Not That Kind of Tea Party
Tea Farm Cafe / Sometimes it’s nice to see how the other half lives. And by other half, I mean tea drinkers. A segment of America’s population seems to be partaking in this thing called the “tea lounge” and the phenomenon has officially hit Honolulu.
Located in Puck’s Alley, Tea Farm Cafe encompasses a minimalist, tea-inspired lifestyle, where fragrant blends of hazelnut and honey, lavender and rosebuds await the curious tea partier. It’s a place where one goes to “slow down,” instead of habitually consuming the common street drug known as the Starbucks.
Tea drinkers are into words like detoxification, ethnic diversity, moldy, musty, wild, bright, orthodox and of course, zen. Creating tea infusions is akin to something like molecular mixology. God bless ‘em, tea drinkers take time to smell the leaves.
Tea Farm Cafe is warm in a zen kind of way. A dozen or so tables are just spacious enough for a lap top and pot of tea ($5). Borrow-a-book shelves, a few comfy, over-stuffed chairs and a small couch are perfect for politics or pseudo sophisticated conversations. The baristas are mellow and willing to educate a person who is stepping out, possibly for the first time, into the territory of tea culture. And business is handled by iPad only.
Around the World in 80 Flavors
The basics are easy enough: loose or bagged, green or black, herbal or flavored. Rows of jars filled with jasmine, darjeeling, white peach and chrysanthemum are a spice cabinet of aromatic wallpaper. Fragrance instantly lifts the senses to the Middle East and beyond.
The only thing non-minimalist about the cafe is its overly impressive selection of world teas. Chinese varieties include green, black, white, oolong and pu-erh tea, each of which ignite one’s curiosity. A wide range of choices illustrate each country’s various climates and the aromas are as distinct as the shape of the tea leaves.
Japanese green tea ventures into matcha powder, genmaicha, gyokuro and a personal favorite, ginger hogi. One of the world’s most famous teas–darjeeling–is from a region in India, and its flowery aroma echoes its fruity taste and colorful name.
Other teas represent the regions of Sri Lanka, Egypt and South Africa, with flavors such as masala chai, pomegranate, apple cinnamon rooibos and hazelnut honeybush.
Loose Leaves & Petticoats
Just when the Tea Farm Cafe couldn’t get much more interesting, one stumbles upon a jar of what looks like jumbo alfalfa pellets decorated with a hot pink petticoat. The barista calls it the “blooming tea,” and she assures me that what I’m about to drink takes “entertaining the senses” to another level.
First, she selects a glass tea pot and fills it with hot water before gently dropping the ball inside. Within seconds the bloom begins opening and delicate aromas of jasmine and peony fill the air for a cup of tea that looks as if it were dancing.
These hand-woven tea clusters are individually made, typically in southwestern China. Green tea leaves are gathered and selected while still moist and then tied with cotton around finely selected flower petals. Tea artisans spend as much as 10 minutes on each ball, yet, a person can order a pot of blooming tea for around $5. The cafe offers three varieties including a SiChuan blooming tea that opens into a white lei.
Besides offering world teas for sale online, the Tea Farm Cafe encourages patrons to lift the lids of the jars and experiment with flavor combinations in-house. Jars sell for $10–$50 depending on weight and variety, and refills are available at a significant discount ($6 and up).
The Rest of the Story
There’s a reason that much of this review is devoted to tea and tea alone. Though the cafe boasts a minimal food menu, one must be aware of what one is ordering. Their pastries are beautiful, but it’s unclear whether they are made in-house, at a local bakery or shipped in from somewhere around the globe. Answers were tough to come by. But my guess is that Sara Lee is guilty of something in the third degree.
The tiramisu is delicious, but the danishes, the muffins and the banana cake are a sad disappointment. Early in the evening the chicken noodle soup and clam chowder were sold out (bummer), but a chance encounter with a chicken fajita wrap (which tastes exactly like a chicken Caesar wrap) temporarily acquitted them of the aforementioned crime. Crispy romaine lettuce, thick chunks of warm chicken and a sun-dried tomato wrap with a creme sauce made this wrap worth mentioning ($5.95). Among other choices of wraps and salads, the menu also offers a pastrami sandwich ($6.95 with salad or soup) and vegetarian options.
What the Tea Farm Cafe does brilliantly is that they offer a space where tea enthusiasts and experimenters can converse over tea aesthetics. Perhaps the idea of slowing down, enough to watch ordinary tea leaves turn into something remarkable, is a less complex awakening.