By Connie K. Ho
Although tea has been around for hundreds of years, it’s been gaining steam around town lately with the introduction of more shops and cafes focused on this traditional beverage. At Fashion Island, the American Tea Room opened its first outpost outside of Los Angeles this past December, offering a fresh look at the tastes and technology associated with the drink, plus more than 200 different types of teas sourced from around the globe.
In fact, American Tea Room founder and CEO David Barenholtz spends two to three months a year traveling the world, meeting growers and ensuring that the teas at his company are ethically sourced. Many of the varieties are unique to the company, as the teas are custom blended with a specific focus.
“For us, we’re looking back—we’re going backwards in classic American flavors to almost the Civil War era,” Barenholtz explains. “We look at things that are very classically American—[for example that have] sarsaparilla and sassafras and really work with American ingredients that can be incorporated into tea.”
In addition to looking at specific flavors, Barenholtz believes that many people are looking for authentic tastes. “We see people appreciating finer tea, experimenting and trying different things,” he adds.
Guests at the American Tea Room, for instance, can enjoy a cup of tea or a dish inspired by the drink. The teas are prepared using BKON craft brewers, which utilize reverse atmospheric infusion technology to create a cup or pot of tea in 60 seconds. The brioche organic black tea, with hints of cinnamon, spice and almonds, is especially popular around this time of year. To pair with the teas, guests can enjoy desserts and pastries from Valerie Gordon’s Valerie Confections; a few treats include matcha panna cotta and Earl Grey sweet bread.
Those who visit the store can also check out the interactive Tea Zone, a touch screen that allows individuals to learn about the selected tea’s characteristics and food pairings, among other topics. The various teas are displayed in color-coded tubes with a bar code; once scanned, the screen relays information ranging from mood and tasting notes to brewing instructions and country of origin.
“Tea has always been viewed more as a staple when you’re sick, not very flavorful. People always think you have to add milk, sugar or lemon to adulterate the tea and make it have a specific taste,” Barenholtz says. “I think we’ve tried to change that perception by offering a large and wider array of delicious teas.”
But The American Tea Room is just one of the businesses leading the local trend. Discover a few more options around town to enjoy a cup of tea.
From 2-4 p.m. Friday through Sunday, the Great Room Social Lounge at The Resort at Pelican Hill hosts a traditional gathering with a modern twist. The menu includes organic jasmine pearl with a flowery scent of jasmine perfume, an imperial green tea that’s rich with antioxidants, and an organic peppermint tea with an herbal infusion and mint oils, among other options.
Requisite to the experience, savory and sweet Italian-inspired small bites are also offered. The dishes range from yellow beets with goat cheese on squaw raisin bread to manchego and lemon preserves on a French baguette. Pastries include raspberry lychee rose cups and pistachio madeleines.
Those who want to incorporate spirits in their afternoon can order tea-based cocktails or choose from one of the menu’s sparkling wines. Sample a Té Bellini, which mixes jasmine tea, peach puree, fino sherry and Villa Sandi prosecco. Or savor the English Garden with Earl Grey, Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber, elderflower cordial, mint and Champagne. (855-315-8214; pelicanhill.com)
At True Food Kitchen, which prides itself on serving “honest food that tastes really good,” the teas are featured on the dessert menu to conclude the meal, but the list can be requested earlier on as well.
The teas are served in a sturdy pot that holds the loose leaf tea. Those wanting a decaf option can choose from peppermint and chamomile. The rest of the varieties run the gamut from Wood Dragon Oolong and classic chai to Darjeeling and “Bai Mudan” (white peony).
In addition to a steaming cup, guests can also order a tea-infused juice from the natural refreshers section of the menu. For example, the Medicine Man, an antioxidant blast, offers a mix of sea buckthorn, pomegranate, cranberry, honey, black tea and soda. (949-644-2400; truefoodkitchen.com)
The cake and dessert shop that took Los Angeles by storm has made its way to Corona del Mar and beckons guests with its wide range of pastries and comfortable seating. As part of its menu, Sweet Lady Jane offers Harney & Sons Fine Teas, a company that originated in 1983 in Connecticut. The company is focused on sourcing, blending and packing its own product, and the employees of the family-owned business continue the tradition of sourcing fine teas and ingredients.
Offerings at the Corona del Mar bakery includes Japanese sencha, organic green, dragon pearl jasmine, hot cinnamon spice, Earl Grey supreme, Darjeeling mint verbena, rooibos chai, chamomile, Paris and white vanilla grapefruit. The numerous options will tempt guests to return day after day to find their favorite pairing of tea and dessert. (949-270-6366; sweetladyjane.com)
With 2.2 acres, the horticultural retreat Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar is a museum of living plants among fountains, sculptures and seasonal flowers. Visitors to the on-site restaurant Café Jardin can enjoy a relaxing afternoon tea in the garden. Afternoon tea is served the last Wednesday of the month at 2:30 p.m. and the second Wednesday of the month at 2:30, 2:45 and 3 p.m. The menu includes a fresh pot of tea, scones, a mix of tea sandwiches and a chef’s selection of desserts. Visitors can sip flavors such as White Phoenix black tea, which is fruity and good for digestion; apple green tea, an antioxidant that is calming and relaxing; and Pascal’s Healing Tea, a custom blended mix of chrysanthemum, osmanthus and Siberian roses. (949-673-0033; slgardens.org)