Tea fosters friendships at the Camellia Tea Room in Benicia, Calif.
Maryellen Hayes enjoys her java. She drinks it black for a morning jolt. But come afternoon, when her day downshifts to a slower rhythm, coffee leaves her cold. "I prefer a pot of Darjeeling," Hayes says. "Coffee is so, well, caffeinated. Tea is a more serene experience."
As co-owner of the Camellia Tea Room in Benicia, Calif., Hayes helps cultivate that mood in a refurbished Victorian building outfitted with lace curtains and flower-patterned teapots. A decade ago, when she opened the business with her daughter, tea awareness had barely begun to bud. Now her patrons range from tattooed teens to construction workers who sip sencha, their hard hats tucked beneath their arms.
With a history that reaches back 5,000 years, tea drinking hardly qualifies as something new. But it’s clearly hot. Camellia (707-746-5293, www.camelliatearoom.com.) is one of dozens of teahouses that have sprung up around the West, including tranquil Teánce (510-524-1696, www.teance.com) in Berkeley, Calif. San Francisco’s Samovar Tea Lounge (415-626-4700, www.samovartea.com) is to local tea enthusiasts what a tasting bar is to wine lovers: a place to sip and explore—floral oolongs, earthy pu-ehrs, and grassy green teas.
Tea places vary, too. The most refined branch of Portland’s Tao of Tea (503-736-0198, www.taooftea.com.) sits inside the city’s Chinese gardens; only teas from China are offered, along with such snacks as noodle bowls and moon cakes. HighSocieTea (775-329-8327) in Reno takes its cues from across the Atlantic, serving tea and scones in an antique-bedecked cottage with the air of an English library.
For all the pleasures of a proper pot, many drinkers find they most enjoy the chance for quiet reflection, peaceful ritual, and genial tête-à-têtes with friends. It seems only fitting that every New Year’s Eve, Samovar Tea Lounge throws a party billed as a "celebration of the human heart." Guests are treated to a gourmet five-course meal that centers, naturally, on flights of tea.
Photography by Melissa Barnes
This article was first published in January 2006. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.