Tea is January’s answer to December’s excess, a palliative for whatever end-of-year crumbs are best swept away. A diligent tea bag can do the job quickly, but not with the same dignity as tea leaves left to mingle freely. Until now, whatever was available from your favorite tea shop was good enough. Lately, however, a handful of tea purveyors have gone a step further by creating custom loose-leaf mixes for baristas, artisan retailers, and even the occasional cultural institution.
“The current movement is toward anything truly different in specialty loose-leaf blends,” says Shamir Merino, operations manager for Monterey Park’s Art of Tea. The company’s everyday blends—like a guava-scented South African rooibos—already appear on menus at places like Huckleberry and the Sycamore Kitchen. But Merino says more restaurants are beginning to follow the lead of Caffe Luxxe, which recently enlisted Art of Tea to make a caramelized pear rooibos infusion and chai varieties that could stand up to the shop’s espresso offerings. “The most challenging thing is mimicking a scent,” says Merino, which the company was asked to do by Santa Monica’s Shutters on the Beach. “They gave us their shampoo.”
Two years ago Tek Mehreteab of Chado Tea Room fielded an unusual request from Little Tokyo’s Japanese American National Museum, where Chado has an outpost. Museum store manager Maria Kwong envisioned a “generational” series of teas modeled after the character traits believed to embody each generation of Japanese Americans. For her own “Sansei” (third generation) blend, Kwong requested a “classic but also slightly bitter” green tea like sencha. Mehreteab added dried cherries to balance the mix. “The tea really needed sweetening,” says Kwong.
David Barenholtz, co-owner of the American Tea Room in Beverly Hills, has launched a line of custom loose-leaf tributes to his favorite jams from Silver Lake’s Valerie Confections. His “Black & Blue” blend is a blueberry, blackberry, and black tea homage to Valerie Gordon’s berry jam of the same name. It’s a reciprocal appreciation: Gordon now carries his teas in her shop and is experimenting with tea-infused chocolates.
Where to Get It:
American Tea Room, 401 N. Canon Dr., Beverly Hills, 310-271-7922
Art of Tea
Chado Tea Room, 369 E. 1st St., Little Tokyo, 213-258-2531