10 Incredible Experiences for True Tea Lovers
Coffee may have a cult following but tea aficionados are just as passionate about getting their beverage fix. From stateside tea houses to timeless ceremonies in Japan, these are our favorite experiences around the world for tea-lovers. Get brewing.
Tea and Sympathy, New York
This little tea-room, its own corner of Britain in Manhattan's West Village, has been going strong since 1991, when English owner Nicky Perry was so homesick for proper British-style tea that she opened the sweet 20-seater. Twenty-five years later, the café still draws crowds of expats and Americans alike, who flock here for one of the best cups in town. Along with a large selection of teas (there are over 30 loose-leaf varieties to choose from, plus herbal and custom Tea & Sympathy blends) and English breakfast staples like scones with jam and cream, expect hearty comfort food favorites like bangers and mash (that's sausages and mashed potato, for non-Brits), shepherd’s pie, Welsh Rarebit, and roast beef with Yorkshire pudding. For sweet tooths, desserts like treacle pudding and rhubarb crumble hit the spot.
The Mulia, Bali
Sultry, tropical Bali doesn't at first seem like the most intuitive place to find excellent tea, but the island actually offers some stellar ceremonies for the leaf-obsessed. Take luxe Nusa Dua oceanfront resort The Mulia: the hotel's signature restaurant, Table8, offers a menu of authentic, home-style Cantonese and Szechuan dishes along with a tea corner featuring sought-after varieties from China. One highlight: the "Art of Tea" experience, in which a Kung Fu Tea Master, trained in China in traditional kung fu moves, performs an artistic ritual that is both hypnotic and balletic. The tea master begins by presenting a hand-woven bundle of Hua Cha Shuang Xi Lin Men (jasmine and chrysanthemum flower tea with green tea from Fujian province) in a long glass, then stands table-side, brandishing a long-spouted brass kettle, and pours hot water from on high. The bundle slowly unfurls and blooms into a beautiful flower. Of course, you get to enjoy the fragrant tea afterwards.
Rocco Forte Brown's Hotel, London
This history-infused grande dame has seen its fair share of grandees—Queen Victoria used to take her tea here—but the hotel's modern iteration caters for a wider spectrum of tea lovers. There's the traditional afternoon tea, naturally, with its dainty egg salad and cucumber sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, and cavity-inducing cakes—all served with a posh selection of loose-leaf teas and herbal infusions. But we're also partial to the more new-fangled offerings like the "Tea-Tox by Madeleine Shaw," a healthier, lighter take on the tradition. Expect virtuous treats like miso-glazed salmon, gluten-free brownies, tomato with feta and mint sandwiches, and, of course, a selection of fine teas.
Smith Tea, Portland, OR
Sure, we might all associate Portland with its intense third-wave coffee scene (not to mention its world-class craft beer) but tea is a surprisingly big player here as well. There are plenty of places to sample boutique blends (many from local companies) around town, like the popular Jasmine Pearl Co. and Townshend's, which endeavors to be all things to all tea-drinkers, from black-tea purists to kombucha enthusiasts. But one of the town's biggest tea cults is Smith Tea, which just opened a new tasting room on the Central East Side. Founded by Steven Smith in 2009 as an artisanal source for serious tea drinkers, it draws very small batches from the world’s best producing regions and is widely credited with kicking off the city's tea renaissance.
Camellia Tea Ceremony House, Kyoto, Japan
File attending a tea ceremony in Kyoto under travel must-dos: there's nothing quite like the fascinating and intricate machinations of a proper Japanese tea ceremony, known here as Sado or Cha-no-yu. Travelers often find the experience mystifying to arrange and navigate though, which is where this popular and Western-friendly tea house near the UNESCO World Heritage Kiyomizu Temple comes in. Guests gather cross-legged on a tatami mat in a tranquil home while a tea master in traditional kimono prepares and pours matcha green tea, explaining the steps as she goes. (Guests can also try their hand at preparing a cup of tea themselves.) Want to live the dream without the crowds? There's the option to book a private ceremony.
