“Clang! Clang! Clang went the trolley…” sang Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis. But it was definitely not a tea trolley. It was just some big, noisy contrivance that ran along rails laid down in the streets of St. Louis and that had a loud bell on it that was rung when the conductor had to alert cars and pedestrians of its coming. Imagine if they had served tea on those trolleys. On second thought, the real tea trolleys are better. And far less messy.
Tea certainly inspires creativity, often centered around ways to serve tea. The trolley is one such development. It is basically a rolling shelf unit. The top shelf holds the main tea implements such as the teapot and cups and saucers. There is usually a second shelf, and sometimes a third (middle) shelf. Wood is fairly common, but some are made of stainless steel. There are also versions designed for children for their special tea parties.
The tea trolley (also called a “tea cart” or “tea wagon”) originates from the Victorian era when tea time was the province of mainly the aristocracy. Rolling in the tea service meant everything could be brought in at once — the teapots, the cups, saucers, and plates, the cakes and toast and butter, etc. Otherwise, either two servants were needed or two trips into the room by one servant, either way making for an awkward presentation instead of the high class one that was so important to them. Of course, the tea trolley was adopted here in the U.S. by “fashionable” homes. It was such a popular item for awhile that The Imperial Furniture Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was kept very busy making them.
These days tea trolleys are often used as plant stands or bookshelves or other definitely non-tea uses, mainly due to the demise of at-home formal teas. You will see them, however, in some of the higher echelon hotels and tearooms.
Some places named “Tea Trolley” or “Tea Cart”:
- The Tea Trolley — a Victorian style tearoom in Delta, Pennsylvania.
- The Tea Trolley — another tearoom, but this one touts “Hospitality British style.” It’s a house built in 1931 as a law office but that now serves as a tearoom and is located in Atascadero, California. They have served customers from all over the world.
- The Cozy Tea Cart — “dedicated to the art of fine tea and the ceremony of tea.” They are in Brookline, New Hampshire, and feature an array of tea events, including tastings.
You can help revive the grace and elegance of tea time with a tea trolley. No clanging needed. Just set up a tea party in your house and load up that trolley with the goodies. Then listen to the oohs and ahs as you roll it in to your guests!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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