Published September 22, 2023 at 12:00 AM CDT
The French Tearoom in Wichita will officially open its doors in October, but the Black-owned business already has guests sipping cups of warm brew inside the pink and white house in College Hill.
The inspiration behind the tearoom came from owner Mariama Beemer, a West African native who’s lived in Wichita since 2008. Her corporate job sent her on a trip with her colleagues to London in 2019.
“We said, ‘Of course, we are in London, let’s have afternoon tea.’ We went into the tearoom as six complete strangers, and we came out as six best friends.”
She says that’s what tea does.
“Afternoon tea as a ritual has this ability to connect human beings at a level that you just don’t get while drinking other beverages. So, I remember coming back to Wichita and thinking wouldn’t it be great to have something like this.”
So, she tested interest in Wichita, with pop-up afternoon tea events that all sold out. Beemer and her husband then decided to buy and renovate an old house.
“I love College Hill, always have.”
And with that, Beemer had a vision.
“I wanted it to be a feminine place, first of all, I want it to be a luxurious space,” she says. “I wanted it to be a place where you are leaving out your worries and you are just feeling pampered and elevated and you just feeling good about yourself.”
Beemer quickly points out it’s not a tea shop, but a tearoom.
“And what that means is we serve afternoon tea. So, you get the tea, but you also get the tier tray with the savories at the bottom, the scones in the middle, the treats on top and we also curate the tea flavors of the day to align with each tier — so you can have a culinary experience as well.”
1 of 4 — The Pink Room.JPG
The Pink Room
2 of 4 — The Gold Room.JPG
The Gold Room
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The Blue Room
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Mariama Beemer in the Princess Diana Room
Carla Eckels / KMUW
Treats are prepared by a hired chef, who makes the items onsite. Each room has a theme, the blue room, the pink room, the gold room and the Princess Diana room, which has teacups and saucers lining the built-in shelves. The room named after the late Princess of Wales is one of Beemer’s favorite areas.
“It’s the closest to the authenticity of afternoon tea,” she says. “The history of tea dates back to the 1800s. It’s a British tradition so at the time, you had the kings and the queens in England, etc… and there was one, Duchess Anna, who realized that between lunch and dinner, she was hungry. They would dress up so it was a whole thing, relax and eat a little bit before she had dinner. Sitting in this [room] is a nod to the authentic origin of [that tradition].”
On the south side of the Princess Diana room by the window is a letter-writing station. Beemer says guests can use a quill pen to write notes to loved ones, which are wax stamped and mailed, free of charge.
“And you actually get to do the whole … it’s the whole thing. We don’t go halfway here, (chuckle).”
Why does a Black business owner feel the need to open a French tearoom?
“I am originally from Benin, West Africa, and [the country] was colonized by France,” she says. “So French is my first language. I grew up speaking French. I was also raised in France, in Nantes, that’s where my family is. I think it’s important for each of us to connect to who we truly are and when you do that, what comes out is beautiful, because it’s you.”
Beemer says she had to stay true to her origin.
“I have that French inside of me, so I wanted to give a nod to that. It’s something that I know very well I mean, I speak French, I grew up speaking French, ‘Je parle français, j’ai grandi en parlant français…’
“So, it is what I know, and it is what I can bring. It’s my difference, my uniqueness. I’m embracing it, and I’m just sharing it.”
And how does Beemer sum up the French Tearoom? She glances over at a small replica of the Eiffel Tower and sterling silver tea set on a table, nearby.
“It’s a place where you could find yourself in a little corner of Paris without packing your bags.”