Care for a cuppa tea?
Lipton might never forgive us for saying it, but the American tea market is pathetic. For years, the only options were Lipton or Celestial Seasonings. Now of course, the market is growing. The artisan coffee shops are doing their part to offer a wider variety of teas, and many health-conscious people are ditching coffee for tea. But still, let's be honest, America doesn't know jack about the leafy brews.
That's why Jackie James, the owner of London Tea Room (1520 Washington Avenue; 314-241-6556), opened shop. Well, sort of. James, a native of jolly old London, opened the store after moving to the States and quickly becoming appalled by our tea market. The tea room offers dozens of teas: blends, whites, blacks, green, rooibos and herbals (and the latter isn't technically tea. Who knew?) But James also offers tea cuppings -- classes where newcomers to the world of tea can steep themselves in tea trivia and sample some of what the tea room has to offer. And today is one of those days. So pick up that tiny teacup and get sampling.
It might seem like there's not too much to making and enjoying tea. You boil water, steep and presto -- tea. At least, that's what we thought.
But James knows this is far from true. Each variety of tea comes with its own set of instructions: different water temperatures for steeping, different steeping times, different flavors and caffeine levels. In fact, the only thing each tea variety has in common is that they all come from the same plant: the Camellia sinensis plant.
"The main reason green, white and black teas come out differently is the manufacturing of each," James says.
She also informed us that herbal teas are not in fact teas, they're plants. So that peppermint tea we're addicted to is not, in fact, tea. It's just peppermint leaves. And the rooibos tea is an imposter as well. Turns out rooibos is actually an African bush. Listening to James spew her vast knowledge of tea, one thing was clear: The complexity of tea is often underestimated.
"It's really a lot like wine or coffee." James says. There are different types of each, different food pairings and, yes, there are tastings.
James hopes that with the cupping classes, people will not only learn more about tea, but will become ardent fans of the stuff. Which, in turn, she hopes will spur more growth within the tea market. So come on, America, let's get educated and ditch that third cup of coffee in exchange for an afternoon teatime.
The tasting starts at 7 p.m. and is $10 a person. Call 314-241-6556 for reservations.
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