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TEATIME IN RENO-TAHOE

Locals relish our budding teahouse scene.

WRITTEN BY NICOLE CHESLOCK
PHOTO BY CANDICE NYANDO

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"We have tough-looking cowboys and men who come in by themselves to buy tea. We have cops and firemen. We have older women, teenagers, and young children who all love tea. It’s really cool to see the array of customers that comes into the shop,” says Taylor Ehrhart, manager of Too Soul Tea Co.

The family-owned and -operated business has become a favorite Reno destination since opening in 2012. It’s likely because Too Soul’s well-informed staff members encourage lingering over outrageously good cups of tea as well as sampling. They are not alone.

Tea culture

“It is really hard to find good-quality, unsweetened tea,” says Kat Dela Cruz, who opened SpecialTeas Tea Shop in Carson City with her husband in February 2015. SpecialTeas introduces new teas on a monthly basis, and the tea is not just for drinking. Dela Cruz brines hard-boiled eggs in the house blend (a staple on SpecialTeas’ menu) and mixes in a dash of soy sauce and spices for her original egg-salad sandwiches. (In addition to its teas, the eatery is becoming well known for Dela Cruz’s homemade potpies).

Her tea-drinking days began during family dim sum outings in San Francisco. She explains that dim sum comes from the tradition of yum cha, which translates to “drink tea.” (Yum cha refers to the stops travelers made at teahouses along the Silk Road.)

SpecialTeas is hardly the only newcomer to the budding tea scene. Chá Fine Teas offers dozens of teas from around the world plus tisanes (herbal, non-caffeinated blends) in a cozy space in Truckee, and the hip Hub Tea Bar has been attracting and growing a loyal following in Reno since opening in September.

“There is a tea culture waiting to happen in Reno. We have moved away from Starbucks and Lipton (the Folgers of the tea world),” Hub Tea Bar supervisor Becky Tachihara says.

Tachihara enthusiastically shares details about the estate farm in Indonesia where she sources black, green, and oolong teas. She tasted some of their teas (which she calls “the best”) at the World Tea Expo last May and knew the organic and sustainable growing practices coupled with exquisite taste matched her goals for the Hub Tea Bar experience.

She encourages seeking out information about tea — where it comes from, how it is processed — and is building connections not just in Reno but also among producers, importers, and consumers.

Steeping steps

“When brewing loose-leaf tea, it is really important to follow the brewing recommendations because the teas can be very delicate and easily ruined,” Ehrhart says. (See steeping information below.)

She explains that there are three elements to the perfect cup: high-quality tea leaves; good, fresh water; and the right amount of time for the tea leaves and water to sit together. The vessel also influences the outcome. According to The Tea Spot, one of the Hub Tea Bar’s sources, a ceramic one is best; glass is great, but metal can give an unwanted flavor.

“The flavor (of fresh tea leaves) will be much stronger, more abundant, and bolder [than pre-packaged tea bags],” Ehrhart says.

Take a look at what is in tea bags. Most often, it is the dust left behind from rolling tea leaves. As noted on Too Soul’s blog, “Using the dust was a way to sell what would otherwise be discarded.”

Seasonal suggestions

Floral additions, cold brewing, and iced tea satiate the palate as winter turns to spring.

Tachihara emphasizes the importance of asking informed sources about tea and trusting personal taste when buying loose-leaf teas. As the temperature rises, she leans toward lighter blends that incorporate rose, jasmine, and lotus, as well as iced teas. She also loves the smoothness achieved from cold brewing.

“Cold brewing is a great way to explore flavor development of different teas,” Tachihara says. “Since you’re primarily using time rather than temperature to extract flavor, you can expect the teas to taste somewhat different from when you brew them hot … You get a really beautiful sweetness and super smooth feel out of cold-brewed teas.”

For springtime, Ehrhart recommends Too Soul’s Lavender Fields, a white tea with lavender and peach that is good both iced and hot, as well as Strawberry Coconut Crème green tea and Apricot Black. Dela Cruz recommends SpecialTeas’ Georgia Peach and Bramble Berry Black.

With an increased focus on high-quality tea and sourcing, the opportunities to see, understand, and savor the soothing beverage — hot, cool, or on ice — abound.

Nicole Cheslock begins each morning with a freshly brewed cup of tea. Her current favorite is Chá Fine Teas’ Black Silk with a teaspoon of local honey.

Tea Resources

Find teas to suit your taste at one of these Reno-Tahoe area shops

Cha Fine Teas 12030 Donner Pass Road, Truckee, 530-536-5043, http://www.Chafineteas.com (Special event: At 6:30 p.m. on March 8, Chá is offering Tea Tasting 101 at its Truckee shop. The class is $15 per person)

Davidson’s Organics 700 E. Glendale Ave., Sparks, 800-882-5888, http://www.Davidsonstea.com

Dragon Spring 1707 S. Wells Ave., Reno, 775-323-2298, http://www.Dragonspringinc.com

Hub Tea Bar 727 Riverside Drive, Reno, 775-453-1911, http://www.Hubcoffeeroasters.com

The Isles 809 S. Center St., Reno, 775-384-1804, http://www.Theislesonline.com

The Pink House 193 Genoa Lane, Genoa, 775-392-4279, http://www.Thepinkhousegenoa.com

