Friday, September 28, 2012

The Front Street Tea Room: Free Thinking to Tea Drinking

            Comfort, Texas is one of the many small towns just a short drive outside of San Antonio.  Nestled in the hill country, it boasts the most well preserved business district in Texas with buildings dating back to the 1800’s. What’s most interesting is that Comfort was founded by German immigrants and Freethinkers. In case you’re a touch rusty on your philosophy, Freethinkers thought that opinions and ideas should be based on logic and reason, not tradition. Although the funky and offbeat is enthralling to explore, I always take comfort (pun intended) in the things that have stuck to the script. Comfort’s spotlighted teahouse, The Front Street Tea Room exemplifies tradition.

            It’s always a joy to stumble upon an establishment that operates a teahouse in its customary form. No overwhelming menus, no ordering counter, no funky spin on tea, and no gimmicks. Just a small teahouse that serves a concise, well thought out lunch and afternoon tea to guests in a comfortable setting. I can’t help but applaud those that have managed to keep a teahouse or tearoom both modest and professional while staying true to the original purpose of such a restaurant. When it really comes down to it, a true tea enthusiast ought to appreciate the fundamentals of the original teahouse: decent china, a few lunch options, a variety of fresh tea sweets or cookies, and a selection of high quality tea. Customers should feel like guests in their friend’s living room.  

When one finds such a place off the main street of a small hill country town (it’s bright green, you can’t miss it) you just can’t help but be drawn in. And what better way to be welcomed as a guest than to be asked to join in singing “Happy Birthday” to an ongoing party while the pastry chef brings out a surprise cake? I had only just walked in the door and I already felt like I was amongst friends. But that’s really no surprise given Front Street’s quaint setting and three-woman crew. Doreen Tavera owns Front Street and has an exceptional chef working to create wonderful menu options that are first tested by the local storeowners of Comfort. Only when the people of Comfort approve of a dish can it be placed on the menu.

I can’t help but give bonus points to a teahouse that really is a house, especially if the shower is still intact in the bathroom. The Front Street house is a one-story home complete with a gravel drive way, three main rooms, old wood floors, pale blue walls, and a spacious backyard. Walk around and the creak of the floors might transport you to your grandmother’s house. The back yard is green and contains an ivy-covered arch entrance and well-shaded bench. Flowers line the edges of the yard with color. The theme of the house is cats and vintage hats wrapped up in antiques and antique furniture. I believe I counted just five or six tables in both rooms. Talk about making yourself at home. If it had been a cold day I would have parked myself by the fireplace one can only hope would be aglow for afternoon tea.
Hat covered fire place mantle

Vintage card table 

The backyard and garden

 From the menu, a turkey and Swiss Panini, chicken grape walnut salad, chocolate chunk scones, pot of Vanilla Crème tea, and a pot of Cherry Rose tea were ordered. As a bonus, a piece of chocolate cake from the party was added for lending a voice in the celebration. None of these items disappointed. The salad was delicious and the daily special of the chocolate scone was fresh and dense with chocolate goodness. I would imagine that it helps to have an extensive herb garden in the back yard to directly supplement the kitchen. I was especially impressed by the sand timers that came out with the teapots to assure guests when the tea is fully brewed. Without it I wouldn’t have known to let the Cherry Rose sit for seven minutes in order to bring out the completed rose taste. By the end of the dining experience my sweet tooth was fully satisfied with both dessert and tea.

Lizzie's ready to dive into that salad

"I prefer for my tea pots to match the dress I'm wearing each day. It would be common not to!"-Lizzie

Other than experiencing a more traditional teahouse that has perfected the art of keeping things simple, I found the most satisfaction in being able to get to know Doreen. Being that Front Street is a small operation, she was able to give us the scoop on the house, furniture, garden and of course, her cats. That seems to be the way it should be done. Not only should teahouses be for friends who enjoy chatting over afternoon tea, but also chatting with the owners and other tea enthusiasts that have come to the table for the same reasons you have. Maybe you just swap a couple comments about the weather. Maybe you exchange a few “freethinking” ideas. Maybe you help sing “Happy Birthday” and congratulate another year lived. Either way, to find a teahouse that provides the environment to do so is refreshing and made oh so sweeter by the selection of the tangible refreshments. The Darjeeling Darlings give the Front Street Tea Room 9/10 stars for their lovely house, welcoming staff, and simple but sweet food/tea selection.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tazo Earl Grey Tea

   I was pretty excited when I went into the school cafeteria a few weeks ago and saw that they expanded the tea selection. I have really been enjoying this new improvement to the hot beverage choices. Since today was extremely rainy and cold, I thought I would warm up with a cup of hot tea at lunch. I was also pretty excited because this was the first pot of tea that I have made in my new dorm room! I decided to go with Tazo's Earl Grey Tea as my choice. Earl Grey is one of my favorite tea flavors, so I am a little biased.

    I steeped one tea bag for around 3 minutes in my tea pot. I wanted it to be pretty strong and three minutes seemed to do the trick. The black tea was extremely bold and filled with a rich flavor. The blend of lavender and lemon were slightly apparent and helped soften the flavor. There was a lack of sweetness, so I did add a little sugar. I was extremely satisfied with the finished product and it gave me the energy kick I needed to get through my accounting class. I would recommend this tea for anyone who wants that afternoon pick me up and does not want to drink a cup of coffee. Tazo has gotten pretty popular recently since it became part of the Starbucks Corporation. You can order it directly from Starbucks and it retails for less than $5.00 a box. Overall, I would give this tea a 8/10.  

