Put it in your mouth

Is the pace of college life stressing you out? The pressure ofmidterms finally got you feeling like your head is going toexplode? If you’re looking for a nice, quiet place to forget thetroubles of the day and escape the pressures of the world or evenjust a change of pace from the usual bar or coffee shop scene, theTao of Tea offers a welcoming respite.

From the moment one enters the tranquil inner world of theteahouse (complete with trickling water fountains, low light andantique-looking Indian and Chinese artwork) the world outside seemsto just melt away.

As the name indicates, the main feature of this inner-cityretreat is their almost Zen-like approach to tea. This isn’t yourgrandma’s stuffy tea service. The Tao of Tea turns the simplepleasure of a cup of tea into an experience.

Over 100 teas and herbal blends are offered on their colorfulmenu, from simple black teas to more obscure pu-ers (aged teas) andwhite teas. The menu includes extensive and helpful notes on eachtea, explaining both its history and origins as well as providing aflavor profile that reads something like a wine-tasting note.

While the prices may seem to run a bit high for a cup of tea($3-6), each serving is good for multiple steepings and comes withits own refillable pot of hot water, so you can kick back, relaxand enjoy your tea while the hours flow on by.

Try the Kwei-Lan Oolong ($5), a delicate, floral-scented teafrom Taiwan with earthy undertones or the Darjeeling Gold Tips($4), a hearty, full-bodied Indian black tea. The extensive list ofgreen teas from around the world is also a highlight (there areover 20 on the menu). The Guzhu Zi Sun ($5), with its earthyflavors, is one that stands out.

All are presented in the Tao of Tea’s extensivecollection of traditional serving vessels (which one can alsopurchase from the adjacent store), and the friendly staff alwaystakes time to explain how to use the various set-ups, as well asgive advice on things like steeping time and serving temperature.One of the most fun is the traditional Chinese tea service, whichinvolves a small, tall cup for smelling the tea, and then a short,wide-mouthed cup for drinking.

For those less inclined toward the traditional, the Tao of Teaalso makes a good cup of chai and offers tasty bubble teas(flavored iced teas with tapioca pearls).

The food offerings, while well prepared, are a bit pricey andthe serving sizes are more akin to a large snack rather than ameal. While many of the items are tasty on their own, the Indiansub-continent-influenced fare often leans a bit to the spicy side,which can overwhelm the delicate experience of the tea. Onehighlight is the Aaloo Parantha ($8.50), an Indian-style flatbreadstuffed with potatoes and spices.

The teahouse in the downtown’s Chinese Classical Garden(admission to the garden is required) offers a limited menu ofmostly small snacks (but does have a spectacular view).

Where the food section of the menu truly shines is in thedesserts. Tasty treats like smoked vanilla tea ice cream ($5),which, as the name indicates, adds an interesting smoky flavor tocompliment this ordinarily simple dish. The Japanese-style mochiice cream balls (ice cream encased in a rice-based shell) ($5) arealso worth a try.

While service at the Tao of Tea can be a bit on the slow side,it seems to be more due the relaxed environment than lack ofattentiveness, and they are always friendly and helpful. Most of uscould use a little more patience, anyway.

While the Tao of Tea makes an excellent place for a date, torelax and read a book or have a quiet conversation with a friend,it’s definitely not the place to bring a large group. The quietatmosphere is easily disrupted by a lively crowd. However, if whatyou are looking for is an escape from the daily hustle and bustle,Tao of Tea is definitely worth putting in your mouth.



Tao ofTea

3430 S.E. Belmont St.
2112 N.W. Hoyt St.
N.W. Second and Everett (in the Chinese Classical Garden).
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday
Chinese Garden location 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day