Velvet blue booths and tulip teacups: Is tea time the antidote to the modern hustle and bustle?
Let’s face it — coffee is king. In a go-go-go society, caffeine consumption is high and time is limited. As a result, coffeehouses are as common a city-staple as gas stations. We view them as necessary places to re-fuel.
But tea? And tea houses? Not as much. In fact, we’d guess there are probably 30 or so coffee houses to every tea house around the Bay Area. Why? Maybe because it’s more of a time investment. Or perhaps because, for us urban dwellers, tea might seem like something served with pinky-up smugness.
But it doesn’t have to be! If given the chance, these local tea houses will prove these assumptions wrong. What’s more, they’ll teach you a lesson in the beautiful art of leisure. If you’ve started finding your coffee visit little more than a race in and out the door (or just a place to park your laptop), it’s time to try tea.
We think graceful Victorian-style parlors and leisurely garden patios are the perfect antidote to the modern hustle. Each is an experience. Each, a chance to socialize and slow down in an easy environment. Let the buds border-lining your china teacup remind you to stop and smell the roses.
So take a look and then tell us…how do you take your tea?
At Lisa’s you’ll be greeted with a smile — and the floral, fruity, spiced fragrances of tea steam, mingling with the warm, sugary smell of scones. Allow your hostess to escort you to your table, then peruse the menu at your leisure. There are no wrong choices. Whether you order The Duchess’ Delight or My Lady’s Respite, you’ll savor a lovely afternoon.
The high tea ambiance is strong in this place. Expect fancy padded armchairs, lacy linens and tiered tea trays (read: towers of tastiness) bedecked with cucumber mint sandwiches and petit fours. China hutches display teacups and teapots like the artwork they are, each festooned with their own unique swirl of colors, flowers, leaves and patterns. By the time you find the tiny silver bell to ring for service, you’ll be feeling positively aristocratic. (“Jeeves! Another pot of English Breakfast, if you please!”)
Lisa’s Tea Treasures// 2305 S. Winchester Boulevard, Campbell & 167 Main Street, Los Altos; 408.371.7377 & 650.209.5010
Tea on the Avenue caters to the folks who can’t abide tea bags. Unfamiliar with the debate between freed tea leaves and bagged ones? Ask the tea connoisseurs of the internet and they’ll promptly explain that tea bags are basically low-grade, powdery leftovers swept into satchels. They might throw out the term “infusion rate” to describe why whole, unbroken tea leaves carry a superior taste and can be reused a second time (sometimes a third) without compromising the quality of the drink’s taste.
If you’re trying to convince your boyfriend or husband to say yes to a tea date, your success rate will be significantly higher at a place like this. It’s a much more modern experience — meaning your fellow won’t be ambushed by frilly doilies or flowery tea cups. Instead you’ll find yourselves seated at a velvet booth or in a gold-backed chair alongside large picture windows.
Tea on the Avenue// 155 N. Santa Cruz Ave, Los Gatos; 408.402.5143
Warm heritage cream scones with clotted cream and lemon curd…Smoked ham, cheddar and fig butter sandwiches…Twice toasted crumpets with sweet rum butter…Are we making you hungry yet? But before you order half the menu, you’ll first be required to find a seat. At The Tipping Teapot, you’ll have the opportunity to choose from an elegant yet eclectic arrangement of furniture — from loveseats with rose upholstery to velvet settees with gilded legs. To further personalize your experience, you will be served with a uniquely designed, one-of-a-kind teacup.
One of the most popular teas here, the Valley of the Heart’s Delight, pays homage to Santa Clara County. Before Silicon Valley gained its rep for souped-up tech, it was renowned as a flourishing terrain of fruit orchards. This drink reminisces on Santa Clara’s agricultural roots by blending peaches, apricots, cherries and plums with a black tea base.
The Tipping Teapot// 14482 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; 408.867.3606
Looking for loose-leaf green tea? At Steepers, a tiny shop tucked into downtown Campbell, you’re going to have to be a little more specific. Are you seeking Mountain Dragon Green or Okazaki Mint Green? Hojicha or Sencha? Spring Snail or Furry Peak? White Monkey Paw or Pin Lin Gunpowder?
