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Coffee. Seems to be the thing. Everyone is always talking about “having a cup of coffee” or “don’t talk to me until I had my coffee” or “this place makes the best or worst coffee”. There are so many machines and methods and brews and blends and roasts and contraptions. I see coffee shops, coffee cocktails, coffee flavored desserts, coffee breaks. Even Spotify has playlists to listen to when…drinking coffee!

That’s not me. Never has been and I doubt it ever will be. I am a tea drinker. I wish the United States had a stronger tea culture than it does. When I lived in Europe, tea houses and tea culture were much more prominent. I like tea both hot and cold although I drink much more cold tea than I do hot tea. Tea for me is more about the culture and the experience than the actual tea.

Tea houses are so warm and welcoming. They make me want to curl up with a book and while away the afternoon. Some of the most enjoyable tea houses I’ve been to have been Dobrá Tea in Asheville, NC where the menu came in a leather bound book listing dozens and dozens AND DOZENS of teas to choose from. Lake Missoula Tea Company in Missoula, Montana where I was introduced to pu’er tea which is a tea dried and fermented inside bamboo. And the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, Colorado where I got to experience a little insight into Tajikistan.

However, one of the best tea houses I’ve ever been to is found in the small town of Mělník. Twenty years ago when I lived in the Czech Republic my friend Maruška invited me to her home town of Mělník located about an hour north of Prague. Situated at the confluence of the Vltava and Elbe rivers, Mělník is a picturesque Bohemian town. She took me to a tea house built inside an old tower called Kavárna ve Věži. We made our way up the staircase to the upper floor where you can find a table near the railing and look down to the floor below. The best part is how you order your tea. You note down what you want on a piece of paper then you put the paper on a dumbwaiter tray and ring the bell provided. A few moments later the tray is pulled down the ropes to the bottom floor where your order is filled. Once ready, they pull the ropes and the pulley sends the tray back up to you. After perusing the lengthy menu we settled on a pot of Indian Summer. It was an exquisite blend of fruity and floral.

Tea service rocks. There is something magical about a huge pot of tea accompanied by an étagère overflowing with finger sandwiches, scones, petit fours, jam and clotted cream. I think I even sit up a little straighter when it is presented on the table. My first experience ordering tea service was in London in 2014 at the lounge in the Montcalm London Hotel. Afternoon tea or “High Tea” in England is such a revered tradition that needs to find a bigger home in the USA! My 2nd experience was at Lady Mendl’s in Manhattan in 2019. My mother and I enjoyed our afternoon nestled in the parlor of a beautiful old brownstone. My most recent experience was at Florrie Kayes Tea Room in Carmel, NY just a few weeks ago. While visiting my parents we serendipitously stumbled upon a nearby café. Not only was I surprised to find the café but I was even more surprised when my very devout coffee drinking father ordered tea as well!

While most people I know are coffee drinkers or what some may view as coffee addicts I do have one friend who is a big tea drinker. I can always count on Katie to detour into a tea house or a tea shop and spend time nosing and sampling. I love that she even hung a small chalkboard on her kitchen wall where she writes the teas she has in stock. It’s like her own little at home café!

Whether it is black, white, rooibos, green, oolong or herbal there is rarely a cup of tea that I don’t like. Except maybe for the one that smelled like dirty socks!

Afternoon Tea at the Hotel Montcalm London
Afternoon Tea at Lady Mendl in Manhattan
Afternoon Tea at Florrie Kayes Tea Room in Carmel, NY
Intricately tiled ceiling at the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, Colorado
Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder, Colorado
Lake Missoula Tea Company in Missoula, Montana
Pu’er Tea
Chai Tea break on West Broadway in Manhattan
Gong Fu Tea in Des Moines, Iowa
Gong Fu Tea in Des Moines, Iowa
Dobrá Tea in Asheville, North Carolina
The Hawthorn Tree in Cheyenne, Wyoming
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