Salty-Savory-Sweet 102 California Ave., Reno, 775-470-5813, http://www.Salty-savory-sweet.com

SpecialTeas Tea Shop 111 E. Telegraph St., Carson City, 775-350-7240, http://www.Specialteas775.com

Tahoe Teas http://www.Tahoeteas.com

Too Soul Tea Co. 542½ Plumas St., Reno, 775-322-2001, http://www.Toosoultea.com

Truckee Meadows Herbs 1170 S. Wells Ave., Reno, 775-786-8814, http://www.Truckeemeadowherbs.com

Communi-Tea nights at The Studio in Reno offer a social gathering space that is especially attractive to people looking to interact outside the typical bar or club scene. The flowing hot and iced teas encourage lounging and conversing.

“The tea lounge was inspired to attract people of like minds and create a platform for conscious people to gather and get to know each other, in hopes that they will come together to build a conscious community,” says owner and yoga instructor, Rachelle Lanning.

Communi-Teas at The Studio
7:30 p.m. – midnight Wednesdays; 8:30 p.m. – 1 a.m. Fridays
1085 S. Virginia St., Reno
775-284-5545, http://www.Thestudioreno.com

Brew it cold

Not your grandmother’s sun tea.

Cold brewing relies on cold water and time. For starters, top 1 tablespoon of tea leaves with 1 quart of filtered cold water to make four 8-ounce cups. Experiment with the amount of tea leaves used for personal preference. Refrigerate for 4 to 10 hours. Strain (or lift seeping basket) and savor.

Hub Tea Bar’s Becky Tachihara recommends Hario steeper bottles for brewing at home, and her favorite for cold brew on the go is the Urban Tea Tumbler from The Tea Spot. ($29.95, http://www.Theteaspot.com)

Tea steeping guide
(1 heaping teaspoon/10 ounces per serving. Information courtesy of http://www.Theteaspot.com/how-to-brew.html)

White - Boil 175 degrees F, cool 3 mins - Steep 2 – 3 mins
Green - Boil 175 degrees F, cool 3 mins - Steep 2 – 3 mins
Oolong - Boil 195 degrees F, cool 2 mins - Steep 2 – 4 mins
Darjeeling - Boil 195 degrees F, cool 2 mins - Steep 3 – 4 mins
Black - Boil 212 degrees F - Steep 3 – 5 mins
Pu-erh - Boil 212 degrees F - Steep 2 – 5 mins
Yerba Mate - Boil 203 degrees F, cool 1 min - Steep 3 – 6 mins
Rooibos - Boil 212 degrees F - Steep 6 – 7 mins
Herbal - Boil 212 degrees F - Steep 6 – 7 mins

Recipes

London Fog Tea

(courtesy of Becky Tachihara, Hub Tea Bar in Reno. Makes one 12-ounce serving)

½ tablespoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon honey (Hub Tea Bar uses MacDougall local alfalfa honey)

1 tablespoon loose-leaf Hub Earl Grey tea

Milk

Add about 12 ounces boiling water to tea leaves in steeping vessel. (“Tea pots are best,” Tachihara says, “but you can also use a fill-your-own tea bag or other single-serve steeper in your favorite mug.”) Let steep three minutes.

Pour tea into mug (or remove steeper). Add vanilla extract and honey; stir to mix. Finish by adding milk (Tachihara recommends Straus Family Creamery whole milk) to taste. For a richer, creamier version, use only six ounces water when steeping tea, and finish by adding six ounces warm milk after mixing in vanilla and honey.

Pineapple Green Chutney

(courtesy of Davidson’s Organics. Makes about 2 cups)

2½ cups fresh pineapple, cut into strips

⅓ cup white vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon turmeric

2 whole cloves

2 cardamom pods

½ cup superfine sugar

2 green tea bags or 2 tablespoons green tea leaves

Place all ingredients in medium saucepan and cook on gentle heat until pineapple is softened. Remove tea bags after about 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool. Pour chutney into a sterilized glass jar.

Earl Grey Chocolate Cake

(courtesy of Davidson’s Organics. Makes two nine-inch round cakes)

1 tablespoon solid shortening

1 tablespoon flour

½ cup boiling water

1 tablespoon Davidson’s Earl Grey tea

1 cup buttermilk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Use solid shortening to grease two nine-inch round cake pans, and then dust both pans with flour. Line bottoms with parchment paper. Brew tea for four minutes; strain into large measuring cup and cool. Add buttermilk and vanilla.

Sift dry ingredients onto wax paper. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with flat paddle, cream butter until light, about one minute. Scrape beater and sides of bowl; beat another two minutes. Add eggs, one at a time. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat for one more minute. Fold in one-fourth of flour mixture and one-third of tea/buttermilk/vanilla mixture. Blend and stir. Once all ingredients are added, beat on low speed just to mix until smooth.

Pour batter into pans and spread with spatula. Tap pans on kitchen counter to break up any large air bubbles. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until center springs back when lightly touched. Remove from oven. Cool on wire rack for five minutes. Run small kitchen knife around edges of cake to loosen. Unmold on cooling rack and peel off parchment paper. Use cake rack to turn cake right side up. Cool before frosting.

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