The Art of Afternoon Tea

Written by Jennifer H. McInerney
Photography by Kate Rogan

Tea Service at Shelly's Tea Room in Plymouth

When strolling down Court Street in Plymouth, visitors now come upon a sight they’ve probably never encountered in America’s Hometown before: a gleaming red replica of a traditional British telephone booth. This seemingly out-of-place “phone box” fits right in on the sidewalk outside Shelly’s Tea Rooms, a new arrival by way of Kent, England. 

Proprietors Sean and Michelle Sinclair applied for special permission from Plymouth Town Hall to place the phone box in front of their shop. The booth now serves as a unique landmark promoting their business—and a hotspot for selfies. Though the phone itself is not connected, curious passersby stop to open the door and lift the handset of the old-time rotary phone. 

“The kids, especially, love going in there,” says Sean. “People stop here all day long, and many of them come in for tea.” Once inside Shelly’s Tea Rooms, guests are treated to a dining experience that is elegant yet comfortable, offering a delicious menu of authentic English refreshments and the opportunity to unwind and be transported to a different time: tea time. 

An Afternoon Tea sitting is allotted one hour and forty-five minutes to enjoy the experience. “We want people to feel relaxed and take their time,” says Michelle. “They can sit here and let the world go by as they sip their tea.”

Landing in Plymouth

After vacationing in America for two decades, the couple entertained dreams of someday moving their family across the pond and opening their own business. “You reach a point in life when you have to take the chance or you’ll never do it,” says Sean. Of all the places they’d visited in the United States, Massachusetts really spoke to them.

“Maybe it’s the weather,” Michelle jokes, glancing outside at the rain pelting the shop’s storefront. “We came here and found that there wasn’t already a tea shop in the area. The penny dropped. This seemed like the perfect place for Shelly’s Tea Rooms.”  

Steeped in their own history of running two tea rooms in Kent, England, since 2007, the Sinclairs felt confident in their ability to deliver an authentic English tea shop experience. In late 2019, they explored Plymouth, Massachusetts, searching for an ideal location to open Shelly’s Tea Rooms in America. They found the perfect spot at 51 Court Street, located in good company beside a variety of restaurants, bars, retail shops and offices, and which enjoys a steady stream of foot traffic.

The couple signed the lease, took photos and videos of what was then an office space, and then returned home to England to draft their renovation plans. Little did they know that only a few months later, a global pandemic would descend and force them to manage the renovation of their restaurant remotely. They had to rely  on photos and videos to direct contractors, while they waited patiently for their U.S. visas to come through.

Finally, in February of this year, Shelly’s Tea Rooms opened its doors in Plymouth. “The welcome we’ve had has been phenomenal,” Sean says. “Everyone has been so supportive—the business community, our new customers and returning customers,” Michelle adds.  

The Authentic Afternoon Tea Experience

To help guide visitors at Shelly’s Tea Rooms, each table is set with a copy of “The Complete How To Guide for an English Tea Rooms,” which outlines the afternoon tea tradition, from the history and etiquette to explanations of what is served. However, the Sinclairs are quick to point out that customers are encouraged to enjoy their tea experience in their own way. 

“Some people are initially intimidated, but there’s no right or wrong way to do it,” says Sean. “It’s nice to be able to share the experience of an authentic afternoon tea with people who might not be familiar, and show them how to enjoy it,” Michelle adds. 

In England, afternoon tea is typically served between two and five o’clock, but at Shelly’s Tea Rooms, bookings are made from 11 a.m. and later. For “the ultimate indulgence,” Shelly’s Tea Rooms presents The Windsor, which encompasses “three tiers of decadence.” This option begins with a glass of chilled hibiscus iced tea in warmer months or hot mulled wine tea in colder months. Next, a pot of loose-leaf tea is accompanied by a selection of delicate crustless finger sandwiches, followed by two scones, which are served with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, and finally, petite cakes and desserts. 

The Cream Tea is considered the “everyday indulgence,” which is what Shelly’s Tea Rooms became famous for in England. This option features two freshly baked scones with clotted cream and strawberry preserves and a pot of loose-leaf tea. For the younger set (under age 10), the Prince & Princess High Tea includes two crustless finger sandwiches, a classic or fruit scone with clotted cream and strawberry preserves, and a petite cake, along with a drink of choice. 


Sean and Michelle Sinclair are the owners of Shelly's Tea Rooms in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Sean and Michelle Sinclair are the owners of Shelly's Tea Rooms in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Untitled design (1)
Shelly's Tea Rooms by Kate Rogan
Cream Tea at Shelly's Tea Rooms in Plymouth
Shelly's Tea Room

The extensive menu offers 103 varieties of loose-leaf tea, including black, green, white, Oolong, herbal, fruit, organic and decaffeinated. In addition, the Sinclairs serve specialty teas, such as Champagne Tea, remedy teas (to help relieve various ailments, including hypertension, perimenopause and high cholesterol), Quirky Teas (such as Apple Pie Tea, Birthday Cake Tea, Pina Colada, and Pumpkin Spice), high caffeine tea, tea lattes and iced tea. For the non-tea-drinker, they serve coffee prepared in a French press and homemade hot chocolate made with dark Belgian chocolate buttons. The menu also includes lunch options, “lite bites,” and vegan, dairy- and gluten-free offerings. 

Before leaving Shelly’s Tea Rooms, be sure to visit the well-stocked gift shop bearing tea-inspired merchandise, chocolates, English souvenirs, homemade take-and-bake scones and, of course, tea. 

Shelly’s Tea Rooms is open seven days a week, and reservations are recommended. Bridal and baby showers are also available. For additional information, visit