A Spot of Tea

The Romantic Drink Warming Bodies and Souls

Date November 7, 2009 at 11:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


Legends, ceremonies, traditions perhaps the mythology of tea gives it such an air of romance.

Tea conjures up images of High Tea in Victorian England, the starkly beautiful Japanese tea ceremony or the marvels of ancient China. Tea's ability to engage our imagination might be why having tea on a winter's afternoon holds special appeal. It warms more than our bodies: It seems to warm our souls as well. And Santa Fe offers plenty of opportunity for the warmth of tea, whether out or to take home.

Dharm Khalsa, owner of the Chocolate Maven Bakery & Café, and his daughter Hari Rai Khalsa, put more emphasis on fun than on tradition. "If you're going to be truly authentic, it's not going to be that much fun," said Hari. "If you're in England and you order a cream tea, it's not going to be an elaborate afternoon event. The waiter is just going to throw a scone and a pot of tea at you. It'll be delicious, but it's not going to be a whole experience."

Chocolate Maven's Afternoon Tea offerings range from a cream tea (a pot of tea and a scone served with cream and jam) to a delightful version of High Tea.

The Khalsas' variations on traditional tea are delicious, such as substituting raspberry conserve for the more traditional strawberry jam or offering an abundant assortment of teas to choose from (there is usually little or no choice of tea at traditional establishments.) "We do try a shared pot -- that's radical in America. But that's what tea's about. It really makes it a communal thing, where you get to sit together and share," said Dharm Khalsa.

Choices in finger sandwiches range from cucumber & dill to curried chicken or tofu salad and a scrumptious goat cheese with caramelized pear that Khalsa literally "dreamed" up. The tea menu includes everything from quiche to soup of the day, a plate of mini-pastries or bowls of berries with dark chocolate and Creme Fra”che that Hari Rai Khalsa calls "deliciously interactive."

They have just introduced a Children's Tea, and the five varieties of hot chocolate also are winter favorites.

"It's sort of taking all the fun aspects from all the different kinds of styles and putting them together. So it's a little bit of a quaint afternoon tea with a little bit of the extra pizzazz of the High Tea plus an American touch like including all these wild flavors of tea," said Hari Rai Khalsa.

Chocolate Maven's afternoon tea is a social event: A group of women come regularly, dressed in hats and gloves; two mothers visit with their daughters; a father and daughter share tea and conversation. "When do we get to talk? In the car? At home with computers and television? So they come here and have a little moment," said Dharm Khalsa, who also offered a bit of dating advice. "If you're a boy and you like a girl, and you invite her to tea, I think that's going to win the day, right there."

Hari Rai Khalsa loves tea parties, and the Khalsas encourage them. Her favorite was having her friends dress as characters in Alice in Wonderland. The table had twice as many seats as people and Hari Rai, dressed as the Queen of Hearts, ordered everyone to change places. She is currently a student at Stanford University, but is available for consultation for anyone wanting a tea party at the restaurant. Children's tea parties (with stuffed animals invited) are welcome.

When Americans think of chai, they think of a tea beverage containing spices like ginger, cinnamon and cardamom, prepared with milk and sugar. Chai is actually the Indian word for tea, period. But those looking for the spicy beverage might want to try three local venues that create their own chai blends.

Annapurna's World Vegetarian Café also is a Chai House. Annapurna's owner, Yashoda Naidoo, is a native of India and serves a chai recipe passed down through her family for generations. It contains two types of black tea, whole spices and ginger. This chai cannot be packaged and sold, because certain ingredients are added at different stages of brewing. "Our chai is the real chai. It's authentic, like we make it in India," said Naidoo. "And our chai changes seasonally. You're going to have more heating spices in the winter, you're going to have more cooling spices in the summertime." Annapurna also serves tea made from fresh ginger and a Tulsi ginger, both good cold- and flu-season teas.

Naidoo has also developed other original blends, including non-caffeinated World Chai Latte, Pitta Tea and Peppermint Lavender. These teas and others on their extensive tea menu can be enjoyed in the restaurant or purchased by the ounce. The Chai House has 52 varieties of tea, with many black teas imported from India and non-caffeinated favorites like African rooibos and honeybush. All of Annapurna's teas are organic.

The Teahouse's four different chai blends are their best sellers, along with their matcha lattes, which Owner Dionne Christian describes as "a ceremonial Japanese tea that we sort of screwed up." The newly introduced Rooibos cappuccinos and rooibos lattes are gaining popularity.

