Hot spots for tea
Shops offering a relaxing cup spring up around region
At The Tailored Tea, women sip honey chai and Earl Grey from delicate English china tea cups. They nibble on scones and dainty cucumber sandwiches amid the pleasant hum of intimate conversation and occasional bursts of jolly laughter.
“It’s kind of an escape from every day. That’s what I tried to create here,” says Annie Misir, who opened her Latham tea room last spring in a historic farmhouse at the edge of Albany International Airport.
On Park Avenue in downtown Mechanicvillle, at the Blu Tea Company, customers learn about all kinds of loose-leaf tea and how to prepare it. While Blu Tea is not a tea room, you are welcome to sit and relax with a freshly steeped cuppa and a handmade chocolate truffle.
Nellie Ackerman, who opened her shop in August, fervently believes in the power of tea.
“In this fast-paced crazy world, it brings people together,” she says. “Coffee is rush, rush, rush. Tea helps you stop; it takes you to a different place.”
In the Capital Region, there are now more than a dozen places devoted to the drinking or selling of tea, as our area joins the growing taste for tea across the nation.
According to the Tea Association of the USA, there are more than 4,000 specialty tea rooms and retail shops in big cities and small towns across America. Many upscale hotels offer a formal, English-style afternoon tea. Starbucks is opening its first tea-only cafe in Seattle.
In our region, Ballston Spa has been a hot spot for tea since 2004, when Wild Thyme Whole Food & Tea Co. started selling premium organic loose leaf, and The Whistling Kettle opened as our first tea lounge.
Soon after, tea was pouring in all kinds of places.
In Saratoga Springs, The Local Pub and Teahouse offers organic tea and tea sandwiches along with craft beers and traditional English and Irish foods. Two years ago, on Albany’s Lark Street, Lil’ Buddha Tea Company & Vegan Cafe started serving not only organic tea but organic, locally grown food. In Schoharie, there’s a tea room with a valley view at Wellington’s Herbs and Spices, a 45-acre certified organic farm.
Tea Time in the Capital Region
Tea rooms and places where you can sip a good cup of tea:
• Abigail’s Tea & Tiaras (tea parties for children ages 3 to 10), Ballston Spa
• Blu Tea Company, Mechanicville
• Brown House Inn (Victorian-themed tea events for adults and children), Amsterdam
• Elizabeth’s Table, Saratoga Springs
• Enchanté Whole Leaf Teas, Troy
• Lil’ Buddha Tea Company & Vegan Cafe, Albany
• Midtown Tap & Tea Room, Albany
• Skene Manor, Whitehall
• The Local Pub and Teahouse, Saratoga Springs
• The Tailored Tea, Latham
• The Whistling Kettle, Ballston Spa
• Wellington Herbs and Spices Inc., Schoharie
Places where you can buy tea:
• Blu Tea Company, Mechanicville
• Divintea, Schenectady (Union Avenue store and at Schenectady Greenmarket)
• SensibiliTeas, Glens Falls
• Teavana, Crossgates Mall, Albany
• The Whistling Kettle, Ballston Spa
• Wellington Herbs and Spices Inc. (at their Schoharie farm and at Schenectady Greenmarket)
• Wild Thyme Whole Food & Tea Co., Ballston Spa
Linda Smith, who runs Divintea, a Schenectady-based wholesale and retail tea business, with her husband, Cary Berliner, has been immersed in the world of tea for 30 years. She started Divintea in her home 16 years ago, and now blends, manufactures and ships the certified organic brand all over North America and the Caribbean.
In big cities, Smith says, the trend is to create a tea environment where people can relax and socialize.
“You can go in and have a little something to eat or just a pot of tea. You don’t have to spend a lot, you have options,” she says. “And pairing foods with tea is getting very popular.”
Media reports about tea’s health benefits are also boosting its popularity.
“People love teas because they are good for you,” she says.
“You’ve gotta love Dr. Oz. He’s gotten people to drink tea,” says Ackerman.
However, Ackerman and Smith both avoid dispensing medical advice and do not sell all of the herb teas that the TV physician recommends.
“I’m not a tea doctor,” says Ackerman.
Smith, who sells only “safe stuff,” sends people to Fallon Wellness Pharmacy in Latham and Saratoga Springs or to Wild Thyme in Ballston to consult with a certified herbalist.
At The Tailored Tea, Misir turns back the clock with furnishings from grandma’s parlor, like antique tables and china cabinets. She and her staff of servers and cooks wear crisp white aprons.
“We don’t use any paper. We use linen napkins. The china is all vintage or antique,” says Misir. “I hope people feel pampered.”
Comfort foods on the menu are made from scratch.
“Ham salad is very popular. Rice pudding,” she says.
Each day, there are two kinds of scones, one sweet and one savory. In the summer, lemon scones were flecked with rosemary snipped from the herb garden at the back door of the tea room.
Misir, who lives in Niskayuna, opened the tea room in April, two months before she retired as a Spanish teacher at Shaker High School, and she has been preparing food as a caterer for 10 years.
While her clientele at The Tailored Tea is predominantly female, Misir says tea drinking is not gender specific and has become hip for all age groups.
“I have men who come in who like tea. On weekends, we get a lot of couples and a younger group, in their 20s and 30s.”
In January, when the popular British television series “Downton Abbey” returns to PBS, she plans to bring in large-screen TVs for a viewing party.
“It’s always been a women’s thing to do. It’s our way to socialize,” says Smith. “We have a need to go somewhere where our partner doesn’t want to go. But there’s always plenty of men, too. We have a lot of male customers,” she says.
“Tea reaches everyone,” says Ackerman.
A Linton High School grad, Ackerman started her first tea business, Bon Ami, six years ago, doing home parties as a traveling tea room and tea gift shop.
She discovered tea and the fellowship of tea drinking several years ago after a friend invited her over for tea and conversation.
A whole world
“There’s a whole world of tea out there. I just became passionate about it,” Ackerman says.
“I really work at educating people about tea.”
Her little shop in a former tattoo parlor is bright and colorful, with blue walls, paper lanterns and tea pots of all shapes and sizes.
Ackerman plans to hold workshops where people can create their own special tea.
“They can make their own blend of Irish breakfast,” she says.
Ackerman’s other passion is supporting local businesses and artists.
A dozen local artists and artisans sell their handmade jewelry, purses, paintings and other items in her shop, and her goodies come from Mechanicville’s Park Avenue Confectionery and other local businesses.
“Everything in the shop is handmade or sold by small businesses in the Capital District,” she says.
The Tailored Tea supports local artists, too. Painters Maureen Sausa and Carol Owens are resident artists, with studios on the second floor, and Sausa is gallery manager for two second-floor rooms where exhibits rotate on the walls and customers enjoy their tea and scones.
“Art and good food go together,” says Misir.