Although Carol Allen grew up drinking tea in northern Minnesota, she was late to the (tea) party. Allen married a Texan and lived all over the country before moving to Blythewood, South Carolina, 25 years ago. The couple had horses at the time, and tiny Blythewood, a half-hour north of Columbia, provided a rural, equine-friendly setting.

In this small Carolina town, Allen opened a gift shop where she sold tea and teapots, among other items. “In talking to people at the shop, I realized that there was so much more to fixing and enjoying a cup of tea than just drinking something,” Allen says. “It’s the relaxation that comes with putting the kettle on and picking the tea. And it’s the friendships that come from it.”

While that realization triggered the idea for a tearoom, it was a building in the neighboring town of Ridgeway (population 400), where Carol and her husband eventually settled, that clinched the deal. Allen fell in love at first sight with the 1911 Thomas Co. Building on North Palmer Street, formerly home to a general store. Several years after her first sighting, the building’s owner renovated the two-story structure, allowing Allen to open Laura’s Tea Room in April 2008. The name honors Laura Thomas, the last member of the Thomas family to run the mercantile before it closed in the mid-1990s.

Located on the second floor, with natural light flooding in from graceful arched windows, the airy tea room sets a tranquil scene for friends to break scones together. Customers enter via the ground-floor café and gift shop, then climb the stairs to the mezzanine, where they get into character by donning a vintage hat—from Allen’s collection of more than 150—to wear while they sip. They can also pick a vessel of choice from a table displaying a colorful array of vintage china teacups, which Allen and her mother have gathered over the years. Their collection of more than 200 cups has been augmented more recently by customers’ donations.

Illustration by Alice Ratterree

“The cup collection is one of the most loved things about the tea room,” declares Allen. “We even have people who call ahead and ask us to put aside a specific cup for them when they make a reservation.”

Sporting funky hats, guests take a seat at a linen-covered table and order one of 100 different types of tea, each served in a different china pot. Tea is accompanied by three courses of small bites, starting with scones, all made by Allen’s 98-year-old mother.

“Women need a place where they can get together and not be rushed, and expand on friendships and family,” Allen asserts. “And that’s exactly what having tea is.”

Laura’s Tea Room, 105 N Palmer St, Ridgeway, SC. (803) 337-8594; Reservations required for the tea room but not the downstairs café.