Christian (whose childhood dream was to be either a discotheque own an alchemist) creates all of the Teahouse blends. "I've been ripping tea bags apart since I was a little kid, making my brother (Derrick Christian) drink my concoctions. It just seems like the natural thing to do," Christian said. "Our parents sent us to survival camp when we were kids. I think that was the impetus for it all: picking our own herbs and making up our tea concoctions. My brother thinks it's great now; he doesn't have to be worried about being poisoned."

Christian has lived much of her life in tea-drinking countries, including 12 years in Indonesia. She is a tea master who can blend 30 teas by sight (some tea masters can blend more than 100 by sight).
The Teahouse offers more than 100 Chinese and herbal teas, and will soon add baobab powder to the menu, which is said to be higher in antioxidants than any food or beverage. The menu reflects Christian's creativity, with tantalizing flavors like Pumpkin or Chocolate Mint Rooibos or Black Jamaican Rum. The popular House Earl Grey is blended with lemon, orange, citrus peel, rose and cornflower petals. New blends are likely to keep coming. "I've been blending for so long that I dream up blends," Christian said. "All I do is wake up in the morning, go to my workshop and blend whatever was stuck in my head while I was sleeping."

Christian touts the pleasures of tea over coffee. "I just don't get coffee. Take color -- in the tea world you have the entire spectrum of the rainbow. But this is not true for coffee. And the liquors -- when you make a blend and then you check the liquors -- this is one of my favorite things to do. The complexities are more vast than they could ever be with coffee."

Body Café makes its own blend of organic, non-caffeinated chai that is delicious and very warming on a winter day. The café also offers other popular teas, such as Tulsi Tea or Yerba maté. Yerba maté is higher in caffeine than many teas, but is a very balanced stimulant, that helps people transition off coffee. Manager Alisa Davis said, "I think tea is lovely. And I think it brings out the best in people. I think it brings out comfort and coziness and friendship, I really do."

So grab a book or grab a friend and head to one of these cozy spots for "a spot of tea." It will brighten even the dreariest winter's afternoon.

For fans of High Tea at the Hotel St. Francis, never fear. With the changes under way at the hotel, including a major remodeling of the lobby, there was some concern that High Tea might be discontinued.
However, management has confirmed that it will be reinstituted this winter, although no details are firm yet.

Although Americans consume very little tea (and most of that is iced), only water surpasses tea for worldwide consumption.

Camellia sinensis (the plant from which all white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh teas are made) originated in China, was introduced to Japan late in the sixth century and entered Europe in the 1600s. The Chinese, Japanese and British all have strong tea traditions.

Understanding the Meaning of Tea, Culture

The Santa Fe Opera enlisted Frank Hadley Murphy's expertise for their 2007 production of Tan Dun's Tea: A Mirror of the Soul. Murphy is a Chinese tea master and author of The Spirit of Tea. The book is an excellent introduction to the subtleties of Chinese teas, including the spiritual qualities of each.

His interest in this began when he had an epiphany during his first taste of pu-erh, which he called "a direct experience of the divine through the plant kingdom."

Murphy wrote, "Of all the gifts that tea has brought me, joy is the most enduring. Of all the forces that tea has awakened in me, none is more vital than the creative, mobilizing spark of life: the thunder in the middle of the lake."

A major difference between the Japanese and Chinese tea traditions, Murphy said, is that the Japanese emphasis is on the ceremony. "In China the focus is on the connoisseurship of tea, on how to get the best taste, how to bring out tea's most noble qualities."

Both traditions can go to extremes: the Japanese for details of ceremony and the Chinese for aesthetics, such as stitching tea leaves together to form a flower when steeped.

Like fine wines (or fine chile), tea's aroma is influenced by its growing conditions and how it is processed. "There are literally thousands of new teas that come out in China every year, because every harvest is different: the weather's different, the soil's different, different picking methods and different processing techniques," Murphy said.

Connoisseurs revel in these differences. Like wine, exceptional teas can run hundreds or even thousands of dollars a pound. Murphy suggested buying small amounts of loose tea and sampling. (Tea bags generally use lower quality teas, which Murphy called "granules" of tea.)

Blessings, an interfaith gift shop, is a good place to learn about the intricacies of Chinese tea. Owners Jenni and Doug Walker offer a selection of rare Chinese teas. They educate customers about the qualities of each tea, encouraging them to sniff the bouquet. Jenni Walker explains the culture and tradition of tea as she describes each step of the brewing and tasting process. Brewing instructions are provided with each tea purchased.

An hour with Walker transports you to another world, as she describes Tea Street in Beijing -- "three miles of nothing but tea shops and tea supermarkets three floors high"-- and introduces teas prized for their aesthetic value, as aphrodisiacs or for meditation.

