Story and photos by Emmett Burnett
Laid back, framed in shady oaks, beside an easy-on-the-eyes emerald green park is not what one expects on a road named “Chicago Street.” The Copper Kettle Tea Bar is here, too, and also unexpected – an unexpected delight.
At first glance, the little house appears to be a small working class home in downtown Foley, and indeed it was. In the 1930s, 106 N. Chicago served railroad workers, accommodating a nearby train station long since gone. Today “The Little Tea House with the Big Heart” serves sandwiches, soups, cakes, pies, and tea, lots of tea, over 130 versions.
An anonymous quote on the menu reads, “If asked, ‘How do you take your tea?’ I reply ‘seriously, very seriously.’”
Co-owners and sisters Robin Peters and Susan Adams are not new to the brew. Tea is their passion. Great tea, coupled with excellent food in a congenial setting, is their goal. Chicago Street is tea-topia.
Admittedly, the tea room experience is novel for most southerners. “But tea is our niche,” says Robin, about her popular spot across the street from a downtown park. “Lots of people make great food down here, but we are the ones for tea.
“First timers sometimes come in and often have no idea what they want,” she continues. “I will ask, ‘what do you like in fruit, flavor, or taste? Let me see what I can do.” And before you know it, it’s tea time.
Small glass bottles of tea leaves adorn dinner tables. Inhale the aroma, sense the flavor, imagine the taste and let Copper Kettle pour the dream. Both Robin and Susan are emphatic: If you don’t like it, they will pour you a different one. No one leaves unhappy.
There are black teas, originating far away from Foley. Blends like English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Russian Samovar, Yunnan/China, Assam/India. Fruity favorites include Hibiscus Raspberry Currant, Queen of Berries, Cranberry Harvest, Pomegranate Ginger Pear, and Bora Bora.
There are white teas: white peony, white monkey, indulgence tea, and fruit favorites such as the most excellent, strawberry ginger peppercorn that puts the feisty in Foley.
Down home Southern flavors abound, such as strawberry sparkling wine to the more exotic Feng Shui/dragon fruit. Herbals, organics, every tea imaginable is available except grocery store stuff. This is no place for Milo’s on the rocks.
Robin’s first encounter with Foley was from vacationing at nearby Gulf Shores. “After days on the beach we came to town looking for something different, and discovered 2 Sassy Cups Tea Room in Foley and loved it,” she recalls.
The Michigan sisters moved here in 2003. They reopened 2 Sassy’s in 2005 but the run was short. In 2014 the duo opened The Copper Kettle Tea Bar, moving it to the current location in 2015.
The little diner is off the main road, which is according to plan.
“We are like a secret right in the middle of town,” Robin says. “That’s part of the charm. We are right here but you have to find us. It’s like a treasure hunt.”
Off the beaten path is part of the experience. It fits their environment. “Having tea is a slowing down and stopping process rather than hurry up, quick cup of coffee to go thing,” she says. “In fact, Starbucks employees come here on coffee breaks.”
“We don’t do a food menu,” adds Susan, who supervises all cooking. “I usually know what we are serving the night before. Everyone else finds out in the morning.”
Homemade soup is available every day – tomato, potato, carrot, broccoli, and dozens more, depending on Susan’s daily decision. On today’s visit, a homemade apple-pear pie is out of the oven. It won’t be here long. Sandwiches, cookies, brownies, and more round out the list.
Katy Herndon visits often, driving in from Mobile. “I go to Foley just for the Copper Kettle,” she says. “Robin and Sue are just good people and the tea is always great. I love the huge selection and usually tell Robin to just surprise me. It’s always good and their soups are spectacular.”
The dining room seats 20 but plenty of space is available in the backyard, around tables under oaks. Regular customers including locals, snowbirds, and the beach bound are there any time, for a great time, at tea time.