Have you ever been on a trip that was so inspiring that it caused a complete change in careers? Melissa Harlan, owner of Drink Me! Tea Room in Tempe, was inspired on a trip to London where she had afternoon tea five days in a row at three establishments. She wondered how she could bring this piece of joy she felt in London back home to Tempe, Arizona.
Harlan lives a plant-based lifestyle with gluten free modifications, and that doesn’t match up with traditional afternoon tea menus. “When we would request, gluten free and/or plant-based at our afternoon teas with treats, we were brought so much fruit. The sad fact is, most dining experiences can have either plant-based or gluten free, but hardly both,” Harlan explained.
So, she set out to make a change. On her flight home, she drew up her business plan for her own tea room. Six months later, she quit her comfortable, corporate job of 19 years, and got to cracking on everything she needed to make it possible. She created her own recipes, found the space and theme (Alice in Wonderland-inspired). Harlan loves the story of Alice in Wonderland. She has read the book many times, and knows the story lends itself well to tea parties. She learned about the various teas and their compositions and taste tested like there was no tomorrow. It truly became something she loved.
Melissa created her own recipes that are vegan and gluten free, so guests can walk into this charming tearoom (with a reservation) for a what Harlan describes as a “modern twist on afternoon tea.”
“Just yesterday a guest entered my tearoom and began crying knowing she could order anything off the menu without having to ask dietary questions. It had me all emotional too,” Harlan humbly shared. As she built her amazing team of pastry chefs, she leaned on them as she developed the menu. She appreciates their expertise, and even has a pastry chef who specializes in macaroons, and others who are familiar with creative savory pastries.
Harlan’s teenage daughter, Haley, works the front of house and helped her mom work through the concept for their shop. You can tell she really enjoys meeting all of their guests. (HINT: we’ll tell you about our visit below, keep reading).
Melissa’s stepson, Gabe, works at the tearoom, as well. He was attending school out in California but when COVID-19 hit, he returned home and helped get the tearoom together. “I think that I’ve appreciated having them both around at the tearoom and it’s brought them closer together,” Harlan said. Gabe is a barista at Drink Me! Tea Room, but with previous bartending experience, he’s excited to start creating drinks with spirits. “We just applied for our liquor license, so hopefully you’ll see that soon,” she says excitedly.
Harlan’s husband is also supportive. “Anytime I come up with a recipe and love it, I take it to him to try. If I can convince him that it tastes great, I feel great!” Her husband’s diet isn’t plant-based or gluten free so she feels like if she gets that stamp of approval, it’s a big win.
About our experience
I went to for afternoon tea with Audrey from the Tempe Tourism team and our friend, Lacy from WildJoy Experiences. Haley, Melissa’s daughter, was our tea sommelier/server. She brought over a selection of six teas to choose from, each named after a character from the Alice in Wonderland story. We ordered the “Petite Tea” party with a small selection of tasty treats and we each had our own pot of tea. For my tea selection, I tried the Tweedle Twins, Audrey ordered the Alice (both hot and iced) and Lacy had the Cheshire Cat. All of them were a delight. Tweedle Twins is described as a black tea with black currant and blackberry. Alice is a green tea with vanilla notes and butterfly pea flower. Cheshire Cat is a green tea with cherry and rose.
The teas named after the Alice in Wonderland characters aren’t the only ones available. They have a wonderful selection of 20+ teas. The selection of scones were served with a lemon curd and coconut cream. You can watch our TikTok video to see a bit into our tea experience. (P.S. We took our teas to go, and all made them iced!)
Drink Me! Tea Room’s décor is adorable, with nods to their theme. Melissa said she wants to ensure that the theme was consistent but subtle so she could incorporate other themes seasonally. She mentioned that they would have an Edgar Allen Poe-themed tea parties in October, Game of Thrones in November and Nightmare Before Christmas in December. The week of Christmas, she’ll also have a Traditional Christmas teatime. Each of these themes will have a unique menu to accompany and amplify the story of each.
Drink Me! Tea Room opened its doors in July 2020 in South Tempe. You’ll find them on the northwest corner of McClintock Drive and Warner Road. You can also shop their website for their selection of teas and bring your own tea party home.
We hope you enjoyed learning more about Drink Me! Tea Room in Tempe, Arizona and look forward to seeing your photos at your first or next Afternoon Tea. Don’t forget to tag us in your photos, @TempeTourism #OurTempe