Tea Is Hot
Mar 10, 2009
By Susan Steade
For a long time, it was listed on menus just by color. Then, suddenly, there were tastings and classes, talk of varietals, origin, terroir. Like wine 20 years ago, tea has become the drink to know.
Any beverage that`s been around for 3,000 years can hardly be called an overnight success. But even those who have been in the tea business for decades acknowledge a recent spurt of interest.
The reason? Part of it is a perception that tea has health benefits, particularly when compared with coffee. Part is a desire to be soothed in rocky times. And part of it is an appreciation of the increasing quality and variety of hand-crafted teas — what Gary Shinner of Marin County`s Mighty Leaf Tea calls "an upgrade in sensory experience."
Jesse Jacobs, who last week opened his third Samovar Tea Lounge in San Francisco, cites the farmers market effect: an interest in seasonal, artisanal products from family growers. "The quality of the tea we`re getting now is unprecedented. Partly, that`s because we`re getting it faster, so it`s fresher. But the new demand is also making it possible for a farmer to produce and sell some wonderful teas in small quantities."
Descriptions of these high-end teas read like a rhapsody on a Bordeaux: thundering, nutty, silky, hauntingly ambrosial, "warm apricot marmalade on toasted English muffin." It`s a lot like wine, Jacobs agrees — "except, with tea, you can always have one more for the road."
how does a tea novice — a two-latte-a-day die-hard, for instance — enter this world? With a glossary, a few caveats and some encouragement.
What`s the best way to find the right tea?
"Sample two or three from each category," Shinner advises. "Explore as you would with wine. What are the flavors you appreciate?" Jason Simpson, director of coffee and tea education for Starbucks, elaborates: Consider acidity, body, flavor.
For a coffee lover, the first step might be something like Yunnan, a black tea — robust, with a slightly roasted undertone — that takes milk and sugar well.
Don`t rely on the name of the tea, as that can be misleading, cautions Eliot Jordan, director of tea for Peet`s Coffee & Tea. "There are no conventions in naming, and you get a lot of creativity. Is this jasmine tea the traditional green tea, or is it a black tea, or an herbal, or is Jasmine just the name of their dog?"
So taste, first, across the four categories of tea. (Some say five; we`ll deal with that later.) All come from the same plant, the tree Camellia sinensis; the difference is in the processing.
At the center of the tea world are black and green, Jordan says. Black is the thicker, darker brew that took hold in countries that use dairy in cuisine, like India and England. Green is the standard in areas with less dairy tradition — Japan, China, North Africa. Oolong covers the wide range of spectrum between those two, and white is a lightly processed variety that 10 years ago was barely known in the West.
How they`re processed:
White. Leaves are picked, sometimes lightly steamed, and then dried, and that`s it. Simpson describes it as vegetal, grassy.
Green. Withered, then steamed (for more delicate, herbal flavors) or pan-fired (for a heartier, aromatic quality) before drying.
Black. Withered, then rolled — which breaks open the leaves and allows oxidation — and, finally, dried to stop the oxidation.
Oolong. Also withered and rolled but not fully oxidized. The oxidation is sometimes stopped and started more than once, as a lot of change can occur in just an hour. With a smooth, aromatic character, it`s a favorite of many tea professionals, Jordan says, and it`s hard to find a good, inexpensive one because of the work involved in crafting it.
The sometimes-fifth type is pu-ehr, an aged tea often sold in compressed cakes. A secondary fermentation gives it a very dark, earthy quality. In China, where our black tea is called red, pu-ehr is known as black.
Wait, what about herbal?
Tea has to be from Camellia sinensis. Any other infusion is technically a tisane ("ti-ZAN").
Loose tea good, tea bags bad?
Not necessarily. There are good-quality teas in bags, especially with the recent advent of whole-leaf tea bags, which let the leaves expand and the water flow through. With the loose tea, though, you pay less for packaging, and you get the experience of the tea-making ritual.
The most flavorful teas are whole-leaf, which, though they shrivel when dried, will unfurl in hot water. Large broken pieces aren`t bad; what you want to avoid is finely crushed leaves and dust. Also, tea`s flavor fades as it ages, so consider how likely it is to be fresh. (Pu-ehr aside, of course.)
Where can I learn more?
