It should be stated straight away that I am not adverse to tourist kitsch. But I will admit that as I took the T to South Station and made the short walk to the Boston Tea Party Museum, I knew I had 80 percent odds that the baked goods from the Abigail Adams Tea Room were going to be a disaster. It rarely occurs that touristy places offer up good eats. But believe it or not, when searching for tea rooms in Boston, this is the only one I could find. So in I went to the museum, which is located on the Congress Street bridge.
The first thing I noticed is that everyone who works here, even the people at the cash register, are obliged to go about their business in costumes, and say "HUZZAH!" after nearly every sentence. You can even buy glasses with "HUZZAH!" written on them. This is the moment where, as a former historian, I knew I could either start twitching or roll with it. I chose the latter. And guess what? I had a great time!
The tea room itself is quite large and pretty, with hardwood floors, chandeliers, and big windows that look out directly onto the ships that comprise the museum. The small selection of baked goods are presented cafeteria style. In looking over the prices ($3.50 for a cookie, $4 for a scone) I bumped up my odds to 95% that I was about to be disappointed in the taste department.
But fortune favors the bold, and I selected a cinnamon scone that came with little tinfoil packets of butter and strawberry jelly. There was to be no clotted cream, no china pots of homemade jam. Sigh. Well, I took my $4 scone, which they warmed up, and bought the $2 tea tasting. Essentially, for $2 you can have as much of the five selections of tea as you like. If you chip in $4 more, they give you a little souvenir tea mug in which to taste. Each of the tea blends are deliberately selected by the tea room as being relevant or reminiscent of tea at the time of the Boston Tea Party (they have their own Abigail blend). And yes, there were only little plastic pods of milk and packets of sugar...no flowered bowls of sugar or silver cream servers. Ah, me. What has become of tea time, I ask you? But as I bit into a surprisingly tasty scone with little pockets of cinnamon, and had some very nice cups of tea, I watched the boats go by along the harbor walk and saw the actors on the tea ships entertaining the visitors (a reliable stream of Huzzah! was heard), and I realized that for $6 (the price of a venti this-and-that at Starbucks), I was sitting in a unique, interesting spot, having a nice treat, and enjoying a great view of the water. At 2 p.m. on a Saturday, I had the tea room to myself, and I have to suspect it's a bit of a hidden gem. There is even a little veranda where you can sit outside and inhale the scent of the sea, and peek down into the tea party ships (Huzzah!)
From what I could see of the antics down on the tea ship (actors give a speech and then visitors can toss "tea" over the side of the ship), this is the kind of "museum" where kids will have a blast. And the gift shop is actually the nicest souvenir shop I've seen in Boston. They have tea cozies, tea towels, little ships in bottles, reproductions of tea party newspapers, quill pens, colonial hats, and some very wry shirts.
If you want to shake up your coffee break, or bring visitors to a place that they can't see anywhere else, I definitely recommend Abigail Adams Tea Room. It's the right kind of kitsch.
Logistics: You don't need to pay museum admission if you're just going to have tea. The entrance to the museum is the gift shop. You walk through the shop, onto a walkway that goes up to the tea room. You may see old reviews online that show a set service of tea goodies, but these days, you buy things by the item at the tea room.