by Stacey Norwood
Photography by Marcy Black Simpson
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once famously waxed, “Thy fate is the common fate of all; Into each life some rain must fall.” In Seattle, “a little” means about 50 percent of the time or, more specifically, about 37 inches a year.
The resulting overcast skies that typically blanket the Pacific Northwest city (along with its strong Scandinavian heritage) are frequently tied to its reputation as a coffee lover’s haven. In fact, the 2007 HealthSaver Caffeinated Cities Survey ranked the birthplace of Starbucks as the nation’s No. 1 caffeinated city in coffee consumption.
But a change is brewing in Seattle. Still known affectionately to locals as the “Land of Lattes,” the self-proclaimed Beverage Capital of North America is turning to a kinder, gentler source of caffeine—tea.
In fall 2008, the Puget Sound Tea Education Association sponsored its first Northwest Tea Festival (nwteafestival.com). Held October 4 and 5 and based in the Seattle Center, the fledgling festival offered tea tastings, cooking demonstrations featuring tea-infused recipes, gourmet dinners, a Korean tea ceremony, and lectures from tea scholars such as author James Norwood Pratt. More than a thousand tea lovers flocked to that tea celebration, which is now an annual event.
Perennial Tea Room
1910 Post Alley
Sue Zuege, of Perennial Tea Room, is excited about tea’s growing momentum in Seattle. Co-owner Julee Rosanoff was a key initiator of the tea festival and serves as a founding member of the Puget Sound Tea Education Association. The two women opened their shop in the city’s historic Pike Place Market nearly 20 years ago—at least a decade ahead of the tea-popularity curve in Seattle, as well as in the country.
Perennial Tea Room stocks more than a hundred bulk teas and tisanes from more than a dozen vendors, including some limited-edition oolongs, rare Formosa blacks, and estate teas from as far away as Georgia (formerly part of the Soviet Union). The bustling teahouse also offers tea wares and hard-to-find teatime treats such as English biscuits.
“We have a real one-on-one approach with clients; people can pour tea out of the teapot they’re interested in buying. We hand-select everything in here,” Sue says. “We taste everything, and we don’t sell anything that we wouldn’t recommend.”
Located on Post Alley, Perennial Tea Room is just one of many stops of interest in the 9-acre market. Pike Place opened in 1907 and today is home to the usual farmers’ market sundries, as well as specialty-food vendors, eateries, antiques dealers, and numerous artisans and craftspeople, who make and sell everything from hand-strained honey to candles to pottery.
Rose’s Chocolate Treasures
1906 Post Alley
Tea lovers will find much of interest at the market: teatime accoutrements, fresh flowers for the table, and sweets and savories to serve. Rose's Chocolate Treasures on Post Alley will indulge every chocolate-coated wish, and shoppers will find a perfect confection or two to enjoy with tea.
The Crumpet Shop
1503 1st Avenue
The Crumpet Shop offers savories to eat in or to go. The fresh English griddle cakes are sold and served plain or with such toppers as eggs and ham or salmon and cream cheese. The shop also offers whole-leaf tea and homemade scones, which received a nod from The Atlantic as the most authentic and best scone in the country.
Baker Nancy McFall, who co-owns the eatery with her husband, Gary Lasater, makes fresh crumpets, scones, and breads on-site every day and has for more than 30 years.
"I have customers who came as children who now come in with their own children", Nancy says. Her key to customer retention is based on a simple formula, she adds. "We offer them great food."
The Queen Mary Tea Room
2912 NE 55th Street
Beyond the bustling market, Seattle promises tea services of every ilk. The Queen Mary Tea Room, located on 55th Street, is open Wednesday through Sunday and offers Afternoon Tea seatings through 4 p.m. On weekends, seating is extended until 4:30.
Guests are served on bone china in the Victorian-style tearoom and are treated to authentic British cuisine both at tea and for breakfast and lunch. Heartier fare is served at meals—think steak and kidney pie and curry beef pasties while teatime comprises more delicate treats. Fresh sorbet is served to cleanse the palate, followed by a trio of tea breads and scones, a dazzling selection of sweets, and a quartet or more of mouthwatering savories.
Fairmont Olympian Hotel
411 University Street
For an elegant hotel-style tea only blocks from Pike Place Market, the Georgian in the landmark Fairmont Olympian Hotel is not to be missed. Italian Renaissance architecture marks the stately room, which seats guests daily for the rightfully renowned Georgian Tea. Tea sandwiches, additional savories (often seafood based, showcasing a Seattle staple), scones, sweets, and fresh tea await you at the Georgian, where, by reservation, one can enjoy tea alone or with friends.
The Floating Leaves Teahouse
1704 NW Market Street
Other types of tea experiences are also available in the seaside city. The Floating Leaves Teahouse on Market Street, Seattle's first authentic Taiwanese tearoom, offers not only tea, but also an "oasis of tranquility" for those who seek it.
345 15th Avenue East
At the other end of the spectrum, Remedy Teas in the Capitol Hill neighborhood provides 150 organic teas in a comfortable caf setting.
"At Remedy Teas, one of our underlying themes and beliefs is that what Seattle did for coffee 20 years ago, were doing for tea today," says co-owner Anthony Arnold, who believes that his city is the perfect destination for tea enthusiasts.
"Just like everything else in Seattle, whether it be coffee, music, or great foodies cuisine, tea is another thing we do right, distinctively, and in a way that only Seattle can."
And even in a city much enamored of its coffee, tea is quickly catching on as a popular beverage and as a true experienceone that encompasses the restorative and relaxing qualities for which it is renowned, albeit with a singularly Seattle flavor.
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Editor’s Note: Rose's Chocolate Treasures was was included in our original publication. Unfortunately, it has since closed.