Wednesday January 21, 2009 | 7 comments
When the January 2009 issue of Sunset Magazine arrived in the mail recently, I immediately noticed one of the headlines on the cover: “Teahouses: The West’s healthiest bar scene”. I always get excited when I see tea covered by the mainstream media. The article included a Top 10 list of “tea joints” in the West, but sadly, only one was in Southern California—Le Palais Des Thes in Beverly Hills. Rather than fret over the absence of local tea establishments on Sunset’s list, I decided to create my own. I call it my “Top 5 Teahouses in Los Angeles”. There are also some great retail teashops (including Le Palais Des Thes), but for my list I have chosen to focus on teahouses, places where you can relax with a pot of tea. So here goes:
1. Royal/T (Culver City)
Ever thought what a teahouse would look like nestled in the middle of a huge gallery space filled with contemporary Japanese art? If you have, you may have some idea what Royal/T looks like, although you are still apt to be surprised. One of my favorite installations is the Porty Party that looks like a porty potty on the outside, but is infinitely more fun on the inside, where you will find a mini-disco in full swing. There is something truly invigorating about enjoying a pot of tea surrounded by art that inspires discussion. Although Royal/T does offer an afternoon tea with California and spicy tuna finger sandwiches, I usually just order the tea, which is served by waitresses in “maid uniforms, with a Lolita-esque touch”, in celebration of cosplay (costume play). I’m partial to the Royal/T Milk Tea, a delicious blend of black tea, rose petals, various fruits, and vanilla, all steeped in soy milk. But the Ruby Red Rooibos with hints of strawberry and raspberry and the Darling Darjeeling, an organic Darjeeling with notes of Muscat, are equally delicious.
2. Jin Patisserie (Venice)
Perfectly suited to our mild Southern California climate, Jin Patisserie only offers outdoor seating in a simple Asian-inspired garden setting. I remember a truly exquisite Turkish Hammam tea I sipped there during my first visit…lots of subtle flavors converging in just the right way. Jin Patisserie is especially known for its desserts, each of which is a work of art. These are not desserts to be gobbled up in two bites, although that is quite possible. Instead, it is best to approach them slowly, enjoying a small nibble with each sip of tea.
3. Chado Tea (Pasadena)
Frankly, it has been a while since my last visit to Chado Tea, not because I haven’t enjoyed my previous visits, but simply because it is not just around the corner. It usually takes a good 45 minutes to an hour to drive from L.A.’s Westside to Pasadena under the best of conditions. I remember very clearly my last visit there almost three years ago, after a charity walk at the Rose Bowl. Chado is run by Reena Shah, who along with Devan Shah, also owns International Tea Importers. Chado offers a huge assortment of teas, served in a variety of whimsical teapots. Allow plenty of time just to peruse the tea menu, which goes on for pages and pages.
4. Dr. Tea’s Tea Garden & Herbal Emporium (West Hollywood)
Many old-timers know this place as the original location of the Elixir Teas and Tonics. But Dr. Tea (Mark Ukra) took over about five years ago. This Asian-themed teahouse features three tea bars: wet, where tea is served; dry, where tea is sold to take home; and Chinese herbal, staffed by trained herbalists. A large garden is in the back, where customers can take their tea or just relax. Dr Tea’s has more than 110 blends of tea, many created by Dr. Tea himself. For me, the best part is the garden oasis. It has a calming vibe, thanks in large part to a central water feature, bamboo, and lots of private nooks. If you have money to spare, you might want to sample one of their rare Pu-erhs, which sell for $300 a pot!
5. Tudor House (Santa Monica)
If you are looking for a traditional British afternoon tea, this is the place to visit. I made my second trip there a week ago to meet a fellow tea lover. She had been longing for a good Assam, but unfortunately, they were all out, so she settled on the Prince of Wales. I ordered the Scottish Breakfast tea. It was the perfect complement to my very British chicken curry pie, with scones and raspberry jam on the side. Yum! The interior is half baby blue and half pale pink, presumably to cater to both men and women. But the latter were clearly in the majority.
I would love to hear from other Angelenos regarding their top five picks!