TEA TIME WITH GERRI
By Monica Dolecka
Creator of High Tea with Gerri, Gerri Gwarnicki, dazzles tea time guests with her genuine English Tea, which she prepares from scratch using exclusive cultured techniques drawn from her culinary schooling in London. Serving the Chicago and North Shore tea-loving population for over 10 years, Gerri thrives on making the tea experience as genuine and unforgettable as possible for her guests. She is an expert in her art, and believes that the tea experience is essential for a comfortable life, and at the same time, a lavish life.
Born in Ireland, Gerri started sharing her love for tea with others at age 13. She grew up accustomed to the culture of enjoying tea with her family every day at 4pm (the proper formal time for tea) and after suppertime. Gerri recalls, “Every Irish family or anyone with British influence drinks tea ceremonially. It is a part of daily tradition. We would drink it sweet, because it was after supper, and add milk to it and bite on small little sandwiches while we drank. I don’t remember ever drinking coffee at home. Coffee didn’t exist in our family. It was tea, tea, tea.”
In the 1800’s, when farming tea became widespread and the common person had access to tea, many people would come home after a long day of work (usually in the sunny fields), and although it was hot, the tea would cool them. The tea also had a calming effect, which was just what one needed after a stressful day. Gerri has always resonated with tea, as in her upbringing it symbolized socializing and making memories, and not just something you drink meaninglessly. Tea has significance that goes beyond sipping a drink; tea, for Gerri, is a way to bring people together, and inspire them to see the beautiful things in life.
Initially starting offering tea gatherings at home, Gerri soon realized she needed more space, as well as a legitimate place to accommodate the overflowing number of daily tea enthusiasts.
“Women began enjoying the experience I was offering because it was unique and everyone had so much fun."
At the time I was working for a catering company for many years, and was inspired to carry out my own passion for tea and delicious food, so I started High Tea with Gerri. My friends and family have always supported me and encouraged me to start my own business.”
High Tea with Gerri also complements other exciting events like bridal and baby showers (the most popular), birthdays, and blooming in popularity lately, mother and daughter tea time. She’s even dabbled in the luxury shopping scene hosting a gorgeous private event at Bloomingdales. However, Gerri admits that her real passion is satisfying guests in her private tea room because that’s the place she has poured her whole heart and soul into and where she is able to share that joy with others. “I just had a friend visit from the Winnetka Indian Hills Country Club. She loved my tea room so much that she booked an event for all of the members, which is amazing! The loyalty I receive is so wonderful. It’s the biggest compliment when people return time after time,” she says.
Gerri’s children, who are all grown up now, have helped their mother prepare tea and appetizer treats for guests since they were children, in addition, to her dedicated staff of women. “Luba, my assistant, has been with me for 12 years and I don’t know what I would do without her. Sometimes she gets here at 5 am just to prepare hundreds of specialty sandwiches for an event. We prepare everything ourselves from growing the fresh leaves of the tea, to baking the scones, sweets and preparing the sandwiches. It’s a lot of work, but the effort people make to enjoy the experience is wonderful and worth the effort,” she says, smiling.
“The Russian community loves my tea room. I just had a large group of women last week and they stayed for hours! They absolutely loved it.” While tea in America started getting popular about 5 years ago, Europeans live by the way of tea. “Starbucks started selling tea, for example and several other places too, and you can have tea at any restaurant with your dinner, but the experience is usually very impersonal,” Gerri shares. “That’s why people love my tea space. Women who have been all over the world for tea come to me, and the trend to bond over tea is getting more and more popular with the American community,” she says.
Gerri calls her tea room a destination – a nook in this vast world where people with the intention of making lasting memories go. Gerri’s Tea room is not a place you happen to stumble upon. “People are prepared when they visit my tea room and most have high expectations for their experience”, Gerri shares. “But that’s what I offer: an experience, so you rarely see people just “dropping by”.”
And the scones…those alone make a great reason to visit the tea room. Hand mixed incorporating raisins (and cranberries and oranges for the holiday season), Gerri’s scones melt in your mouth like an ice cream cone on a summer day. Scones are served with fresh lemon curd, strawberry preserve adorned with a special homemade devonshire cream (an Irish tradition). She also serves traditional Scottish smoked salmon pinwheels and succulent beef tenderloin triangles served with lemon basil mayonnaise and crispy arugula.
Gerri opens up that her tea room is a journey – as well as a work in progress. Her newest excursion, tea and theatre, is attracting unexpected guests, and Gerri is delighted to be able to offer her venue in more creative ways – to broaden the tea experience for all.
Connect with Gerri on Instagram @highteawithgerri or htwg.net.