I think most tea lovers (at least the geeky ones) will agree with me that restaurants, as a whole, are a terrible place to have tea. The standard seems to be a thick mug with a teabag in it, too-cool water, and no idea how long it’s been steeping when it comes to the table or where the teabag came from.
For the last several months, my partner and I have been “eating down the street”–that is, each Friday we go out to dinner at the next neighborhood, locally-owned restaurant down the street. Not only is it a nice break from having to do the dishes but it also started as a way to help the local economy by spending money at places owned by our neighbors. Last night, though, it struck me that I should talk about the tea service at these places–or, as my partner put it, “a very highly specialized subset of restaurant reviews.”
So I start with last night’s experience at Carmelita, a trendy, high-end vegetarian restaurant. The first thing I noticed (about the tea, at least) was the menu. It was better than most in that it gave both the brand/vendor name–Barnes & Watson Fine Teas–and specifically which teas/flavors they carried as well as a brief description of each tea. Full disclosure: I have a business relationship with Barnes & Watson, though I’m not receiving anything for this mention of them, nor anything special from Carmelita.
I ordered the Genmaicha (“Japanese Sencha green tea and toasted rice”) and my partner ordered the Tahitian Blend Iced Tea (“black tea blend, tropical fruit flavor and citrus”). The hot tea came as loose tea leaf in a French press and our server informed me that it had been steeping for about one minute so that I could gauge how long to continue steeping. (I got distracted with a discussion of the menu, though, so I let it steep too long anyway and didn’t really notice the water temperature…but the fact that I was given the time it had been in the water already without having to ask earns lots of points.)
The iced tea came as you might expect, in a tall glass with ice and a straw, a slice of lemon on the side. In addition, in another nice touch, there was a small creamer-style pitcher of simple syrup rather than the usual box of sugar packets. As my partner pointed out, it made it much easier to sweeten the iced tea without constant stirring to dissolve solid sugar.
As I said, I let my Genmaicha brew too long (my own fault) so that wasn’t an ideal experience. The refill on the iced tea must have been from the bottom of the batch or something because after the glass was topped off it was a little too…something slightly unpleasant. Metallic-tasting, maybe? However, on the whole, Carmelita seemed to be getting it right in ways that most restaurants don’t–loose tea, important brewing information, simple syrup instead of dry sugar for an iced tea, and actually listing where the tea came from and the various flavors rather than just “Tea” on the menu. Oh, and the tea, both hot and iced, was $2 each.