Besides the thousands of tea aficionado Web sites? The Bay Area is a hotbed of tea stores and tea lounges; some offer classes, among them Tea Time in Palo Alto (http://www.tea-time.com, (650) 328-2877).
Other South Bay tea rooms include Lisa`s Tea Treasures in Campbell and Los Altos, Ku Day Ta in Milpitas` Great Mall and Puripan Tea Garden in Santana Row.
Tea Drinkers Unite
Aug 22, 2008
By Joan Dentler
Move over latte lovers and mocha mavens, tea drinkers are poised to take over the world of hot beverage consumers.
Between the health benefits attributed to tea consumption, the colorful history of the world’s most exotic beverage, and the shear taste and soul-soothing effects of tea, it makes perfect sense that we should all want to learn more about how to make a perfect pot of this magical brew.
And to help educate you on the wonderful world of tea,Tea Time in downtown Palo Alto is offering both beginner and intermediate classes.
In addition to being informative, classes are great for a motherdaughter outing, a tea "date," or as a gift for someone special.
Tea Time carries hundreds of loose-leaf teas and accessories from around the world.This charmingly comfortable shop, owned and operated by Thao Nguyen, is located at 542 Ramona Street in downtown Palo Alto.
Class space is limited, so call to reserve your spot, 328-2877.
Ancient tradition, modern application
Tea can come with crumpets, spring rolls or educational classes at Tea Time
Jun 20, 2008
By Dale F. Bentson
Tea has always played second fiddle to coffee in the United States, but that will change if Thao Nguyen has any say. She exudes passion and her knowledge of tea is near encyclopedic. She is on a mission as well, to educate and inspire new zealots to the pleasures and health qualities of one of the oldest beverages on the planet.
Nguyen and her husband, Tim Pham, own Tea Time on Ramona Street in downtown Palo Alto. Their story is intriguing but not all that unusual in our global economy. Nguyen emigrated from Vietnam to Denmark after the war and earned a master's in marketing. Pham became a food technologist after his family moved to the Netherlands.
The couple's parents had been business partners in Vietnam and visited each other in Europe. Nguyen and Pham became romantic. After marrying, they spent time in Holland and five years in Ho Chi Minh City working for Dutch Lady Dairy products. Then, back to Holland where Nguyen worked for a confectionary company and dreamed of having her own business.
"It was too cold for us in Holland and Denmark and there was a lack of diversity. We never quite felt at home," Nguyen said. In 2006, they sold everything and moved themselves and their two young sons to the Bay Area where another branch of the family was in the restaurant business.
"I wanted to do something I really liked and envisioned a European cafe," Nguyen said, "so I drew up a business plan and started looking at retail operations in the area."
It was by happy accident she found Tea Time and thought, "Why not?" Taking over from a previous owner in early 2006, she changed nothing but her business plan and spent months understanding the business.
Then, she closed for 10 days and had the space cosmetically updated by knocking out a wall, painting, and installing new flooring, lighting, bamboo-styled tables and chairs, Italian marble counter tops, and solid oak shelves that display her retail offering of contemporary and antique tea pots, and accessories. The result is a well-designed fusion, at once stylish and traditional.
Tea Time is housed in that architectural gem designed by the late Pedro de Lemos, a craftsman, graphic artist and museum curator. He developed the 500 block of Ramona in the 1920s, incorporating Spanish and early California styles, with tile roofs of varying heights, wrought iron, graceful archways and courtyards.
Tea Time sells 130 kinds of tea: black, green, herbals, oolong, scented, blended and white. Tea has its own vocabulary, ways for grading the product and processing methods. As with wine grapes, terroir is an extremely important factor in the quality and taste of the product. The sum total of soil, altitude, rain and sun, it is the expression of the soil.
Besides a wide range of tea available in the lounge, Tea Time offers scones, crumpets and tea sandwiches. Recently, I tried the Oriental Beauty tea service. A three-tiered caddy was brought to my table with a half-dozen tiny sandwiches, an oven-grilled spring roll and two petits fours. I found the pot of oolong perfectly steeped, fragrant, sweet and grassy on the tongue. It piqued my curiosity about the vast -- and unknown to me -- world of tea.
Tea Time also offers classes to help people learn about tea; both introductory and intermediate sessions will commence in July. It's not unlike learning about wine. Tea, though, tends to be manipulated less. Contemporary high-tech winemaking sometimes involves reverse osmosis machines, designer yeasts, machine harvesting and a mad rush to market.
