From NYC to Colorado, These are America’s Best Tearooms
When it comes to quality tea, it’s easy to consign expertise to England or China, and while, yes, the brewing tradition is indelibly braided into the cultural fabric of those locales (and has been for centuries), there’s much to say about the tea tradition in the United States. After all, the country was basically founded on a little incident in Boston that involved 92,000 pounds of the stuff.
We drink it in sickness and in health. In summer and in winter. It’s truly a global brew. Whether it’s an exotic and expensive Pu-erh from Yunnan, China or a simple pot of English Breakfast to warm up a winter morning, there are great offerings at tearooms, salons, parlors, and houses all around America. And the settings just might surprise you. Read on for the best in these United States, from chintz-coated houses in West Palm Beach, Florida to artisanal fare in Portland, Oregon.
Samovar, San Francisco
Nearly a decade ago, Jessie Jacobs made a bold move: he opened a tearoom with a strict no Wi-Fi policy in a deserted section of The Castro. His dream was to strengthen connections fostered by sharing a pot of tea. It worked, and Samovar now has multiple locations in San Francisco. The friendly staff, ready to talk about the regions and farmers behind each tea, brews at Samovar’s glass and stainless steel crucible stations. Despite the hipster coffee house vibes, Samovar remains all about the tea, particularly evidenced by its ridiculously delicious vegan Masala Chai.
Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, Boulder, CO
According to proprietor Sara Stewart Martinelli, the Dushanbe Tea House “showcases the ancient arts of the Persian Empire.” In fact, the owners brought in four Tajik artisans to assist in its construction, and inside guests can find elaborate hand-carved plaster wall panels created by artist Kodir Rhakimov. “I would recommend the Tung Ting Oolong,” Martinelli says. “It’s a delightful Taiwanese selection of semi-oxidized tea with aromatic notes of honeysuckle and gardenia.”
Biddie’s Coach House, Dublin, OH
Built as a family home in the 1830s (just a few decades after the Ohio town was founded), the structure that now houses Biddie’s Coach House is now chock-a-block with charm and quirk: mismatched teacups, tiny tables next to sunny windows, and your more expected finger sandwiches. Visitors enjoy a full Victorian tea service, complete with quiche and scones with Devonshire cream and all overlooking the green lawns. Another bonus: the place can accommodate parties of up to 25.
Townshend’s Tea Company, Oregon and Montana
Townshend's celebrates the nerdy side of tea—but without pretension. Their five locations offer an inviting atmosphere (read: rough wood accents, cozy couches, and, yes, outlets) as well as monthly tea tasting classes for $10. What’s more, the outposts create their own line of distilled “tea spirits.”
“We are actually fermenting tea and distilling it, rather than simply blending tea with vodka,” says VP of Operations Jake Gano, who calls the results “extremely smooth.”
There’s usually a wait to enter this tiny East Village spot, and Cha-An’s strong green teas and beloved Japanese toasts should be blamed. The Genmaicha brown rice tea pairs well with the zenzai dessert, made with mochi ice cream and “sweet red-bean porridge.” Also good: the flan, which changes by season, or the black sesame crème brûlée.
Steeping Room, Austin, TX
Beyond its 130 loose-leaf teas, Austin’s Steeping Room prides itself its three distinct service themes: Century Oaks, a more traditional European/American afternoon of scones and teacake, the Middle Eastern Kasbah Express, which offers hummus and grapes drizzled with rosewater-infused honey, and a Japanese tea, with spring rolls and a matcha-dusted, ganache brownie. Co-founder Amy March says the space—airy, in neutral tones—is meant to be culturally neutral so visitors can “create their own experience of tea culture with us.”
Serenity Garden Tea House, West Palm Beach, FL
Spliced between the palm trees and luxury towers that have come to define West Palm Beach sits an attraction of an entirely different color. Serenity Garden Tea House is everything traditional: Victorian place settings, bone china, polished silver, and lace-covered tables. Whether one goes for High Tea or the more formal Afternoon Service, a major highlight is Serenity Garden’s own pineapple and coconut black tea—perhaps the place’s one and only indication of its proximity to turquoise waters and Caribbean flavors.
