540Los Rios Historic District seats the community with a cup of tea
Story and photos by Celeste Espinoza
Enjoy an afternoon of dressing up, sipping on tea, and socializing in San Juan Capistrano’s antiquated Los Rios Historic District. The Tea House on Los Rios holds a serene environment, incorporating English tradition and leisure into Orange County life through its muted, pastel-colored porcelain table sets. The plum-colored Victorian wallpaper is adorned with large, elegant white, black, and red tea hats illustrating the complete motif of a sophisticated tea party. Top this with a freshly baked currant scone and some raspberry preserves for the perfect dose of instant sensory tranquility.
“I knew I wanted to create a space for people to take time for themselves and enjoy the company of others in a quiet setting,” Ariana Smith says, the Tea House on Los Rios founder. “I wanted to give them the experience just as I did the first time.”
Smith was inspired by both one of her personal traditions and the location of the cottage in the Los Rios Historic District. She and her friends had created an unwritten law to celebrate any special occasion or time with a cup of tea. This ritual then became extended to her immediate family, including her mother and sisters. Smith loved the theme of peace and quiet that the tea celebrations brought so much that she became interested in owning a tea shop of her own one day.
The tea house celebrated its 20th anniversary this past February. The concept started off in 1911 from an abandoned cottage which took two years to restore. Damien Niccola, Smith’s grandson, currently runs the location while Smith and her husband, Allan Smith, live in the reestablished 1887 Victorian forester house behind the tea house.
“After leaving my job as a tax accountant for a large firm of seven years, I found that it was a good career,” Niccola says. “It would have paid a lot of the bills but, wasn’t what I really wanted to do, I always had a built-in passion for the tea business.”
Niccola has watched the tea shop grow since its beginning and adds that at the end of the day it is important to follow your dreams despite what everyone else might think. In order to expand the uniqueness of the tea house geographically, the staff has created an online tea shop, where consumers can purchase an assortment of rooibos, herbal, private reserve, green, black, or decaffeinated loose leaf teas.
For Mother’s Day weekend, the tea room includes a special seating that features traditional English dishes like eggs benedict, a garden frittata, hash brown quiches, assorted finger sandwiches, a pan-roasted Atlantic salmon picatta, and a grilled Angus steak cobb salad. The concept specializes in hosting a plethora of events, which include weddings, receptions, rehearsal dinners, baby and bridal showers, birthday and anniversary parties, as well as corporate and non-profit events.
Twenty-five women dressed to the nines prepared to celebrate Kirssa Kobel’s bridal shower. The bride-to-be wanted to celebrate her engagement in one of the most historic neighborhoods as opposed to having a catered event.
“I have known about the Tea House on Los Rios for a couple years and have been a fan since I first went with some of my closest girlfriends,” Kobel explains. “I chose this tea house shop for my bridal party because planning a wedding can be a stressful time and I knew that if I were to celebrate it here I could be able to relax in such a peaceful stetting.”
The tea shop’s tea ceremonies allow guests the setting to build and develop relationships through the chemical interaction of loose tea leaves and hot water. Smith elaborates that the spark behind her tea concept was the idea that people should be able to take time for themselves and enjoy the company of others through quiet and calm conversation, especially in today’s fast paced society.