If you happen to be wandering around the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul and find yourself in need of some tea, I can direct you to The Tea Garden/The Steepery Tea Bar. This tea bar, or tea café, has 3 locations within the Twin Cities and 2 more in the greater metro. I patronised the one in Uptown—a vibrant neighbourhood with a lot of young people, alternative scenes, and delicious restaurants—where tea café format of The Tea Garden’s fits in well. It has a casual vibe and can be a place to a friend, get some work done, or just watch the world go by.
Being a tea café rather than a traditional tea house, it offers a lot of tea lattes and bubble teas in addition to a good selection of loose leaf tea. Being a loose leaf tea person, I am sometimes hesitant about going to places that serve “tea drinks,” for fear that their loose tea will disappoint. Not so with The Tea Garden.
As far as the teas go, their selection of greens and blacks (both pure and flavoured) is the most extensive. They also offer several white teas, but only one oolong and one puerh. While this might be a disappointment for some, if they are going to have only one oolong, they picked a good one: Ti Kuan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy, one of the most famous Chinese oolongs. They list Chais separately on their menu, so if you go in looking for a spiced tea, don’t despair when you don’t find it listed under the various types of tea. And if chai is what you like, they also offer a few tea drinks with a chai base (namely an Iced Chai and a Chai Shake).
The Tea Garden also offers tisanes on their loose tea menu (which, unlike so many other places, they actually refer to as tisanes!). An interesting category that is also on their menu, which I would perhaps class with tisanes, is guayusa. This Amazonian tree leaf, brewed similarly to the tea leaf, acts as a stimulant as well as being rich in vitamins and minerals (for a little more information on guayusa, see this article). If you are a Yerba Mate drinker, this might be worth a try.
At The Tea Garden, you can order loose leaf tea in a cup or pot, although a warning regarding this terminology is in order. Ordering a “cup” actually gets you a cup-to-go, so select this option if you need to grab a tea for being out and about but not if you want to sit down and savour your tea. Another confusing detail is that they specify that the pot or cup does not include refills, but this refers to refills of tea leaves; they do, in fact, refill hot water upon request (phew!).
I am quite partial to oolongs, and tend to order them at tea houses. This excursion proved no exception. I ordered my Ti Kuan Yin in a pot, and happily let it steep away. It is a tea I am fairly familiar with, so I knew what to expect, and I was not disappointed. After establishing that I could, in fact, get hot water refills, I settled back and proceeded to enjoy several steepings of this smooth, nutty oolong.
Although The Tea Garden might not be traditional enough for some tea drinkers out there, they manage to walk the line of trendy tea café and high quality tea house quite well. They offer a tea experience that reflects a new trend of tea drinking—one that blends the worlds of contemporary café culture with traditional tea appreciation.
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