The Four Seasons Bristol Lounge, Boston
Lovingly referred to as the city’s living room, Bristol in The Four Seasons is elegantly appointed with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Public Garden. The kid-focused service, which Bristol does in partnership with Georgetown Cupcakes, comes with three tiny cupcakes, while for the Teddy Bear Tea, a December tradition for kids, the hotel recruits celebrities to read stories. Even better: local hospitals get a donation of 5,000 stuffed animals.
Ching Ching Cha, Washington D.C.
Ching Ching Cha has never advertised since it opened its door 17 years ago, a phenomenon largely explained by the tea room’s overall serenity, which is fairly unmatched. Patrons enter, slip off their shoes, and settle in on a cushioned platform. Standard-issue tea service includes imported Chinese tea pots with bamboo handles, porcelain cups and saucers, freshly steamed dumplings, and teas from Taiwan, Japan, and China. That being said, selections aren’t cheap. The Phoenix Oolong goes for about $15, the Ti Kwan Yin $20.
Lady Mendl’s, NYC
If you’re in NYC when the mercury plummets, seek a cup of Winter Wonderland Rooibos in Lady Mendl’s, which is huddled inside a brownstone just north of the hubbub of Manhattan’s Union Square. This particular tea blends green rooibos, cacao, and cinnamon. Lady Mendl’s is inside The Inn at Irving Place, and the vibe is less staid Victorian and more Alice in Wonderland. The teacups are fine china, ranging from Tiffany’s to hand-culled vintage Wedgwood. The tablecloths are an unexpected black.
The Gryphon, Savannah, GA
The Gryphon Tea Room has been a nexus for Savannah College of Art and Design students and faculty since it opened in 1998. The parlor is inside an ornate Scottish Rite temple on Madison Square. The building’s former tenant was Victorian-era pharmacy A.A Solomon’s & Co. (Glance down and you’ll notice the original white tile with “Solomon’s” in blue.) It’s easy to spend an afternoon here, where the books are everywhere and a large pot of tea, with sugar cubes and organic honey, runs for only $6.
The Palm Court at the Drake, Chicago
It’s not unusual to spot a celebrity, pinky extended, tasting the Drake’s custom tea blends. Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth and the Empress of Japan have all visited for a cup, enjoying the elements of a traditional Afternoon Tea–from the sterling silver service to the live harpist. The royal wedding tea celebrating the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton was hosted here in 2011. The Today Show and BBC broadcast the event to more than 53 million viewers worldwide.
PINGTUNG Eat-in Market, Los Angeles
For lovers of Asian tea culture, PINGTUNG in L.A. is a must. Along the walls of both the front dining room and the back patio area are shelves filled with dozens of teas, condiments, and spices for purchase. First-time visitors, should sip Pingtung, a blend the owner created and named in honor of her hometown in Taiwan. On the menu is an incredible Sun Moon Lake Black Tea that’s perfection when paired with the market’s rare beef flatbread roll. Bonus: dogs are most welcome.
Smith Teamaker, Portland, OR
Founder Steven Smith takes pride in the fact that his shop only uses full-leaf tea. “We get teas from Northeastern India and from Sri Lanka, Japan and China,” he says. “I buy botanicals like chamomile and hibiscus from Egypt. The ginger root comes from South India.” Definitely request a flight. Samples of four teas cost $8, and everything is available for purchase. What’s more, in summer 2015, Smith is opening a larger, second-location tasting room in town.
Le Salon at The Windsor Court Hotel, New Orleans, LA
Morning and afternoon tea has a firm place in the culture of the Crescent City and above all other teashop shines Le Salon, where guests can chose from 25 different varieties. One of the more unusual options is a 2001 Vintage Oak Barrel Aged Pu-erh, harvested from wild tea trees that are anywhere from 400 to 1,400 years old. It’s then aged in oak barrels for three years and cured to mellow the tannins.