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Come on and Teas me

August 3, 2009

 

Living in Seattle, there is literally a coffee shop on every corner.  It used to be that these coffee shops were predominantly Starbucks but nowadays even Starbucks seems to be having an identity crisis and abandoning its own ways.  Coffee shops are serving breakfast sandwiches, partnering to provide doughnuts from local favs, and seemingly pulling at all the stops to make you notice them and stop in for a cuppa.

Lurking somewhere between obscurity and growing trend, at least in the Pacific Northwest, is premium tea and tea houses.  It’s a niche that most of the coffee shops keep getting wrong.  So much so that as a consumer, it’s hard to know when it’s done right until you walk right into it and it says “I’m sorry, you can’t take photographs of the tea pots.” 

Such was my first experience at Teavana in Bell Square.  Sure, it’s in a mall and I can’t tell you the number of times I’d never seen it there.  My good friend was trying to explain where it was and I kept saying..”Uh, still not seeing it.”  But before you even walk in the door, you can tell things will be a little different inside.  There are two sample kegs of tea right at the entrance beckoning you to partake of some long-wind named Rooibos Chai Darjeeling concoction that sounds as foreign as some of the stat hits for Vox sites (Jiddah, Makkah, really??).  But pouring out a tiny cuppa you can instantly tell that this is NOT the coffee shop Tazo variety (note: I’m not knocking Tazo at all).

With compound multisyllabic names offering even more complex combinations, one could get lost in the wall of tea, a tapestry of tin after tin of loose leaf.  Luckily, we were accosted immediately by a tea-totaling peddler who was more than exuberantly wanting to introduce us to something called a “blooming tea.”   At first, I was annoyed.  I like to take a moment to absorb my new surroundings, take in the strangeness and let the natural flow of things guide me. 

Scratch and Sniff

Scratch and Sniff

However, our informative educator started in on the various health benefits of certain mixes of teas.  I knew about the antioxidants but ginseng to aid in digestion?  Ro0ibos which is high in vitamins?  Poly-phenols which can inhibit the absorption of bad cholesterol?  What is this magic elixir that claims to do all this?  I confess, I wanted the tea lady to tell us more.

And so she did and soon, she was engaging in what now seems to be a more intriguing consumer practice than kicking the tires or throwing the action film into the Blu-ray player.  She was fanning the tea lid over the canister, wafting the aroma of what looked much like potpourri (or granola) at us while dictating the specific health benefits of Rooibos Chai Rooibos Tea.  Hmmm, what is that you said?  I’m completely overwhelmed by the yummy aroma of…what is that?  Coconut?  Cinnamon?

And like I said, the visuals were just as impressive as the smells.  I had to take out my camera to capture the variety of color and texture in the tins.  That’s when I heard the warning about photography in the store.  Apparently, the area where the tea pots are displayed is considered a museum as most of the pots are one-of-a-kind originals and the no-photos keeps the authenticity of that.

No matter, the tea’s the thing.  We ordered a concoction recommended and were soon enjoying the fruits of our guide’s labor.  And the nuttiness, cinnamon, cardamon, maybe some pepper?  As I was still contemplating all the flavors in my mouth, she was heard to say, “This tea has to be brewed to 208 degrees to avoid bitterness.”  What art is this to making a perfect cuppa?  Even the sweetener was some foreign thing:  Rock Cane Sugar that came in gem like stones.

Rock my Rooibos

Rock My Rooibos

I’m well aware that coffee also has its connoisseurs by bean, region, roast, etc.  But tea can venture where coffee cannot.  From floral to citrus to herbal to chocolate to spicy, tea can span the globe of flavors while coffee waits for its hazelnut or vanilla syrup infusion.  Along with the worlds of flavors, the contraptions for brewing the tea in a convenient way to highlight teas ultimate utility also impressed me.  You can reuse the leafs.  Try that with coffee grounds.  That recycling lands the grounds in my garden.

The only eco-issue I had with Teavana was that their sample cups were plastic.  It would seem a simple thing to invest in eco-plastic cups.  Especially for those of us that are readily wanting to try more samples of the blooming tea, the ginger tea, the Rooibos, and the Mate. 

But outside the mall, there are some other tea houses in the Seattle are that are coming into their own, including the cute Teacup in Queen Anne.  It may have stiff competition for traffic from the many slightly less commerical coffee shops available but, at times, it’s easier to find a seat there.  Quieter by nature, more sophisticated in feel, the staff is exceedingly kind and ready to explain the plethura of loose leafs to the patient patron.  Much like the hostess with the mostest at Teavana.  But the wafting….ah, I think I really like that.   It’s not often that a strong smell wafting at you can be so enjoyable and healthy.  And tasty! 

So please, give teas a chance. :p

(Special thanks again to Picket Fence aka G Girl for introducing me to a lovely new habit.  This one, I think I’ll keep.)

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