Tea is still the hand-made product of tea masters who learned from their fathers and fathers' fathers. Techniques and processing methods vary by culture for black, green, white and oolong teas. Black teas are fermented, while green tea is non-fermented. Oolong is semi-fermented, while white tea undergoes almost no transformation after harvesting.
Nguyen knows the geography of the tea business as if she invented it. "It reflects my personality, part of my native culture and tradition. I have been a tea drinker my entire life. Tea is for lingering; it keeps me grounded".
Many claims have been made about the healthful properties of tea. It is said to be high in antioxidants that could reduce the risk of various diseases.
Nguyen says she has spent much time looking into what is science and what is speculation. "I am careful with specifics about tea claims," she said. "My research is ongoing".
Tea consumption is boiling in the United States. According to the Tea Association of the USA, sales were $6.85 billion in 2007, nearly quadrupling since 1990. Next to water, it is the most consumed beverage on earth. The increase in consumption can be attributed to the popularity of convenient ready-to-drink containers and the increasing health consciousness of consumers. With Nguyen's inspiration, tea might locally give water a run for its money
A Cozy Spot For Tea In Palo Alto
Aug 16, 2007
By Melinda Sacks
Cheery Tea Time Offers Crumpets and Free Wifi - A cozy spot for tea in Palo Alto
Tea Time sits unpretentiously on Ramona Street, one of downtown Palo Alto`s most charming avenues.
Nestled between two cafe competitors, it can be easy to miss if you don`t catch the easel sign out in front. While the food at Tea Time can vary a bit depending on who makes the sandwiches that day and what you order, the tiny tea room is worth a visit for its savories and cozy atmosphere.
If you are lucky and one of the owners is working when you arrive, you can count on cheery and attentive service that makes you feel welcome the moment you enter.
Opened in 2005, Tea Time was renovated and expanded in spring 2006 by co-owners Thao Nguyen and Tim Pham, who added an Asian flavor to the decor and some menu items.
Tea Time`s one-room dining area is filled with green and cream wicker chairs and bamboo tables, and the walls are soothing mauves, yellow and sea green. Local photographers display their art on one wall, while across the room floor-to-ceiling shelves show off beautiful tea pots, cups and accessories, all for sale. Two sidewalk tables are a great choice on a sunny day.
You`ll order at the counter and then choose your table. A server will bring place settings, your pots of tea and food orders.
Tea Time`s menu is an eclectic mix of traditional little English tea sandwiches, pastries, quiche and four "Oriental Tea Delights" that include dim sum bun chicken and barbecue pork. One entire page of the menu is dedicated
to crumpets with a variety of toppings. The Londoner is a simple nicely crisped crumpet (think English muffin but tastier), buttered and spread with jam.
Other selections range from the Klondike (sliced smoked salmon layered on cream cheese and topped with capers and dill) to the Monterey (crab salad topped with Monterey Jack cheese and grilled until it is bubbly). Crumpets range from $2.50 to $4.
My favorite Tea Time meal by far is a plate of three assorted tea sandwiches ($7.95) and a medium-size pot of second flush Darjeeling tea, a rich, delicious black tea that holds up just as well to lemon as it does to cream. While there are 10 sandwich choices, I have hands-down favorites.
A little rectangle of double-tiered egg salad is light and delicious, not overly laden with mayo. Fresh chives dot the top. Smoked salmon is settled over cream cheese and topped with a dollop of shiny black caviar, all on pumpernickel bread. Chicken-apple-pecan salad spreads over a heart-shaped single slice of brown bread, topped with a crunchy pecan. The threesome arrives on a large white dinner plate and is just filling enough for a light lunch.
Desserts at Tea Time vary, but a dense, layered chocolate cake satisfied even my chocoholic taste.
Don`t forget Tea Time come winter. The fireplace and little pots of tea with their colorful fabric tea cozies make a lovely rainy afternoon respite.
