Monday, July 30, 2012

Tal-Y-Tara Tea and Polo Shoppe

Prior to my love of tea, there has always been my love of horseback riding and all things equestrian. I'm a hunter jumper by discipline, but hold respect for all forms of horsemanship. I had a wonderful stretch of years through high school successfully competing with my horse around the state, but also found volunteering at a local therapeutic riding center just as gratifying as winning in the show ring. Being a horsewoman for so many years, you can imagine my delight to locate a tea house with quite the equestrian spin.

Tal-Y-Tara, which is Gaelic for "By the strength of the King," is an equestrian themed tea room and full tack shop located in San Francisco, California. Tucked away in the quiet neighborhood-ed avenues of the west side of town, Tal-Y-Tara reflects the quiet and tranquility of the Lincoln Park/Sea Cliff district rather than the hustle and bustle of downtown. If it wasn't for the near life-sized horse outside the door, the shop would completely blend in to the blocks of apartments and small offices housed within the bay-windowed Victorian buildings typical of San Francisco.

What's even better, purchases made for both tea and tack partially benefit Horses in California, Inc., which hosts a variety of charity riding events such as Jumping in the Park, in order to raise money for the James S. Brady Therapeutic Riding Program for Children with Special Needs. How fun would it be to hack around and show in beautiful Golden Gate Park? Or pack a picnic lunch and make a day of watching the horses compete? All while benefitting what I know from personal experience to be a wonderful cause for both mentally and physically disabled children. 

Unfortunately Friends, much to my disappointment, the good of this tea room stops there. 

I'm not sure if I caught Tal-Y-Tara on a bad day or if the owner paid people to write good reviews on his website. Regardless, this tea house would have been a complete bust for me had I not known some of my money was going to good use. Maybe it was my unfortunate choice in tea. Maybe it was waitress training Saturday. Maybe the small child that continuously cried behind the register was the straw that broke the camel's back. All I know is that I was glad to walk back out the front door...a deplorable day in the domain of Darjeeling indeed.

Let's start from the beginning, shall we? Upon arriving at Tal-Y-Tara my expectations were dealt a slight blow by the heat wave that hit me when I stepped inside. Any tea enthusiast should know that guest's rely on their hot drinks to warm them up from chilly weather, not interior temperatures of 90 degrees. One just can't be in the proper frame of mind to enjoy tea when they're peeling off layers to prevent a heat stroke. Of course, there's always the outside seating option...unless the fenced in deck area is cluttered with garbage and the temperature is cool enough to chill a pot of tea within a couple minutes. No matter, inside seating will do just as soon as I acclimate to baking in the oven of a room. Once a waitress eventually brought menus, I was relieved to see a promising selection of assorted teas and goodies. I ordered a pot of Russian Vanilla Caravan black tea and a blueberry scone while my father settled upon an expresso (why not just cut to the chase?) and an order of crumpets (because they were out of shortbread cookies). I watch as the table next to me covered with dishes and leftovers of just-left-guests continued to sit unattended.

At this point I was feeling less flustered and was able to take in the full room. Tal-Y-Tara encompasses the humble first floor of the shop that houses it. Like all reasonable real-estate in San Francisco the floor plan is narrow and somewhat abbreviated from front door to back. The front half hosts the vintage expresso cart and racks of riding apparel while the "tea room" is composed of four tables, a large wooden fireplace, and the kitchenette in the back half. The golden walls are covered with event posters and black and white snapshots from Grands Prix and polo matches dating all the way back to the 50's. English wood cabinets display tea cups, new tall boots, needle point pillows, tea pot cozies, grooming supplies, and stationary. Each table is covered with a bit-printed table cloth. The massive wooden fireplace centers the busy room with its hard-to-ignore carving design and gold clock. If it weren't for the classic drop-down ceiling lights and cramped space, you might forget you're in San Francisco.

I'm brought back to the task at hand when tea, coffee, and food arrive. As I pour, tea leaves swim into my cup from the spout and I sigh. Our waitress was so swamped waiting on one other table that I had to flag the manager/owner for a strainer and cream. Never mind that I overheard him tell her to make sure to bring cream to tables that ordered black tea shortly before our order was brought out. The used dishes on the dirty table next to me are still sitting and I continue to pretend like it's not bothering me. I'm trying not to sweat the small stuff (pun somewhat intended). I fish out the leaves, pour the rest of the tea with my newly acquired strainer, and add my necessary fixins. Even with said fixins my Russian Vanilla Caravan tasted like the ashes had been scooped out of the grand fireplace and mixed in a pot of hot water. I'm not sure if this is how Russian Caravan tea usually samples or if the tea leaves had turned bad. The taste carried a dominant smokey and scorched flavor (sans any vanilla) I would imagine one would have to acquire a liking for to say the least. The blueberry scone tasted like one I would find at Starbucks-mas o menos, the buttery crumpet with jam was palatable, and I was told to report the expresso as "chalky."

Darn. I wanted so much to write about what an extraordinary discovery I had made and give it a raving review. But alas, Tal-Y-Tara failed me as the diamond-in-the-rough tea house and the good first tea room experience for my father that I mistook it for. Consequently the Darjeeling Darlings grievously grade Tal-Y-Tara with a 4/10 stars. One for tea selection variety (Taylors of Harrogate and PG Tips), one for theme, and two for supporting a good cause.





1 comment:

  1. I love how you take Solar Queenie with you whenever you go to tea! Hysterical.
    I went to Lynchburg College. Have to look up that tearoom. I went to one downtown-fairly new but don't know if it is the same one.
    You guys are adorable~
    Ruthie from: