitchen, even though she didn’t come from a food background, and makes scones and quiches, but she prefers being out and about talking to her guests.
“I want people to be able to experience a quaint tea room, to escape the hustle and bustle of life and just relax. They don’t have to leave right away, but they can just sit and enjoy their time,” she said.
Gladney said she would like to be able to expand her business so that she could stay open later and offer people the same relaxation but with wine. Currently, she said she’s working to bring the Royal Tea Service to Sister’s Courtyard, which allows guests to drink champagne with afternoon tea.
“There is a market for tea in Pueblo, not just coffee. Tea is good for your health, your digestive system, and the culture is catching on,” Gladney said.
Those things may all be true, but after experiencing Sister’s Courtyard it becomes clear that above all, a hot cup of tea, even in the blistering Southern Colorado heat, is good for the soul.