Tea is the latest luxury libation. Like wine, craft beer or fine spirits, it’s being enjoyed in a wide variety of ways. Bonus: Calorie- and hangover-free, tea is also the ideal beverage for business gatherings.
At the posh new steakhouse Baltaire in the tony Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, you can spot celebs like Matt Damon and Bruce Willis. Just as impressive a sight is the tableside matcha service, where a server wheels over a cart and whisks the green tea powder into beautiful frothiness. The amenity was created by Steve Schwartz, founder and master blender for LA’s Art of Tea, an artisanal tea purveyor. “Guests are enjoying it any point during a meal, including the beginning,” Schwartz says. “You wrap your hands around the warm bowl and have this wonderful elevating experience.”
Tea isn’t just for two these days. Schwartz has hosted group blending sessions at the Art of Tea headquarters in Monterey Park, with participants taking home their customized mix of whole leaf tea in a small drawstring bag. He’s also led workshops at The Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, exploring the history. Schwartz takes participants into the museum’s garden where some varieties of the flowering tea plant, camellia sinensis, are grown, and then on to drying, blending and tasting their own signature tea.
The Four Seasons Hotel Westlake Village offers luxury tea line Tease Tea and works with the line’s founder and certified tea sommelier, Sheena Brady, to set up tea tastings for groups. This can be arranged as a meeting break or as part of a larger culinary program with cooking lessons and nutritional lectures. Group tea tastings are also being offered at the American Tea room, a 5,600-square-foot tea lounge that just opened in downtown Los Angeles. (A new branch of American Tea Room has also opened in Newport Beach.) Those tastings can conclude with a stop at the Tea Zone, an interactive computer system that allows guests to find a tea that fits flavor preferences and personality from the hundreds of teas offered. Recently, around 20 executives from PepsiCo took an hour-long class, enjoying nibbles while they were tutored in the nuances of tea.
Taste of Tea is located in Healdsburg, right in the epicenter of Sonoma wine country. And with the mantra of “stay loose” (a reference, of course, to loose leaf tea), owners Donna and Nez Tokugawa are offering visitors the kind of convivial experience they’d enjoy in nearby wine tasting rooms. While traditional tea service is offered, visitors are encouraged to watch what the Tokugawas call the “art and science” of tea being prepared at the bar and then enjoy their beverages on the sofa, in the lounge area, or on the front patio. Complementing the Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese and artisan tea blends is a menu, which changes seasonally, of small bites, including green-tea soba noodle salad, salmon seasoned with green tea, matcha ice cream and Japanese green tea roll cake. Small groups can retreat to the Relaxation Lounge, where a “docent-guided tea tasting” is followed by a soothing tea foot soak, a teainfused facial mask or an herbal tea neck wrap.
The traditional tea is a grand tradition, but one that can seem a little stodgy. The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach has reinvented this time-honored ritual with Tea Moderno. The teas—favorites like jasmine pearl, chamomile, earl grey and English breakfast—are steeped in tea presses instead of teapots. And instead of porcelain cups and fussy saucers, the teas are poured into double-walled Bodum glasses, which keep the potion at a perfect temperature. The savory bites have an Italian accent rather than an English one. They include open-faced sandwiches of cured salmon and grapes; yellow beets with goat cheese and manchego cheese and lemon preserves. Sweets include Grand Mariner cream puffs, éclair macaroons, chocolate tarts and pistachio madeleines. Served in the resort’s Great Room Social Lounge, which offers ocean and sunset views, Tea Moderno also offers a menu of tea cocktails, such as Pear and Pearl, jasmine tea, vodka, Prosecco and lemon oil and The Lady’s Garden, an aromatic mix of earl grey tea, gin, cucumber, elderflower cordial, fresh mint and champagne.
“Tea Moderno is a rearchitecture of something that’s been around for 300 years,” says Giuseppe Lama, the resort’s managing director. “From the tea cup, which is layered, to the vertical trays that hold the food, the presentation is very architectural.” Lama says the new take on tea is winning converts among younger visitors and men. One caveat to both newcomers and tea purists: Extended pinkies strongly discouraged.