Benicia itself is a lovely old town nestled on the north side of San Francisco Bay’s Carquinez Strait. In 1853-1854, Benicia served as California’s third state capitol. (The first two capitols were San Jose and Vallejo. In 1854 the state capitol moved to its permanent home in Sacramento.) Benicia is dotted with antique shops making it a fun day trip for a browsing/shopping expedition. If you are looking for a delightful place to enjoy tea or lunch, the Camellia Tea Room fills that bill and makes a satisfying addition to the day.
The family owned and operated Camellia Tea Room opened in 1995. I liked this tea room as soon as I peered through the window and saw its decor, layout, and spaciousness. The tables and chairs match, are well placed and not at all crowded – a very pleasant change from many of the places I have visited. It’s comfortable, not at all stuffy – hitting just the right blend of fun and elegance.
Tea rooms, quite the rage in the first half of the 20th century, were one of the first entrepreneurial businesses that women pursued in the United States. And although called a Tea Room, they often provided somewhat heartier meals such as sandwiches, salads, a few savory dishes, etc. The Camellia Tea Room falls into that category. While their traditional English tea is wonderful, you can also choose from a selection of luncheon soups, salads, and sandwiches if that is more to your liking.
I ordered the traditional three-tier English tea and was pleased to find Kenya tea on the menu which I ordered. The tea was full bodied with a lovely aroma and the servers did a wonderful job of replenishing the pot with hot water so my tea was always hot – a strong personal preference. The Camellia’s tea sandwiches were among the most interesting I have enjoyed anywhere – a wonderful crustini topped with hummus and an artichoke black olive tapenade, an equally delicious thinly sliced roast beef with a red pepper butter spread and a delightful cucumber sandwich, always my favorite. (Whoever made the first cucumber sandwich was simply brilliant!)
A couple other points about the Camellia Tea Room. If you call ahead, they will work to accommodate special food needs – specifically vegan, gluten-free, and/or dairy free. On my visit, they were serving a vegan cauliflower soup, lightly curried, that was sublime. They consistently provide vegetarian options.
I have some regular tea places I take out of town visitors for a tea adventure – Tyme for Tea in Niles, Samovar in San Francisco and, now, the Camellia Tea Room in Benicia. A fabulous addition to my local menu of places to take and savor tea.