"Tea practice as a vehicle for inner awareness is lovely," she said, "because it actually has a sensual dimension, which just sitting meditation practice does not."

A sample of an oolong tea called Milk of Heaven, developed to help monks achieve a state of bliss, exemplified this. The subtle flavors of the tea played around my mouth like fine wine, and it brought a state of heightened awareness that lasted the rest of the day.

Joining Chado New Mexico is a good way to learn more about the Japanese tea ceremony and traditions. This association works to promote an active understanding and appreciation of the Way of Tea in the Urasenke tradition, which dates back 500 years. Members have to opportunity to attend lectures, workshops, study intensives and tea events.

Natsuko West, a member of Chado New Mexico until moving to New York, remarked that Japan's exclusion of foreigners for 200 years, which allowed its culture to flourish undisturbed, also cultivated the unique Japanese tea traditions.

Samurai culture also significantly influenced the ritual. "The samurai, they didn't know if they would live tomorrow, and they put that aesthetic into the tea, receiving tea that way and serving tea that way. It's a super moment, not like, 'See you tomorrow.' Just in the moment -- that's it. Very intense," West said.

New Mexico has its own traditional teas, prized by both Native people and the Hispanic settlers.

Eloy and Francis Trujillo sell locally grown or handpicked wild teas at the Santa Fe Farmers Market every Saturday. The Trujillos began selling tea at market 30 years ago.

When a bumper crop of apples flooded the market, Eloy decided to harvest and sell apple mint and oregano growing wild in his orchard to augment slow apple sales. The experiment was so successful that the herb business has surpassed the apples.

The Trujillos' teas range from Oshá to Yerba Buena, with Cota (also known as Indian Tea), being their best seller. They always have tea to sample.


Annapurna's World Vegetarian Café
905 W. Alameda St., 988-9688
Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Body Café
333 Cordova Road, 986-0362
Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. daily

Chocolate Maven Bakery & Café
Afternoon Tea, 3-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
821 W. San Mateo Road, 984-1980
Hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday
7 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday
9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Hotel St. Francis
210 Don Gaspar Ave., 983-5700 or 800-529-5700

The Teahouse
821 Canyon Road, 992-0972
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Tuesdays.


Blessings (inside Annapurna)
905 W. Alameda St., 629-1136
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, frequently closed Wednesday evenings

O'Hori's Coffee, Tea & Chocolate
(a nice selection of loose teas)
1098 S. St. Francis Drive or 507 Old Santa Fe Trail, 982-9692
Hours: 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday

Chado New Mexico, an organization that promotes the Way of Tea in the Urasenke Tradition throughout New Mexico

A Healthy Tradition

Traditional cultures have long been aware of the health benefits of both herbal teas and Camellia sinensis. Scientific studies are beginning to verify some of those. Here are some of the benefits attributed to tea.

African Teas

Honeybush high in antioxidants; thought to lower blood sugar, help menopausal symptoms and treat coughs.

Rooibos high in antioxidants; said to boost the immune system, relieve colic in infants and aid digestion.

Chai said to aid digestion, tonify and energize.

Chinese Teas (from least processed to most processed)

White (the most delicate and least processed) highest in antioxidants and high in catechins, which scientific studies suggest have numerous health benefits, including antibiotic qualities. Thought to build the immune system, abate dental plaque and prevents cavities, lower cholesterol and benefit the heart.

Green (leaves are picked quickly and steamed to preserve color and fresh character) thought to fight and prevent certain cancers or tumors, lower cholesterol, prevent cavities, alleviate arthritis and have antibacterial agents.

Oolong (a semioxidized tea) high in catechins. Benefits attributed to it include strengthening the immune system, promoting dental health and aiding weight loss by oxidizing fat, inducing thermogenesis and burning calories.

Pu-erh (the most highly processed tea and the only one that improves with age. Connoisseurs age it like fine wine) qualities attributed to pu-erh include regeneration, aiding digestion, lowering cholesterol, promoting healthy intestinal flora and relieving a hangover.

Oshá a folk remedy for coughs and colds. Eloy Trujillo said this could either be chewed or "brewed into a tea and smothered in honey, because it really doesn't taste very good."

Tulsi (Holy Basil) a principle herb of Ayurvedic medicine. Other names include "The Incomparable One," "The Mother Medicine of Nature" and "The Queen of Herbs." It is high in antioxidants and adaptogenic properties, and purportedly builds the immune system, reduces stress, lowers cholesterol and high blood pressure, increases the body's oxygen efficiency, promotes respiratory health, aids digestion, relieves arthritis and fights infections.

Yerba maté 24 vitamins and minerals, 15 amino acids and abundant antioxidants. Aids weight loss by speeding up the metabolism.