Taking time for tea

Tacoma-area tea shops cater to those who find bliss in a well-brewed cup

Nancy Covert; The News Tribune

Mention tea party, and most people will respond "Mad Hatter's." Others might answer "Boston" - not as happy an occasion.

Since 1840, when the Duchess of Bedford introduced the civilized ritual of afternoon tea, the custom has spread worldwide. Its popularity has even taken hold in the former colonies that once went to war over an infamous tea tax.

While there's little doubt that coffee is contemporary consumers' beverage of choice, South Sound offers a variety of local tea shops catering to those in search of a relaxing cup. Lingering over an afternoon tea is great way to reconnect with old friends or to unwind from a hectic day of holiday shopping.

Thornewood Castle
8601 N. Thorne Lane S.W., Lakewood

Reservations: required; 253-584-4393.

Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C., has long been considered the ultimate Northwest tea experience. But the time and expense involved in getting there aren't always convenient.

"The Empress has nothing on us," says Thornewood Castle's co-owner Deanna Robinson.

It's no idle boast. After being closed for five months, while Stephen King's made-for-television miniseries "Rose Red" was filmed there, the "Northwest's only true representation of genuine Gothic architecture" has reopened.

To the castle's well-established reputation as a bed-and-breakfast and an elegant setting for special occasions, Robinson is adding tea service.

"I want people to experience that time when tea was the premiere social activity," says Robinson who grew up in Texas and Tennessee, where hospitality is an integral part of life. "Guests are encouraged to dress for the occasion." (That means hats, gloves and fancy dresses, ladies.)

After Deanna and her husband, Wayne, purchased Chester Thorne's 56-room estate, she decided it was "sad to have a place like this and not share it."

Robinson promises a filling tea - with servings of meat pasties, an assortment of sweets, sandwiches tea and puddings. It's very filling; so she strongly advises guests "not to eat in advance."

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SIDEBAR: Brewing the perfect pot of tea

* You will need both a tea kettle and a teapot for this procedure. For best results, use a glass or ceramic pot to prevent altering the flavor of the tea.

* Start with fresh cold water. Fill your tea kettle, and heat on high until just before boiling.

* Pour about 1/4 cup of the almost boiling water into the teapot. Swirl the water around and then throw it away. This is to preheat the teapot before the tea brews. Quickly wipe the teapot dry, and place 1 teaspoon of tea leaves for each cup of tea into the warm pot. Replace the lid to retain heat.

* Once the water reaches a rolling boil, bring the teapot to the kettle and gently fill it with the boiling water. The water must be boiling to bring out the full flavor of the tea, and that is why you bring the pot to the kettle and not vice versa. Every second away from heat the water will lose 1 degree, so this step is important.

* Put the lid on the teapot and allow the tea leaves to brew for three to five minutes depending upon the directions with the tea or the type of tea you are using. Do not rely on the color of the tea to determine doneness, as different blends vary greatly in color.

* To serve, pour the tea through a strainer into teacups.

Source: www.chintzroom.com

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SIDEBAR: Tea history

According to tradition, the mythical Chinese Emperor Shen Nung discovered the benefits of tea about 2737 B.C., when some leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant fell into a pot of hot water. The earliest mention of tea in modern literature occurred about 350 B.C.

Tea was introduced to Japan during the sixth century, where it was first used exclusively by Zen Buddhist monks. It became a popular drink throughout Japan by the 13th century. Tea was first sold in England in 1657 at Garvey's Coffee House in London.

Between 1600 and 1858, the English East India Company played a role in popularizing the beverage. Efforts to perpetuate the company's monopoly prompted the British Parliament to pass the Tea Act of 1773. That law provoked the American colonists to dump their tea into Boston Harbor, one of the events leading to the American Revolution.

Today tea, hot or cold, is consumed by about half the world's population. A cup of unsweetened tea contains 4 calories per cup and is a source of B-complex vitamins.

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© The News Tribune