As far as Fourthmeals go, Taco Bell’s got nothin’ on tea. Case in point — “tea” is a perfect anagram of “eat.” Need further evidence? Check out Boston’s distinctive ways to experience tea, which at times goes hand in hand with some very splendid and surprising happenings of eat.
WHITTARD OF CHELSEA
Leave it to the Brits
First seen last spring on Newbury Street, this week Whittard of Chelsea launched an additional Faneuil Hall location not too far from the original site of the Boston Tea Party. This British powerhouse of tea retail already has over 120 locations in the UK, and handpicked Boston (like noodle bar Wagamama) as its portal into the thirsty US market. If you can’t choose from the 75 different teas that they regularly stock, take advantage of the in-store tastings. Otherwise, try your hand at creating your own special blend of tea at their Blending Bar, with elements like fragrant lemongrass, rose petals, cinnamon bark and flavored oils which you are encouraged to mix — like a martini — in a cocktail shaker.
[170 Newbury St., Boston. 617.536.5200. 1 Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Boston. 617.725.0111. Tasting every Saturday. 1pm-5pm/free. whittard.co.uk]
A crash course on Ceylon’s finest
Beware: There’s a lot of misinformation out there about tea. For example, did you know that orange pekoe has nothing to do with the citrus fruit? It’s the term used in grading black teas, so you can stop telling yourself that the orange flavor in your brewed Lipton must just be very subtle. That’s one of many things you’ll learn during Timeless Tea’s monthly tea seminar. Conducted by mother and son Haleema and Afkhan Salie, who are both expertly certified by the Specialty Tea Institute of America, the two-hour seminar focuses exclusively on promoting high grade Sri Lankan loose leaf teas. The Salies deploy a number of different tactics to that end, from slideshows of the tea harvesting process, to taste tests conducted with a professional cupping set — even a persuasive video about the supremacy of Sri Lankan teas. Even if you don’t understand a word of what the Salies are saying about “character of the crop,” or when they refer to the tea as the “liquor,” you will be drawn to their genuine enthusiasm and passion for tea. After processing so much enlightening information, you’ll welcome sipping a warm cup alongside an elegant plate of tea sandwiches made by Haleema, who just completed the pastry program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. But the secret showstopper on the table was the fish cutlet that — homemade with tuna, potato, onion and Sri Lankan spices — paired well with the entire experience.
[85 Newbury St., 2nd Fl., Boston. 617.236.5772. Tea tasting seminar 2nd Sunday of each month. 2pm-4pm/$38. timelessteas.com]
KAJI ASO STUDIO
Sipping is so very zen
The calligraphy that hangs right outside of Boston’s first Japanese tea house at Kaji Aso Studios is loosely translated to mean “One meeting, a lifetime of friendship.” Indeed, if you feel like surrendering yourself to the unforgettable experience of a Japanese tea ceremony, you will be an active participant in one of the most sacred and ancient rituals in Japanese culture. Be sure to wear matching socks because you’ll find yourself crawling silently on your knees into the tea room where you will be guided through the ceremony by the kimono clad teamaster, Kate Finnegan. The extra-chewy mochi and sweet bean cakes served with the tea will help you relax into the gentle pace of the ceremony. I imagine few things are more humbling than sipping from communal cups of matcha green tea planted in Kyoto at the same time that Zen Buddhism was taking root there. Rumor has it that one particular 1300 year old cup, decorated in a famous oilspot star glaze, has a doppelganger that was once spotted in a glass case and presided over by security guards at Harvard’s Sackler Museum. I have looked for the cup in the museum, but its presence proves elusive.
[40 Saint Stephen St., Boston. 617.247.1719. Japanese tea ceremony every Sunday. 4pm-6pm/$30. kajiasostudio.com]
All that glitters is Gold
After drinking six different cups of tea, I still felt like a lightweight under the watchful eyes of Cynthia Gold, tea sommelier at the Park Plaza Hotel’s Swans Café. Her endless knowledge of tea, combined with the hotel’s elegant old-world atmosphere and silver towers of tiny sandwiches transformed an ordinary afternoon into a celebratory occasion. What were we celebrating? Tea, tea and more tea! Gold will tailor your tasting to your preferences in teas, so you can relax into the ornately upholstered booths and listen to silent movie tunes that mysteriously emanate from the ghostly grand piano. All of the teas were impeccable, especially the Arya Estate Ruby Darjeeling. Between your cups, dive into decadent tea sandwiches served on perfectly thin slices of bread and brushed with olive oil. Toppings include an assortment of lobster salad, tea-cured salmon, traditional cucumber and tea-smoked pork. Be sure to take home your leftovers, which will arrive back at your table foil-wrapped into a delightful swan sculpture.
[50 Park Plaza, Boston. 617.654.1906. Afternoon tea daily. 3pm-5pm/$29.50. bostonparkplaza.com/swanscafe.shtml]