- Jules

Tazo's Earl Grey Tea and Lizzie!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Madhatters Tea House and Cafe

     I’m proud to call San Antonio my home town. It’s a large and ever-expanding city with a laid-back attitude on just about everything. The people are friendly and we’re all bonded together through our love of the Spurs. There are so many wonderful places to eat and there really is quite a bit to do in town if you look. Despite these things, it is no secret that San Antonio is overshadowed by the hippie haven that is Austin. In fact, it was not long ago that I ran into an Austinite attending college in Virginia like myself. I was delighted to meet a fellow Texan who wasn’t from Dallas thinking it gave us an easy common ground. However that feeling was quickly squashed when I told him I was from San Antonio and he replied, “I’m sorry.” Time heals all wounds I suppose! I will concede that Austin is a pretty neat little town. A “vibrance” of sorts can be felt everywhere, from the Drag downtown all the way to the sleepy neighborhoods tucked away from MoPac highway. It is a metropolis independent from the others through its Texas spirit. 

     I say all this because Austin is full of restaurants, cafes, and bars that have more atmosphere than the moon. That’s how all of Austin is-off beat yet progressive. San Antonio is more conservative, heavily influenced with the Hispanic culture, and generally lacking in indy whole-in-the-wall, “the place to be seen,” restaurants. There are a few white whales to be found out there though, especially given the restoration of our historical districts downtown over the years. The King William district that neighbors the River Walk encompasses streets of beautiful old homes that are slowly being fixed up by new owners. You might not think to look for a tea house in an old neighborhood comprised of colonial homes lined with bright crape myrtles.  

Madhatter's Tea House
Beauregard Street of the King William district
     But that’s exactly where Madhatters Tea House and Cafe is located. In the heart of downtown lies said tea house that boasts the funky characteristics of an Austin cafe with a flare for tea. Conveniently located for college students, River Walk tourists, and the few that actually live in the downtown area, Mads sprawling multi-room house is a welcoming hideout. The walls are painted a warm yellow and covered with awards and articles by critics praising the establishment. The worn wood floors and collection of mismatched tables speaks for the longevity of Madhatters relaxed attitude over time. The main and largest room holds the ordering counter, glass dessert cooler, and tea cup shelf. It welcomes the hungry and Sunday brunchers. Two smaller rooms sit opposite the main room on the other side of the building. Their scattered coffee tables and club chairs are occupied by readers and students who work over the company of a pot of tea. Unlike the eclectic design of the main room, these two rooms are better channeled towards the theme of Alice in Wonderland.

Award Wall

Shelf o' tea cups

Madhatter mascot...he could use some sprucing up

     Madhatters cannot be fully experienced in one visit. The menu is so extensive with options for breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, and dessert that I had to bring help for entree tasting while I focused on tea. A Darjeeling Darling mustn’t forget the objective to accomplish all because of overwhelming food menu options. An overwhelming tea menu though? I welcome it. Mads offers a wide array of black, green, red, herbal, and oolong teas accompanied by traditional and non-traditional tea sandwiches, scones, and  petit feures. As I studied the menu, I wondered what tea would pair with smoked jalapeño tuna salad sandwiches. Perhaps only a cup of cream to put out the fire. 

Entire tea selection

     It’s such a disappointment to plan to try an item off the menu and find that the restaurant is out of it for the day. This is especially true if it’s still within the lunch hour. I like to think this was because my selection was especially popular and not sold out due to poor planning. Regardless the final order of a turkey-bacon club, cinnamon rolls, chocolate, peach, and raspberry petit feures, a blackberry scone, a pot of blackberry sage tea, and a pot of raspberry quince tea proved to suffice as a sample of what Madhatters had to offer. The sandwich was tasty and both tea selections paired nicely with the desserts that were just enough to satisfy a sweet tooth. Which is to say that the menu alone is not necessarily the reason to visit here. It’s Mads funky atmosphere, mis-matched style, and consistent tea/food basics that make it the recherché place for repose that it is. Why struggle to fit your books, papers, laptop, and tea on a parlor-sized table at Starbucks when you could spread out on library-sized study tables at a place like Madhatters? Free wifi included! 
Tea, blackberry scone, petit feures, and cinnamon rolls

Turkey bacon club sandwich

Welcoming the readers, studiers, and tea drinkers
     Needless to say, Madhatters Tea House and Cafe is a noteworthy hideaway due to the comforts it offers as well as eats and drinks. Like many “tea houses” today, Mads shies away from the traditional English tea room by putting their own spin on menu staples, sweets, and treats. The Darjeeling Darlings give Madhatters two thumbs up and the promise to return for further menu exploration as a Regular.  


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We're Back!

Pippa and I have been super busy the last few weeks going back to college. Between moving in and going to class, there really has been no free time to blog. Now that we are back in the swing of things we can't wait to review more great teas and tearooms! Of course life can't be all work and no play so Pippa and I did meet up in Grenada for a little R&R before the craziness of sophomore year. We had a great time soaking up some sun, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, and exploring the island.
Lizzie was very popular at the market!