To a tea drinker like me, the gift of American Tea Room in Fashion Island isn’t only the fabulous, exotic teas personally selected by owner David Barenholtz and beautifully packaged in custom-designed triangular tins. The big news is that you can stop in and get a perfectly brewed cup of tea, with absolutely zero hoo-hah.
What a pleasure to select a fine tea from the list and have the nice person behind the reclaimed-wood counter use one of the brewing methods at his or her disposal to deliver a perfect cup—or a pot, for that matter. I especially love oolong teas, and Barenholtz suggested a Formosa white-tipped oolong. It was delicious, enhanced even more sipped from the custom V-shaped doubled-walled glasses used when drinking in rather than taking out. Comfortable tables and chairs furnish the interior and a sidewalk-side patio, and there’s a brief but tempting menu of pastries from Valerie Confections, who’ll do the food for afternoon tea with an American attitude starting in the new year. Looking forward to that!
The world of tea is an ancient one, and some of the names retain a slightly un-PC air… I’ve always liked Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong, for instance. The Formosa white-tipped’s nickname is Oriental Beauty, possibly bestowed by a past queen of England. The shop carries something like 200 varieties of tea, easily searched on a big screen using an interactive, computerized system—but the patient, helpful staff is probably your best bet for finding a tea for you or for a gift.
American Tea Room also sells tea ware from both Eastern and Euro traditions—Japanese cast-iron pots are functional works of art, and French porcelain pots have snug-fitting chrome cozies for keeping tea hot. While the shop aesthetic is generally crisp and clean—spare, even—there’s room for whimsical, kittycat-motif mugs, too. And the matcha-obsessed can take this trending interest to another level with authentic tools and quality tea. An American Tea Room-designed clear glass matcha bowl brings a modern touch.
While expansion plans include Chicago and New York, Barenholtz says Orange County suggested itself for American Tea Room’s first outside-Los Angeles location because O.C. customers were an identifiable, and vocal, group. This is good—clearly I’m not the only tea fanatic ‘round these parts. I can see American Tea Room making a lot of new converts.