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Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka
Self-styled as the world’s first tea bungalow resort, this stunning hideaway set in the hills of the Bogawantalawa in south central Sri Lanka (famous as the home of Ceylon tea) comprises five beautifully restored, colonial-era tea planter residences kitted out with period furnishings, butler service, and perks like crackling open fires. The resort borders the World Heritage Central Highlands, and every vantage point offers panoramic views of mountains and tea fields. Along with a plethora of hikes and scenic walks, the resort also offers an immersive, complimentary adventure called "The Tea Experience." Guests get to hang out with the property's Resident Tea Planter, who demonstrates the age-old tea-making process by leading a tour through dense jungle to watch tea pluckers at work followed by a visit to the factory, which still uses traditional machinery to produce its superior black tea. The tour ends with a tasting of different grades of the brew. And when that's all done, book in for one of the resort's tea-based spa treatments.
Tea is a way of life in Morocco, as any fan of the fascinating North African nation can attest. Sipping sweetened mint tea—usually from a tiny, gold-etched glass—is a rite of passage for anyone shopping in Marrakech's famous medina, particularly when haggling over rugs in the old city's countless carpet stores. The best place to do it is in the souks that radiate out from the main square in the medina, Djemaa el Fna (also called Jemaa el Fna). This pulsing square thrums with activity from dawn 'til dusk, when the air fills with smoke from open grills and the marketplace is strung with fairy lights. Once you've drunk your fill of mint tea, retreat to a luxury oasis like Royal Mansour, a short drive away on the medina's outskirts. The architectural masterpiece, commissioned by King Mohammed VI, consists of 53 lavish private riads—tea-lovers can get an extra fix at the daily afternoon tea, offered in Moroccan, French, and British iterations.
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Hangzhou, a beautifully fertile area of the delta southwest of Shanghai, is famous for its Xihu Longjing green tea, and travelers can now venture here to get a full immersion into the region's tea-making culture during day trips with tour company Shanghai Pathways, often via a thrilling high-speed train from Shanghai. The journey begins in Hangzhou's West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage site that offers a fine primer on Chinese landscape architecture. After a lakeside lunch, the tour continues on to the China National Tea Museum, where guests can witness a traditional tea ceremony, then on to Long Jing village where one of the most famous green teas—Dragon Well Green Tea—is grown and uniquely fired in a wok. There's the option to extend the tour with dinner at Dragon Well Manor, considered by many to be China's best restaurant.
Culinary and tea adventures abound in this stunning country, but individual travel can still be challenging here, which is why we're drawn to an experience like the legendary Belmond Road to Mandalay river cruise. While plying the Irrawaddy River in style—there's a swimming pool and spa services on board—the cruise also delves deeply into Myanmar's history and culture. Guests have plenty of time off the ship to explore local villages and markets: while on shore, track down the local specialty tea leaf salad (lahpet in Burmese), a traditional dish composed of fermented tea leaves, tomatoes, sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, and beans. With its vibrant flavors and unexpected complexity, it's like Burma in a bowl. Back on board, be sure to continue the tea habit: the restaurant serves a delicious, refreshing lemongrass iced tea, best served poolside while watching the scenery float by.
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Glenburn Tea Estate, Darjeeling, India
India's contribution to the world of tea has been immeasurable, but this gorgeously-situated working tea plantation in the Himalayas allows a gratifying glimpse into that storied world. Begun by a Scottish tea company in 1859, this family-run gem is today in the capable hands of the Prakashes, one of India’s pioneering tea planting families. Along with cozy, stylish accommodations in a variety of individually decorated suites (many with views of the Kanchenjunga mountain range), the plantation also, naturally, offers a Tea Experience. Tours start at the Tea Factory, where you'll gain insight into the process from picking to fermenting, drying, and sorting, followed by a tasting of the Glenburn black, green, oolong, and white varieties, and a walking or driving tour of the tea fields. Lunch is on the banks of the River Rung Dung, at the edge of a bamboo forest. Back at the ranch, indulge in a massage using Darjeeling Green Tea Oil, followed by a green tea soak and steam.
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