• English High Tea now among Homer’s culinary offerings
By Naomi Klouda
The antique store in downtown Homer added a new feature for diversity among the culinary offerings of a town famed for its fare: a tea room cozy enough to meet at the end of a beach walk, yet formal enough to present High Tea.
Coletta Walker, owner of the Ivory Goose and Tea Emporium, at 158 W. Pioneer Ave., expanded her shop’s offerings in an allotment of tea tables that can seat about 20-25 people.
The interior designer’s flare for the picturesque shows in every nook or open feature of the shop. Imagine on a cold, dark winter’s day entering a place filled with a spectrum of tea ware in bursting color and flowers, set among the delicate linens and shining antiques of long ago.
“I wanted ladies and gentlemen to relax and come enjoy a fine cup of tea and find their spirits tranquil and brightened. We all get the winter blues,” Walker said. “Tea is a peaceful, sociable thing to do. It brings us back to a more relaxed time period.”
Strains of classical music backdrop the experience of perching on an antique chair pulled up to an antique table that is covered in a cloth of sunflower patterns matching the season in added pumpkin designs and winter greens. It might take a bit of getting used to as Walker serves tea in delicate China cups from a glassware pot kept heated at the table.
“Each place in Homer is so unique. I didn’t want to copy anyone,” she said, speaking of local food establishments. “People from Kenai and Soldotna come to Homer to shop and they say how come we’re so big and your town is small, but you have so many more different places to shop and such an incredible variety of restaurants where you can go to eat?”
Walker’s shop has been building Homer’s reputation person-by-person in a steady stream of visitors from elsewhere who find that rare kind of tea among her 180 varieties. In her DEC-approved kitchen, she bakes pastries whose recipes she has perfected during her 20 years of operating The Homer Beary Patch Bed and Breakfast in Homer.
There are scones filled with apricot and white chocolate, or lavender and white chocolate, from doughs soaked in maple or agave syrup. She also has a gluten-free scone she is perfecting, along with her time-tested pumpkin nut rolls.
Though she uses real butter and cream in her standard recipes, she also has a weight-watcher version. For High Teas, she would be serving savories, fruits, vegetables and pastries that equal the British meal meant to tide people over until the breakfast.
Walker comes to this gentle past time via Lubbock, Texas where she was raised. Her parents operated a large antique shop there, and when Walker was nine years old, she was put to work stripping the antiques.
“They would be covered in soot and oil. I would be the one to clean them,” Walker recalled. “Then, I would travel with my mother throughout the south while she collected antiques.”
By southern standards, Texas women aren’t overly delicate blooms such as those in the deep South, but they share a certain stamina in common with Alaska women, Walker said. The art of tea would be enjoyed at the end of arduous household or business labors where she grew up in Texas.
“I like the gentler persuasion better than the cosmopolitan. We had genteel women, but we are like Alaskans, in that we’re going to make do and keep going,” Walker said.
Before Walker reached the age of 15, both parents and her grandparents had died. She was sent to live with an older sister until she graduated from high school. It was there she met her husband, Raymond, with whom she has now shared 43 years of marriage.
Walker is an interior designer by training, and had operated her own consulting agency to serve Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas for several years before she and Raymond moved to Homer in 1989. In the 1990s, she opened Frontier Fabrics in Homer, then anticipated a squeeze-out when Joann Fabrics moved to the Peninsula and sold the business.
Walker didn’t get an opportunity to return to her love for antiques until 2006, when she began traveling to the midwest for buying trips with a mind toward opening a Homer store. When she had accumulated a large enough inventory, she opened her first shop in the retail cabins on Lake Street in 2008.
“It was my dream at that point to include a tea parlor, but the place wasn’t adequate in space and design,” she said.
Now established in her current spot in the distinctive octagonal building on Pioneer Avenue, Coletta has a loyal following of tea connoisseurs willing to travel long distances for rare tea and antiques. “Yet, I still meet people who tell me they didn’t know this shop was here,” she said.
Now in time for the holiday season ahead, Walker aims to offer a unique, bright, relaxing venue. Since she has extensively studied teas and attends the World Tea Expos, she became familiar with the true purists in the profession.
Among her inventory are 20 varieties of the South African Roobis tea and the rare Pu-erh tea that must undergo an aging process to refine.
She has on-hand, loose leaf Pu-erh she reserved in an advance order in 2006 that was aged several years then shipped to her shop. Among the traditional camomile, peppermint, and gingers are the medicinal, such as one called Guezundite, said to build up the immune system before seasonal flu and colds spread.
But Walker stops short when asked to give herbal remedy advice.
“I’m not an herbalist,” she said. “A lot of the claims haven’t been tested, and can’t be used with other medicines.”
Walker is thinking of offering courses for people who want to know more about tea connoisseurship, tasting events and pairing events to show which teas best complement foods.
“It’s exciting and scary to pursue your dreams and it’s a lot of hard work. But, I’ve had a lot of great family support and I think this shop will offer something very different among the great places Homer already has,” she said.
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