542 Ramona St., between University
and Hamilton, Palo Alto. (650) 328-2877,
Tea Time is an attractive little establishment
Apr 27, 2007
By CORAX, CHA DAO-BLOG
|'tea time' is an attractive little establishment -- a 'tea lounge,' to use their terminology -- in a row of shops on ramona, between university and hamilton [542 ramona street].
it has a couple of tables outside, to take advantage of the mild climate, and several more inside. there is free wi-fi inside and out -- a welcome draw in a college town where academics tend to travel with a laptop tucked under one arm, and want to park for awhile while they sip something hot and surf the web. the interior is an attractive creamy yellow color, and the airy quality of the skylight conspires with the height of the ceiling to create an inviting, comfortable atmosphere in which to sit and read or chat with friends.
the sandwich-board sign outside the shop, which was the first thing to draw my eye, advertises 'over 100 fine loose teas.' once indoors, one sees a whole wall full of shelves offering cups, saucers, mugs, kettles, teapots, and other tea equipage for sale. some of this is of quite fine quality. some -- a minority -- is of asiatic provenance, and would equip one to execute gongfu cha brewing.
the tea list, as promised, is an ambitious one. while it includes many teas from india and ceylon, it also has a reputable section of red, oolong, green, and white teas from china, taiwan, and japan.
[the complete list takes up fifteen pages on their website.]
my sense is that they are still focused more on the english tea experience, including tea sandwiches, scones, and such; but i also get the impression that they are aware of the increasing interest in china teas, and want to expand their offerings in this regard. for instance, the website feature labeled 'new information: feature of the month' for april lists three items: 'pu-erh superior'; 'yixing set "cycles of life"'; and 'chinese emperor greens.' what's new this month, in other words, is all from china. the pu'er is only of one type [apparently a loose-leaf shu] but it's a start.
i ordered a yunnan hong cha, to go. here again, they only offered one grade of the tea -- not the highest by any means; a lower-mid-grade with some tips -- but they put it together carefully [in a paper tea-sac, inside a tall paper cup] and gave me explicit instructions on how long to brew it. [i did not wait anywhere near their recommended five minutes, but that's just me.] it was quite potable, and the service was cheery and welcoming.
Make time for Tea Time
April 14, 2006
By Pam Sud
If you’ve ever wandered University Avenue on a Friday afternoon, you may have run into a group of Stanford students sipping tea and munching crumpets. Soto has an ongoing tradition of partaking in this tradition every Friday — for the last three years.
“Tea Time” is the name of a small, quaint tea shop in downtown Palo Alto, one block off University Avenue across from the Old Pro and Nola’s.
“The Tea Time tradition started when my co-RA Gautam Raghavan and I were talking before staff meeting about trying out the tea shop I had seen earlier that week,” former Soto RA Kyle Bruck explained. “Gautam and I joked that we wanted to be pretentious, sipping tea and eating crumpets with fake British accents.”
But Soto’s tradition is anything but pretentious. Instead, as Bruck remarked, “It is a time to relax after a hard day or week, drink tea, eat crumpets, talk and play cards. Some kids bring their work, some kids just come to talk and others play bridge.”
Raghavan has fond memories of his weekly Tea Time adventures.
“We got a lot of strange looks — most of the people there are on the ‘mature’ end and were surprised to see us college students enjoying tea and a game of bridge,” he said. Raghavan is currently working in Washington D.C., but makes a point of partaking in the Friday afternoon break every time he returns to Stanford.
They’re rowdy, they bring good business and they often fill the entirety of the tiny restaurant. Owners of the Tea Time shop remember various Stanford groups regularly coming as well, but never as consistently as Soto.
Many now go next door to their competitor Coupa Cafe, but Bruck says it is too crowded, too loud and too fast-paced.
“Tea time is definitely a reminder of a more relaxed time in history,” Bruck commented.
Current Soto RA Stephanie Sud carries on the Tea Time legacy.
“It’s a great dorm event because we have always gotten a group of kids to come that don’t necessarily come to the more traditional dorm events,” she explained. Bruck added that “In a lot of dorms, when students move out, you don’t really see them again.” But Soto residents, past and present, still come together.
Tea Time goers like Bruck agree that the Parisian crumpet is “the best part of the Tea Time experience.” The Parisian consists of a crumpet toasted with brie cheese and green apple slices on top.
Current Tea Time owner, Thao, hopes to expand her quiet shop into a more happening hangout. Its grand re-opening is today after extensive renovation. Whether you’re looking for a quiet study spot or a relaxing place to converse, consider Tea Time for your destination.