Though the space might be small, hundreds of glass jars line its walls. Part of the experience is uncapping at least two dozen of these for a quick whiff, before then choosing your culinary adventure. And if one cup isn’t enough, enjoy a tea tasting (we recommend 5 Shades of Grey which explores Earl Grey in its many forms). Also make a point to converse with the knowledgeable owner. She’ll explain the health benefits of oolong and point out the blooming teas (leafy balls that unfurl into flowers as soon as they hit hot water).
Steepers// 346 E Campbell Ave, Campbell; 408.866.4282
Although Cafe Venetia serves coffee alongside their tea, their presentation is too pleasing to pass over. Your transparent teapot allows you to watch the flurry of loose-leaf flowers and leaves within as the liquid darkens and the flavor deepens. You’ll also receive a wooden tray, a teacup with a gondolier and his boat rowing along its china surface and a small silver strainer (because no one wants to take a sip from their cup — only to find themselves chewing on leaves).
Decorated with cheery yellow lights and burgundy chairs, Cafe Venetia radiates a welcoming warmth. Large pictures along its walls capture the lure of Venetian canals and bridges, making this the ideal locale for a little day dreaming.
Cafe Venetia// 419 University Avenue, Palo Alto; 650.323.3600
This cozy space, housed within the Breathe Together Yoga studio, embraces wellness (body and mind). Pre-order your drink and they’ll ensure your cup is steaming and waiting for you as soon as you exit your Vinyasa class, all stretched out and serene. But if you’re not a yogi, you can still bask in the peaceful spirit of the place with five Buddha statues tucked into wall niches and strategically placed inspirational words. So flip through a book on meditation, browse their selection of butter-soft leggings — then curl up in a squishy chair to let your muscles unwind and your stress unravel.
Mandala Tea House// 14107 Winchester Blvd H, Los Gatos; 408.370.9642
Tea Time in Palo Alto is a mainstay Mid-Peninsula mecca steeped in tea mastery: tea pots, tea classes, tea rooms and oh-so-much tea to drink. A sister site to Lisa’s Tea Treasure in Los Altos, Tea Time really is a bit of everything for everyone.
Oddly enough, it’s the food at Tea Time that always draws us back. From the savory sandwiches (hi there, shrimp & avocado) to the delicious desserts (mini-eclairs), all the eats we’ve had there have been great (there’s even a vegan-themed offering).
Of course, if you find yourself transcending beyond tea noob, take Tea Time up on one of their close-knit classes to learn the finer nuances of tea and how to pair it with different foods.
Tea Time// 542 Ramona St, Palo Alto; 650.328.2877
Up in the northern reaches of the 6–5–0 area code, Leland Tea Company offers a low-key environment to complement its high-end tea selection. The interior is adorned with some great, Gatsby-like paintings that still work toward a classic tea house vibe without being overly…frilly. Browse through their Loose Leaf Tea Bar (we’re all about the Billie Holiday tea or the Charleston Chai…just because) and then find a spot on their very airy, gazebo-esque patio for some outdoor afternoon eats of brie sandwiches and house-made scones.
In keeping with the easy atmosphere, Leland offers some of the best-priced tea service that we’ve encountered in the Bay. So make the trip and enjoy the sip.
Leland Tea Company// 1223 Donnelly Ave, Burlingame; 650.558.8515
You may have noticed that we’ve kept boba tea places off of this list, but Ten Ren so deftly straddles the line between classic tea and new school bubble mania that we thought it was well worth the nod. Head in for expertly brewed tea on the spot or loose-leaves to-go. For a profound experience, consider learning about 功夫(gong fu) during your visit. Often translated as “kung fu,” the term applies not only to martial arts, but also to the rituals of brewing and presenting tea. For decades, Ten Ren Tea has preserved the art and education of traditional Chinese tea culture, then brought it to a contemporary audience. To this end, they even established a tea institute in Taiwan.
Like its bubble tea brethren, Ten Ren’s iced offerings include beverages like jasmine milk green tea with aloe and taro milk tea with grass jelly. But unlike many boba places, they won’t fill your cup with cheap powders. A word to the wise: don’t throw a cold-shoulder to Ten Ren’s hot drinks. You’ll seriously be missing out.
Ten Ren Tea// 10881 N Wolfe Road, Cupertino; 408.873.2038
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