Life in the Kitchen with cafe owner Nann Thomson
Take Tea echoes British ritual
By Natalie K. Pollock
Nann Thomson of Avon has had several careers. Most recently she recreated the British practice of enjoying an afternoon tea (“taking tea”) the way she had experienced it in Ireland and England. Her café is located in Old Avon Village and on the visitation list for tearoom enthusiasts from near and far.
Thomson, a New Britain native, had lived in Galway, Ireland for a short time in the 1970’s and then in Devon, England, while attending the University of Exeter in 1984, and before graduating from UConn Law School in 1985. Newly divorced with a son and daughter, she would visit tea shops on the weekend.
The first legal director of the Children’s Law Center in Connecticut, Thomson loved the law, litigating three to four days per week, but more recently worked as a teacher of culinary arts, until Covid claimed a friend of hers.
She took a two-year PROSTART program with the National Restaurant association and courses at a variety of culinary schools including the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, Cordon Bleue in Florida, and the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont.
Thomson quit teaching in the New Britain school system in June 2020, after 18 years, and thought about what to do next. Thomson was then matched with a SCORE mentor from a nonprofit that teaches would-be entrepreneurs how to set up a new business and started researching other tea rooms across the country.
She also began buying teacups and furniture through online auctions. With the help of former student Sara McHugh, she opened Take Tea in Avon, and enlisted family members including Jonathan Shaw, the youngest of four children, to work in the café, and husband Lester Shaw to handle repair and repainting of the space that once served as a Subway shop and children’s play area.
Thomson opened Take Tea on January 1, 2022, with some strict policies in place. Reservations are required for two seatings each day, Thursdays through Sundays. Customers she calls “friends” come for two hours to relax and enjoy the “prix fixe” assortment of sandwiches, pastries, and sweets. The teas are from Harney & Sons, based in Connecticut. Thomson also requires that customers are vaccinated, and they are asked to wear masks when walking around the various small rooms decorated with antique furniture, china, laces, and hand-made trivets.
Until a few weeks ago, Thomson had been preparing all the food, except the bread. She still bakes the scones but has a new assistant. Hughes left to work as a teacher. Jim Christopher also works in the café, with a history in food service and hospitality as the former owner with his wife of a bed and breakfast in Simsbury that they recently sold. He has a degree from the Rhode Island School of Design.
The recipes are all Thomson’s. She offers a traditional posset, which started as a British hot drink and has evolved into a dessert made with sugar, heavy cream, and organic lemon juice. She has also adapted well-known recipes to make them hers like shrimp mousse as well as goat cheese and beet mousse.
Her afternoon tea is served with a three-tiered tray that has sandwiches and canapes on the bottom, scones and tea breads in the middle, and sweets and desserts on the top. The charge is $36 per person.
Q. How would you describe the cuisine of the establishment?
A. It is an afternoon tea with authentic food in a casual setting. British natives say it is fairly traditional but with latitude to introduce new items. I make my own clotted cream using Mrs. Bridges Tea Room’s recipe in Woodstock, CT. It mimics the real kind. Here dairy is highly pasteurized, so it is already heat treated [and not authentic].
Q. What is the most popular dish at your café?
A. The posset is the most popular and the goat cheese and beet canape. People also like the sausage roll “amuse-bouche,” which is a little something I offer before they get the tray. It includes a nonalcoholic sparkling water.
Q. What is your personal favorite?
A. I like the ham and cheese mini sandwich with Branston pickle. The pickle is tart, not like pickle relish.
Q. What’s your “secret weapon” ingredient?
A. I buy the highest quality produce. The fruits and vegetables are all organic. The quality of the food is important, as important as hospitality is.
Q. What is the one cooking technique that everyone should know?
A. How to make clotted cream. It’s an accompaniment to scones in the United Kingdom. The butter fat content is different there. Here you have to cook the cream a long time and take it off the top.
The best trick is learning to use the food processor for cutting in the butter. The goal is smaller than pea-size pieces of cold butter to fold in for flakiness.
Q. If you could take any celebrity chef out to dinner, who would it be?
A. I would enjoy having a conversation with Danny Meyer. He is an absolute mine of information on hospitality and how to enhance my friends’ enjoyment of the experience.
Q. What herb or spice best describes your personality and why?
A. Salt, because it is so necessary for so many reasons and can enhance flavor and can ruin flavor.
Q. What do you like to cook when having guests to your home?
A. [The meal] depends on the season. I like cooking in season. I used to do multi-course dinners. The presentation is important. In winter, I would make poultry, and in autumn, squash soup. I am a cook, not a chef.
Take Tea, 19 East Main Street (Old Avon Village), Avon. Call 860-404-2538 for reservations. For more information visit taketeainct.com.