Rosa Jaime, Owner and Manager of The Four Seasons Tea Room, serves up this Victorian British ritual with a Mexican perspective.
By Brandon Lomenzo Black, Images Courtesy of The Four Seasons Tea Room
Years ago Rosa Jaime, owner and manager of The Four Seasons Tea Room in Sierra Madre, was asked a rather impolite question. Fortunately, it required an effortless answer that came from her heart.
A woman who had just opened up a restaurant nearby had come into the Tea Room for afternoon tea and upon meeting Rosa bluntly asked, “What is a Mexican woman doing in an English tea room?” Slightly surprised, Rosa responded sincerely and simply, “Following my dream,” she replied.
Behind the ivy-covered walls of the The Four Seasons Tea Room’s quaint, English-style bungalow and the refined and elegant decor of its interior, there exists a little known story of a woman who grew up with an unshakable interest in the grandeur of the Victorian Era, whose dreams from a young age were filled with roses, tea, and ornate napkins and linens.
Newly married and 17 years old, she decided to leave her native San José in Guanajuato, Mexico, to come to the United States with her new husband. Here, inspired by the memory of her grandmother, who had raised Jaime and her siblings after the tragic death of her father, she planned to pursue her dream.
“Everything she did I admired and learned from,” recalled Jaime affectionately about her grandmother. “I still see her in every corner of this place and in a way the Tea Room is a tribute to her.”
Jaime vividly remembers her childhood and the tradition that took place every Wednesday in her grandmother’s backyard. It’s really the origin story of her love of tea.
“When I was little my grandmother would have over to her house, girls and their mothers to teach the girls how to crochet and embroidery.” While the girls and Jaime were busy with their crafts, her grandmother would make tea for the ladies who would drink it while sitting underneath the shade of a lemon tree in plain view of the mountains. It was ritual that Jaime admired and deeply informed her affinity for high tea.
Although the United States represented opportunity, and Jaime never lost her love for tea, it would be some years before she could begin to bring her dream to fruition. Jaime worked originally at the landmark Beadles Cafeteria on Colorado Boulevard rolling silverware and folding napkins. Over the years she worked her way up to eventually managing the now-shuttered cafeteria for 15 years. “I never went to school to learn English after coming to the U.S. Beadles was my school,” said Jaime who attributes much of her professional and personal development to working at Beadles.
Unbeknownst to many, she had been collecting English bone china teacups and dishes, and old linens since arriving in Pasadena in 1976. Many of these pieces rotate in and out of the Tea Room today.
Opened in 2004, The Four Seasons Tea Room has been serving guests from across Los Angeles a traditional English tea along with a delectable menu that changes with the season. Savory scones with cream and jam are complemented by tea sandwiches, some of which subtly introduce Jaime’s native culture.
“When I make sandwiches I always include a little bit of my ‘MexiCality,’” Jaime said with a smile.
“For example, the roasted bell pepper with sundried tomato tea sandwich includes a bit of cayenne pepper. Not only does it complement the other sandwiches but it’s a way to add a dash of my own spice,” she continued.
Her facility with native Mexican cuisine led her friends and family to originally question her decision to open a tea room, rather than a boutique Mexican restaurant. But Jaime was adamant. “I like challenges. Opening up a Mexican restaurant would have been easy, but there’s too many here. With my reading [Jane Austen] and collection of teacups and linens, and the passion that I have for tea, opening up a tea room was my destiny,” said Jaime.
It hasn’t all been easy. She has persevered through financial hardship including the Great Recession – a period she describes as “terrifying” – and which required putting the entirety of her life savings into keeping the business afloat. Be through it all the strength of her passion has allowed her to face down all challenges.
It’s all about defining who you are and what you want to do with your dreams according to Jaime. “I’m 60 years old. I never dream of being rich. I dream about living my dream and exposing the romance of the Victorian era and the poetry of tea to those who visit the Tea Room.”