A local tea room serves up a taste of Great Britian

PANAMA CITY, Fla.(WJHG) - The Willows British tea room opened in downtown Panama City in the 1990's. British native Linda Smith owns the small the restaurant.

"I used to come on vacation to visit my daughter who'd been living in the states since the 1980's we always used to go to Willows for tea. Then I moved here," said Smith.

Smith bought the tea room in 2009.

"I shrugged my shoulders and thought why not. I'm tired of being retired."

Soon after, Smith moved the business to its current location on Harrison Avenue. "Much more high profile, much busier. It's not a retirement hobby anymore, it's a full-time business again," said Smith.

The tradition of taking afternoon tea dates back to the 1840's. Smith told us tea time is not a common practice anymore and neither is the etiquette that once accompanied it.

"The way we use our cutlery, what we do with our napkin. I think it's a shame that we have lost that," said Smith.

What makes the English afternoon tea, or high tea different from the American lunch? "It is an opportunity to slow down," said Smith, "take a few deep breaths and take half an hour or an hour of your busy, busy day and do nothing but enjoy your food and your drink. And that's what I like to introduce to people, this is the way we used to do it and it works."

If you don't think you like hot tea, chances are a little time here and you'll change your mind.

"We have quite a wide range of black teas," said Smith. "We also have quite a lot of decaffeinated teas. And green and white teas. We think it's good to appeal to people's pallet or give them the opportunity to find what suits them."

Tea isn't the only thing you'll savor in the room.

"I think around the world, the Western World people don't have a very high opinion of British food so I felt that's it's a great opportunity for me to change their minds," explained Smith.

The menu has traditional British dishes like shepherd's pie and bangers and mash. "We make everything by hand. We use quality ingredients. And we don't fry anything."

Smith is always good for a story or two, especially when it comes to British history, and helping to educate the next generation.

"It's fun introducing little girls to a proper tea time," said Smith. "Hopefully they'll grow up with the love of having the tea parties something they'll want to do with their girlfriends and something they'll want to do when they're adults."

The Willows is a popular place for bridal and baby showers and birthday parties. It's also a place for ex-pats to come get a taste of home.

If you'd like to check out the menu or find out more about the tea room you can go to www.willowstea.com or call 850-747-1004.