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Tea service in restaurants


jsmeeker
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I'm pretty new to the world of drinking quality hot tea. Until very recently, all of my experience has been at home. In restaurants, the only tea I was ordering was iced tea.

I recently returned from Las Vegas where I obviously had a large number of meals in restaurants. While there, I actually ordered tea once for myself and also observed what happened when others at the table ordered tea. What I experienced seems to indicate that tea as a beverage is done as an afterthought. Outside of the dim sum place we went to, it was always done with a pot of hot water and a teabag. Sure, it may have been a good tea bag, but it was still a tea bag. And you were on your own to actually brew it.

Is there any hope out there? Any growing trend going on that hasn't made it to Las Vegas where tea service in restaurants is given a bit more thought. I suppose there are some places there doing it well, but I wasn't at them.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Yes, it is a trend that is growing a little faster each year, but in no sense universal. There are tea sommliers and consultants. Here in Texas, eG member Kyle Stewart consults with and supplies equipment and training to a number of fine restaurants: Sharon Hage's York Street, Stephan Pyles, 1717 at the Dallas Museum of Art, Las Brisas, The Four Seasons and others. On the west coast there's Chez Panisse, and it's done well in a few places in NYC and London (the Fat Duck, I believe).

I am also curious about other cities with restaurants that take their tea service seriously.

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I think its taken seriously mostly in the high end places, where a member of staff can be stationed in the caferterie or similar, their main responsibility being the teas and coffees. It depends of staffing levels and pricing, because once you get a table ordering 5 different types of tea (which all take different times to brew, different amount of leaves etc...) it gets a bit complicated.

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On the way up north this year I stopped to have a bite of lunch in a place called Mar, Ontario. Blink and you'll miss it. Gas station, post office, convenience store all in one - I think that is the town. I had stopped there once before to get some gas, and when I went in to pay the smell of bacon from their little hole in the wall lunch counter/restaurant was exquisite and I swore that if I was ever passing that way at meal time I'd stop.

I had a wonderful bacon, tomato and cheese sandwich - and she asked if I wanted tea. Being accustomed to the usual hot water and tea bag on the side in restaurants - I was hesitant - but when she saw me hesitate she said "don't worry we make it properly" and brought me out my own pot, boiling water already steeping with the bags. You sure don't see that often outside of europe.

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brought me out my own pot, boiling water already steeping with the bags.

So it was still a tea bag? They just put in the water for you? How is that really any different?

Decent tea (even though in a tea bag) and not sitting beside the lukewarm water in a cup the way most restaurants make it these days. A proper pot of tea to make a proper cuppa.

Edited by Kerry Beal (log)
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brought me out my own pot, boiling water already steeping with the bags.

So it was still a tea bag? They just put in the water for you? How is that really any different?

Decent tea (even though in a tea bag) and not sitting beside the lukewarm water in a cup the way most restaurants make it these days. A proper pot of tea to make a proper cuppa.

Tim, unfortunately many - if not most - North American restaurants provide a tea bag. :angry: ONE tea bag. The water is often barely warm, no where near boiling. If you are offered a refill, it's just more of that 'bathwater.' This makes for some very bad tea.

Kerry, it sounds like you got some better-than-average restaurant tea. I wouldn't stretch to calling it proper, though :wink: . That requires loose leaf tea, IMO.

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Baroness,

How about CTC, or CTC+ Leaf in a pot? Would that pass your test? Leaf only may get pretty expensive [and most Americans might like a little more punch in their liquor] for a mid-price or lower end place.

I found a nice tea pot design, 20 oz. that has a removable infusion cone built into it, around $17-20, still pretty high for a family restaurant in the mid-price range for upstate NY..

I have been involved with such a place and you would be amazed at what customers steal. We used to have fresh-made fruit pies [from scratch, excellent] sitting out in a nice display for people to help themselves. Folks would make off with pies. One woman even stuffed a pie into her handbag. You just look on aghast!

Dry items like salt shakers, ashtrays etc, anything even a bit nice walk off. So a nice teapot will do too, and rich people have the same itchy fingers as the rest. Especially when things are very busy, when one is getting slammed. There is no sense in making a scene. It just upsets the other customers, who then do not come back.

I would love to offer a tea menu and even a tea brunch & high tea with a tea service, but given both the quality of help one is forced to fall back on [at any price] and a certain percentage of people who traipse in, management problems begin to rise exponentially. There are very few places now that can count on $40-45/head, which would be the minimum where the careful service required even begins to break even with a limited choice of leaf & blends. Or, just a tea room, with at least $25-30/head andvery limited food, if there is to be sit-down facilities and a large tea selection.

The cost of compliance with all the requirements for handicapped facilities and every other regulatory minutiae of a sit-down place makes full service a very expensive proposition. Outside NYC, or big cities, labor is very difficult to find & keep, but so is the customer base.

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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While Kerry's example was not in the finer dining range Jeff was referring to, for a "little hole in the wall lunch counter/restaurant" in a "gas station, post office, convenience store all in one", this is much better than average tea service.

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  • 3 months later...

I am happy when after a nice meal I at least have a few nice teas to choose from. The teas don't need to be loose but I would like at least to have options other than the usual commercial bagged teas.

