The allure of high tea is to have it somewhere else. In West Berkeley, Nest of Comforts, a tea shop that opened in January, has been a go-to for English scones and a proper cuppa. But after the March 16 shelter-in-place order and the closure of all non-essential business, Nest of Comforts had to rethink its strategy.
“I saw on Facebook that people were starting to have Formal Friday as a way to add some fun to their day,” owner and manager Lynette Purves wrote in an email. “I thought if they are getting dressed up they should have tea.”
So Nest of Comforts is delivering tea services throughout the East Bay from El Cerrito to San Lorenzo, bringing tea sandwiches and pastries from its nest to yours. Because while for some tea is non-essential, for others it is non-negotiable.
Since launching home delivery, Purves has seen business increase from around 10 orders per week to 60-70 per week. The increase in business has enabled her to bring back a few employees to work in the kitchen.
What: A full tea service includes tea sandwiches, scone with cream and jam, assorted seasonal pastries and tea sachet. Children’s tea service includes a tea sachet or hot chocolate mix, jam and cream cheese sandwiches, scone with cream and jam, and dessert pastries.
Where: Nest of Comforts is currently closed, but offers home delivery.
Hours: Orders are delivered between noon and 4 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Orders must be made by 3 p.m., Wednesday for Thursday delivery, and by 3 p.m., Thursday for Friday to Sunday deliveries. Areas served varies by day, with delivery to Albany and El Cerrito on Thursday and Saturday, and delivery to Oakland, San Leandro and San Lorenzo on Friday and Sunday. Delivery in Berkeley is available Thursday through Sunday.
Price: Full tea service is $30, children’s tea service is $15. With Mother’s Day on the horizon, Nest of Comforts will be making special tea service for the occasion. The Mother’s Day full tea service is $45, as it includes three extra savory pastries. (Note that the shop will have a special delivery schedule this week: home delivery will be available May 7-9, but tea service will be pickup only between 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at 1019 Camelia St. May 10.) Prices include delivery but do not include tip.
Please note that couriers assume risk on behalf of the customer. Customers are encouraged to offer cash tips upon receipt of their order, as it is an easier and faster way for Purves to then pass the money along to employees. For those who prefer to have tip added to their bill, they can specify this at time of order. All tips are divided among staff. As owner, Purves does not keep any tips for herself.
Ordering and delivery: Customers can order via phone (510-529-4603), or by filling out the online order form. Nest of Comforts will then call to confirm the order.
At present, Purves is doing all deliveries herself, in gloves and mask, calling or texting customers when they are next on the queue for delivery.
Packaging and presentation: Full tea service comes in two paper boxes tied with ribbon and a separate package of tea compostable utensils (customers can request utensils be omitted from their order). My service came with three tea sandwiches (roast beef with horseradish, chicken tarragon salad and cucumber mint), a fruit tart, a mixed berry bread pudding, a madeleine, a currant scone with blackberry jam and clotted cream, and a sachet of Numi Earl Grey tea.
Sandwiches and pastries are largely ready-to-eat, with jam and cream in plastic containers. I had a set of dishes at the ready to assemble the contents of the cartons into something more artful, but they were already so pleasing by themselves they didn’t need any help from me to look any more attractive.
All boxed tea services are prepared identically, but a customer can request to swap Earl Grey for lavender Earl Grey, white rose, jasmine green tea, hibiscus, chamomile lemon, Moroccan mint, or hot chocolate mix. A vegetarian tea service is also available.
Preparation: There’s not much assembly required. Customers will have to provide their own boiling water and vessel in which to serve and drink tea, and then also apply cream and jam to the scone themselves. Beyond that, the most taxing decision is in what order to work one’s way through the service. I have no idea if I did it properly, but I worked sandwiches to pastries, leaving the scone for last.
As for the tea, personally, I prefer a bit of honey and a slice of lemon with Earl Grey. Years of experience, plus the sachet’s instructions to let steep 4 minutes, assured the perfect cup
Taste: Precious little can go awry when Nest of Comforts has already taken out most of the guesswork. The bread pudding had a good crusty top, with a spongey, richly-saturated bottom that provides a texturally satisfying contrast in each bite. The madeleine was done well, with gentle notes of lemon and vanilla. The fruit tart had an exceptional crust that crumbled well, while the filling lived up to the pastry’s name.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of tea sandwiches — crustless white bread and mayonnaise, even when dressed up with horseradish and tarragon, is just not my thing. Adding to this, because I set the box in the fridge for two hours instead of consuming its contents immediately, the bread dried out.
The scone I had saved for last, and was glad that it made the decisive and lasting impression I have of the service. It’s a proper English scone, studded with currants, that breaks beautifully down the middle and looks so fetching when dolled up with clotted cream and jam. I would order the service again solely for this.
Tea is not so much a meal as it is a diversion. However, the size of the service left me feeling I had ordered tea for two for one. Though I enjoyed every pastry, four was a bit much for me. It would have been better had it been shared. Were I to do it over, I would order the children’s option, as I think the smaller portion would have fit much better with the mid-afternoon slot I had scheduled for tea — two hours past lunch, three before dinner — and would still feature that excellent scone.
The full service is best split with another person, but a dining companion is not among the items included with delivery. As with teacup and teapot, customers will have to provide their own.