Spot for a spot of tea

Boutique offers respite, tantalizing aromas for shoppers

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Once, there was a Lebanon store that didn’t stay open for long, but it left a lasting impression on Shannon Miller.
Back in the 1980s, Herbs, Spice & Everything Nice sold culinary and medicinal herbs and spices, plus coffees and teas from its Main Street location. Its owner, Ronda Ufford, was Miller’s babysitter.
“I remember the smell going into it,” Miller said. “I remembered that my whole life, and I absolutely loved it. That’s when I really started loving tea.”
Today, Miller operates her own place a couple blocks down the street: Bloom Boutique and Tea House, a trendy shop at 712 Main St. that welcomes guests with its own memorable scent from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

MILLER reads off some of the loose leaf tea she sells at Bloom.

Fragrances roll forward to greet visitors after opening its glass front door. Scents like lavender, orange clove, bergamot and sandalwood originate from the boutique’s handmade soaps, which stand among an assortment of other products carefully selected by Miller, who focuses on selling unique items from women-owned businesses. Among her more popular sellers are baby gifts, fashionable clothes, and loose leaf tea and spices.
Beyond the gift shop sits the cornerstone of Miller’s operation: a space for those who “fancy a cuppa,” as the British might say.
Since opening last October, she’s been busy taking reservations for her tea room – so many that she’s occasionally had to turn away walk-in guests. Her business stands out as one of the area’s few remaining tea houses.
“(It’s) kind of like quilting,” Miller said. “There’s a whole underground group that just travels to all tea rooms, and there’s not that many tea rooms anymore, so as soon as it pops up, they’re calling and coming in.”

CUSTOMERS dine and shop at Bloom Boutique and Tea House on Main Street. Photo courtesy of Shannon Miller

According to Miller, people are looking for the high tea experience, a five-course evening tea meal of soup, finger sandwiches, savories, scones and dessert.
The specifics of each finger sandwich, savory dish and pastry, however, is mostly up to Miller, who often likes to change things up.
“People who go to tea, that’s what they go for, just to try different things all the time,” she said. “I don’t do well with making the same thing every day.
“You have certain ones that you like and you’re used to, or I do the cucumber sandwiches because people just love those, but I get the freedom to do all of these different things all the time, and that’s what I love about it.”
Though she grew up in a house where herbal teas were a routine drink and fresh herbs always hung in the kitchen to dry, it was something of a fluke that caused her to enter the business.

Miller adds orange zest glaze to a fresh batch of scones.

She began her entrepreneurial career around 20 years ago, operating Flinn’s Cafe in Albany. Although a brief venture, it did, however, lead her to her specialty. She often received requests for tea parties because the building formerly hosted a tea room.
“I’m like, ‘Who goes to tea? This is the stupidest thing,’” she said.
But after the café, Miller further researched the subject and opened The Charms of Tea, also in Albany.
“And then I just fell in love,” she said.
She operated Charms for seven years until she sold it to focus on being a mother. In 2017, she opened the Serendipity Cafe and Tea Room in Lebanon, then took advantage of an opportunity to open Bloom a few blocks down the street.
When it comes to tea, Miller calls herself a purist because she doesn’t add cream or sugar. People love the drink for different reasons, she said. For her, it’s the ritual of taking time to slow down that she appreciates most.
“When you go to tea, you are not supposed to be in a hurry,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a time to relax and visit with your friends, or enjoy yourself and just decompress. That’s the tea experience, just a time to stop.”
Plus, tea parties are a fun tradition.
“It’s romantic. All little girls love tea parties,” she said. “I think it brings the past back.”
When she operated her tea house at Serendipity, Miller hosted an annual “Dolly and Me” party in December, allowing little girls a chance to wear Christmas dresses and bring their dolls. Though she couldn’t host the popular event this past holiday, she expects to bring it back, in addition to other plans she has brewing, like cocktail and dancing nights, tea classes, book clubs and themed dinners.
“I have a million ideas in my head,” she said.
Miller envisions Bloom as a place where mothers can break away for a quiet moment, and where friends can visit without feeling rushed. She wants guests to leave with full bellies and the feeling that the weight of the world has lifted.
“Tea makes everything better,” she said. “I mean, a hot cup of tea, no matter what is going on, makes it better.”
For more information on the tea house, call (541) 258-1723 or email [email protected]. Visit the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bloomdowntown.store/.