Maybe you’re thinking about making the switch from coffee to tea. Maybe you’ve read all those articles about how green tea is good for you. Or maybe you think tea is just hot flavored water but are willing to be convinced otherwise. Instead of just cracking open a stale box of Lipton and then giving up, hit one of these tea houses, where you can get tea tutorials, try a couple of blends, and (hopefully) go home with something you love.
Bellocq (Brooklyn, NY)
Bellocq brands its shop as an “atelier.” Their teas, as advertised, are as immaculately crafted as French perfumes, and an impossibly chic employee will deign to open the bright yellow vats and let you sniff the different blends. Great starting places are White Wolf, a pitch-perfect white tea, and the mildly floral National Parks (appropriate, as it’s the 100th anniversary of the National Parks System).
American Tea Room (Los Angeles, CA)
If you’re new to tea, Downtown LA’s cavernous American Tea Room is the place for you. The cafe’s large interactive wall monitor lets you browse through flavors, styles of tea, and countries in order to choose the perfect blend (and get a mini tea tutorial), whether it’s a lavender-infused tisane from the south of France or a rich chai from India. Pair your brew with Earl Grey eclairs or Matcha-dusted brownies.
Tea Gschwender (Chicago, IL)
Most people think of Britain or China, not Germany, when they think of fine tea. But German-founded chain Tea Gschwender changed that when it settled in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood in 2005. The store carries some 250 high-end blends, which its owner calls “Porsche quality.” Check out some of their harder-to-find teas, like a health-focused trio matched to your Ayurvedic type.
Steven Smith Teamaker (Portland, OR)
If you don’t know Steven Smith’s name, you probably know his creations—the master brewer developed the Tazo brand that was later purchased by Starbucks. But Smith wasn’t content to rest on his tea laurels. He has two tasting rooms in Portland, the larger of which has enough space to show guests the tea-brewing process and the “tea lab” where new flavors are born.
Song Tea & Ceramics (San Francisco, CA)
Half the fun of tea is the accessories, which San Francisco’s Song Tea & Ceramics understands better than nearly anyone. The shop (which owner Peter Luong prefers to call a “tea project”), could easily be mistaken for an art gallery, with elegant Taiwanese ceramic cups neatly lining the wall. If you’re not in the mood to drop $400 on a single bowl, come in to sample a traditional oolong or red (what Westerners know as black) tea as lovingly prepared as any pour-over.
Perennial Tea Room (Seattle, WA)
Tucked amid the chaos at Seattle’s Pike Place Market is this quiet sliver of a tea shop. The volume of teas can feel overwhelmingly encyclopedic at times, so ask questions and try the day’s sample. There’s a wide range here, from sweet blends better suited for iced drinks (lime tea, anyone?), to the traditional Chinese and Japanese styles, plus a wide range of giftable tea infusers—get the one shaped like a robot.
High Garden Tea (Nashville, TN)
Who said Southerners only like their tea sickeningly sweet? East Nashville’s High Garden Tea has become a destination not only for high-quality Asian teas (China’s white cloud and iron goddess; Japanese genmaicha) but for herbs and tinctures. Between the jars full of milk thistle and the lotus flower wall art, you might think you’ve stepped into the lab of a very stylish mad scientist.