Though winter officially began a while back, from now until February, the weather is just going to keep getting colder. There's a hard freeze in the forecast for Thursday night, and since the week isn't quite over, I don't recommend you warm yourself with a few too many hot toddies just yet. The solution: Tea.
If you're not a regular tea-drinker, you may not be aware that Houston has a wonderful selection of teahouses and tea purveyors, from the fancy British style (finger sandwiches included) to the hippie-dippy (complete with vegan pastries) and everything in between.
So next time you're feeling chilly, head to one of these eight places for a cup of something warm and soothing and, as always, calorie-free!
8. Serenitea Tea Room Sugar Land is the perfect place for a tea room. Not 'cause Sugar Land is awash with tea drinkers, but the name is just spot-on because many people sweeten their tea with a little sugar. The tea room at Serenitea looks like how your grandmother might design a business, but don't be fooled. The owner, Archana Pyatt, really knows her stuff. Six days a week, she serves up breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea in an old-fashioned yet charming atmosphere. The breakfast menu includes scones, frittatas and blintzes, while lunch is all about salads and cute little sandwiches. There's also a great tea selection at super-reasonable prices. I recommend the special: four teas and two scones with lemon curd and clotted cream for only $12.95 per person.
7. Crossroads Collection This little shop in old town Spring is more retail than restaurant, but the owners recently opened a Secret Garden-esque tea room to invite shoppers to sit for a spell. The rustic Victorian décor (complete with dollhouses and dainty fringed lamps) is ideal for private tea parties and baby showers; back in June, Crossroads Collection even held a royal baby shower for the soon-to-be-born Prince George. In addition to delightful finger food and a large selection of tea, Crossroads Collection sells everything you need to make tea, from brewing baskets to tea spoons to magazines for tea-devotees.
6. Hotel Granduca The hotel itself may be inspired by a 16th century Italian palazzo, but the tea service is all British. Tea is served by reservation only in your choice of Bar Malatesta, The Library or The Conservatory, where you can pretend you're in a real-life game of Clue. Order a traditional tea for $37, which includes assorted sandwiches and scones, or the Granduca tea for $45, which features slightly more gourmet sandwiches (think lobster, prosciutto and grilled salmon). Call the hotel to make a reservation for parties of any size.
5. The Teahouse No list of teahouses in Houston would be complete without a modern Asian teahouse, like the kind that fill every other space in strip centers on Bellaire. The Teahouse is a Taiwanese import with five locations across Houston serving puddings, jellies, tapioca and regular ol' tea. These days, it's popular to drink bubble tea with little spheres of chewy tapioca in the bottom of your cup. Bubble tea comes with a large straw to suck up the tapioca or whatever jellies you choose to flavor your tea. The Teahouse will also pair your tea with some fresh fruit for the ultimate healthy snack. Most bubble teas are served cold, but you can also get a piping hot cup of plain tea at any Teahouse location.
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4. The Queen Vic Every Tuesday through Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. The Queen Vic Pub and Kitchen hosts high tea, a small meal in-between lunch and dinner. At The Queen Vic, this consists of scones, salads and sandwiches, crusts removed, of course. Unlike some of the other tea services in town, The Queen Vic doesn't boast the usual hoity-toity atmosphere. It's still a pub that just happens to serve tea in dainty cups that require one to stick out one's pinkie. You can also order off the regular menu during high tea for a mix of Indian and British cuisine that pairs perfectly with the beer selection. Which reminds me ... high tea is at the same time as happy hour. Ah, the best of both worlds.
3. Kiran's Restaurant and Bar For afternoon tea with an Indian flair, stop by Kiran's on Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m. for a prix fixe menu of tea and treats. The meal starts with some of chef Kiran Verma's homemade masala chai, which she also sells dry in beautiful tins if you want to take some home. Next is an assortment of ladyfinger sandwiches and salads, followed by a nod to India's British colonists with some scones, jam and clotted cream. The meal ends with pastries and desserts and, if you'd like, another cup of tea with a splash of Grand Marnier. For $35 per person, an afternoon tea with chef Kiran's stellar Indian food is a steal.
2. The Path of Tea Houston's only completely organic teahouse and online shop allows you to order tea from a local purveyor from the comfort of your own home. Certified tea master Thia McKann passed away in 2012, but the staff continues to ensure that all their teas are organic and fair trade, and unlike most tea-sellers, The Path of Tea operates seasonally. Go online to view 13 pages of teas, tea paraphernalia and tea classes available for purchase and delivery (except for the classes, of course, which take place in the shop). The staff holds classes and tastings -- much like what you might experience at a wine bar, minus the hangover -- about ten times a month, and each class focuses on a different aspect of tea. If you just want a warm cup without a lecture, though, The Path of Tea can provide that, too.
1. Té House of Tea Whenever I visit Té, I can't decide what I like better -- the tea or the food. Té stocks more than 130 different kinds of tea (many of them fair trade and organic) and offers an interesting menu of Korean, Jamaican, French, British and Indian dishes. Most items with meat can be substituted for soy, if that's your, er, cup of tea. Té likes to remind visitors that tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, and their continental menu of both food and tea reflects that. The shop also likes to engage the community and get more people interested in drinking tea with open mic nights, swing dance classes and alternative art markets. On any given day, though, you'll find the majority of the crowd buried in a book or glued to a laptop, because the relaxing atmosphere makes Té a great place to caffeineate, refuel and get work done.