Tea Rooms, Part II

There are as many kinds of tea rooms today as there are owners. Each one has its own style and quirks, its good points and maybe not so good. Tea rooms, and I’m writing only about tea rooms in the US, fall into a few different categories. Here’s a brief look.

Many tea rooms are ultra feminine and pretty. Lace tablecloths, mismatched china cups and flowers abound. Often this kind of tea room is found in a restored Victorian house. The owner herself is usually there and will try to make your visit as relaxing and pleasant as possible. You can expect to be pampered with personal attention that is not intrusive. The quality and quantity of the food varies a lot depending on the owner’s culinary skills. The tea itself might not be the priority here; tisanes and flavored lower quality teas are offered. This is the perfect tea room to visit with a group. Reservations are almost always required so dropping in for a cup of tea is not possible.

Hotel teas have been gaining in popularity. They are very elegant and beautiful. Everything is professionally prepared from the pastries to the garnishes decorating the plates. The wait staff is typically efficient but not especially cordial. Don’t expect the best tea here. Hotel teas are run by restaurant people, not tea people. These teas are by reservation only with preference given to the hotel’s guests. Expect to pay quite a bit for tea at a hotel. Remember, you’re buying the experience, the ambiance and the fanciest of tea food.

Asian style tea rooms are unique among tea room experiences. Here tea is the highest quality, prepared by people who know how to do it correctly. Asian tea rooms are usually sparsely decorated but with a very serene, peaceful atmosphere. Low tables, a water feature and small cups without handles are some of the things to be experienced. The food isn’t about finger sandwiches and scones. Instead expect things like rice balls with pickle & sesame, tea cured salmon and nori, tofu with ginger, and green tea ice cream.

Trendy Tea Houses can be found in cities around the country. They feature unusual tea treats like tea shots containing a mixture of acai berry, green tea and lemongrass or therapeutic-biodynamic teas or even tea cocktails. The decoration is as varied as any hip restaurant would be. The staff at these places is always oh so earnest but not necessarily knowledgeable about tea.
Combination coffee and tea bars probably shouldn’t be allowed to exist. No one wants to smell coffee while drinking tea. It is an act against nature. Go to Star*ucks for your coffee but making tea at home yourself will get you a far better cup of tea.

My favorite local tea room is casual enough that I can stop in for a cup of tea wearing jeans. Reservations for formal afternoon tea are required but almost the same items are available a la carte. This place was packed one morning recently. College students, a couple moms with kids, several husbands and wives, a grandma and her granddaughter and my friend and I were all there for perfectly brewed tea and freshly baked pastries. Small tea sandwiches are offered with the afternoon tea service but the same fillings are available in full size sandwiches. There are always a couple soups from which to choose and instead of getting several small desserts, a whole sticky bun works as well. While I love the full afternoon tea experience, it’s nice to have an every day kind of place too.