My first experience with good tea in a restaurant was at Sanford's in Miluakee. I don't recall every detail but I do remember that the teas that they offered were very nice. The tea may have been in bags that they put together or from a local tea shop that put the bags together. The tea was served with a proper pot of hot water. I think my dinner there several years ago was the first time I had chrysanthemum tea.

I was also pleased with the tea service at Alinea though again I can't recall the specifics.

I have taken to carrying my own tea with me. I haven't quite figured out the way to best handle having my own tea in a restaurant. So far, I've just asked for tea and then used my own tea bag. I don't mind paying for the tea. I figure it is polite to do so since I am still using there service. But, I have wondered what I would do if I was at a restaurant that charged 3 -5 dollars for mediocre tea. Do I really want to pay 5 dollars just for their set-up?

Actually, now that I think about it the tea I had at Sanford's was peony not chrysanthemum.

Edited by LuckyGirl (log)
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  • 1 month later...

Last night, I had what I thought was a pretty good tea experience at a restaurant. I had dinner at Charlie Palmer at the Joule Hotel in Dallas. While looking at the dessert menu, they had tea listed at the top of the beverages page on the dessert menu. The note said the teas came from the Cultured Cup, the well respected tea shop in Dallas. I asked my server what they had. He brought out a nice wooden box. Upon opening, there were eight (or was it ten?) small jars filled with loose tea. The inside lid detailed what was there. A few black teas, some oolongs, some whites, a flavored tea or two. I guess there were some herb teas in there too. Each jar had a screw top lid, allowing me to open it up and take a smell. I usually don't like flavored teas (except certain types for iced tea), but their "Red Joule" seemed pretty interesting to me. I believe it's a custom blend made up for the restaurant. So, that's what I ordered.

Not too long after, a runner brought out my cup and saucer. Then, they brought the tea in one of those small cast iron pots. I picked up the lid and sure enough, loose tea was in there. The teapot had an infuser basket in there to hold the leaves. I let it sit for a minute or two, then poured a bit out into my cup. Took a sip. Seemed like it was ready. So, I poured a full cup. I didn't add anything to this (they did bring a carrier with the typical line up of sugars and sugar substitutes) Really nice. Had a bit of red fruit flavor to it.

I don't really ever order tea in a restaurant, but this was the best tea service I've had. Could it be improved? Sure. When the tea pot was brought out, I had no idea how long it had been steeping before it hit the table. 30 seconds? 4 minutes? Didn't really know. Ideally, they would actually measure out the tea and add water at proper temp right there at the table. And a timer set to the proper steeping time. Maybe that's a bit too much? I dunno. Still, I was happy to see they treated the tea selection with some care.

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Except in asian restaurants, I generally only order herbal teas that I know are forgiving about steeping conditions. Even in asian restaurants, the tea making is pretty haphazard. And wherever possible, I always ask them for the tea on the side, which generally puzzles the staff no end, but lets me control the steeping.

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  • 2 weeks later...

One of my pet peeves is restaurant tea service, usually never fails to disappoint. Le Bernadin is an exception though, but then again, they do everything right...

I also get to visit Harney's store and tearoom in Millerton, NY regularly, they are trying to promote proper service in restaurants that use their teas. They have a tasting room with hundreds of teas.

My problem lies in reconciling my gross habits with my net income.

- Errol Flynn

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Baroness,

How about CTC, or CTC+ Leaf in a pot? Would that pass your test? Leaf only may get pretty expensive [and most Americans might like a little more punch in their liquor] for a mid-price or lower end place.

I found a nice tea pot design, 20 oz. that has a removable infusion cone built into it, around $17-20, still pretty high for a family restaurant in the mid-price range for upstate NY..

I have been involved with such a place and you would be amazed at what customers steal. We used to have fresh-made fruit pies [from scratch, excellent] sitting out in a nice display for people to help themselves. Folks would make off with pies. One woman even stuffed a pie into her handbag. You just look on aghast!

Dry items like salt shakers, ashtrays etc, anything even a bit nice walk off. So a nice teapot will do too, and rich people have the same itchy fingers as the rest. Especially when things are very busy, when one is getting slammed. There is no sense in making a scene. It just upsets the other customers, who then do not come back.

I would love to offer a tea menu and even a tea brunch & high tea with a tea service, but given both the quality of help one is forced to fall back on [at any price] and a certain percentage of people who traipse in, management problems begin to rise exponentially. There are very few places now that can count on $40-45/head, which would be the minimum where the careful service required even begins to break even with a limited choice of leaf & blends. Or, just a tea room, with at least $25-30/head andvery limited food, if there is to be sit-down facilities and a large tea selection.

The cost of compliance with all the requirements for handicapped facilities and every other regulatory minutiae of a sit-down place makes full service a very expensive proposition. Outside NYC, or big cities, labor is very difficult to find & keep, but so is the customer base.

Now here is an owner/operator I can identify with!!!!!

What we have started to do last year is to offer a "high tea" (or as I am informed it is actually a "low tea" as high tea was the workman's version). As I am charging CDN $25 pp I can afford to go "out" a bit. Incuded in the price is, of course a choice of Earl grey (bags) hot chocolate (real-with couverture and milk) espresso drinks OR Chinese loose leaf tea. We found a 16 oz chinese tea pot that looks quite presentable with it's own china strainer built into the lid.

Those who love good tea will choose this option.

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