By Aaliyah Nguyen and Ally Li
Tea is largely intertwined within our world’s history from the major happening of the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to an afternoon tradition in European countries.
It has been a part of war, custom, and a staple of daily life. It has developed in various ways across the world. In Lodi, two tea houses are bringing rich international offerings to the 209 area, while also highlighting a culinary culture that unites the East and the West.
‘Hidden Tea Room’ offers patrons a ‘proper’ escape
The Hidden Tea Room, located at 310 N. California Street, offers high tea, a kind of European style tea developed and popularized in England.
Terrie Green, owner of both The Hidden Tea Room and Corner Scone Bakery, has more than 35 years of experience in baking. She started off working in a baking company in Sacramento, and eventually opened her own bakery seven years ago.
From there, the Corner Scone Bakery soon began experimenting with providing British style tea services to go along with their specialty scones.
“Very small space, we transformed [the bakery] into a little tea room which was darling … but we quickly outgrew the space once we realized the demand,” Green recalled.
The tea service was a success, however the shop wasn’t large enough to accommodate the popularity. Green, along with her daughter Tara Miller who also had a passion for tea, searched for another place to expand.
They found a bar which had been closed down for 2 years and decided to turn it into a seperate tea room.
“[Miller] was able to come in with her love of tea and was able to bring that to the table so it was a perfect marriage,” said Green. “The scones and the tea.”
As a result of their combined passions, the mother and daughter officially opened The Hidden Tea Room in August 2016 with the goal of providing a place for people to temporarily escape their worries and relax.
From the fragrance of the food to the volume of the music, they pay special attention to the small details of the customer’s experience with the aim of soothing all five senses.
“There’s no clocks anywhere to be found. We want people to kind of float away in time and just relax…and just enjoy the service,” Green said. “And do it in such a subtle way that people don’t really notice it. It’s just granted.”
However, behind the subtleties is hard work and extensive research. Thanks to their experience in running a bakery they were well versed on the topic of food, but the process and etiquette involved in British high tea is complex. For example, there are hard set rules as well as topics of debate as to what is considered truly “proper.”
“It’s really fun learning all the different things that go into [high tea] because there’s all these details,” Miller said. “There’s certain teas that you add milk to and there’s certain ones that you don’t. And if you do the lemon then you don’t also want to do the milk. So there’s all these nuances with the tea, from preparation then serving, that there was a lot of research on both of our parts that we had to do to be able to serve it and…to feel confident, to be able to answer questions.”
Even with nearly five years of experience Green and Miller said that they’re continually learning. Each ingredient is likely to be from different countries around the world so they strive to spread appreciation for all the effort and history that goes into producing high quality tea leaves. Some blends come from well-known companies such as Harney and Sons and Temple Coffee located in Sacramento. One particularly special blend is made from apples grown on Marie Antoninette’s estate in Versailles.
The Hidden Tea Room’s Gift Shop is where such foreign teas are available for customers to purchase and take home. The business often imports other snacks and goods as well, especially those that are essential to high tea. For example, clotted cream and double cream from England and French macaroons which come straight from France.
That doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten about other local businesses. The bread for their cookie cutter sandwiches come from Genova Bakery in Stockton and the gift shop is filled with crafts, necklaces and accessories from various local artists.
‘Tea Tasting’ invites a slower-pace for sipping
Tea Tasting, located at 40 Downtown Mall, aims to share traditional Chinese tea with local residents.
Brewing tea is a complex art, and it all starts with the tea leaves.
There are countless varieties of tea, each with unique flavor and characteristics. Some teas must be grown specific to a region in order to carry a certain name.
“For example this tea, we call it rock tea. We have to grow it in the Wuyi Mountain, a certain area. Out of that area, we can’t call it rock tea. We can only call it oolong tea,” said Sam Shi, owner of Tea Tasting.
Shi once worked as a biotechnology scientist. Brewing tea has been a part of his daily life for more than 20 and a great passion.
One of the challenges he has faced has been trying to obtain high quality traditional tea through local means. It is just unavailable, and ordering from China has its own set of drawbacks.
The delivery time for a shipment of tea can be extensive, and after its arrival it is possible the tea doesn’t match expectations.
“I spent almost two year, maybe more than ten trip to San Francisco. I still I can’t find anything, this kind of tea. So after I finished my contract. I have some free time. So I was thinking if I can’t find anything here, maybe I can try do myself,” Shi said, “… When I want to brew tea to here, I want to brew the best tea.”
Tea Tasting had its grand opening March 2019, but planning and preparations for that moment started a year prior.
All of the furniture, tea sets, and other various tools had to be imported from China due to unavailability in America.
For instance, the tea tables with built-in tea trays or drainage systems to catch water and tea; the tea pets, little trinkets that can test if the prepared water is to an adequate temperature; or even the many matching Chinese tea cups and teapots; most of these items can’t be easily found locally.
The shop, located in an alleyway between Church and South School streets, exceeds a century of longevity. Meanwhile, Merrylong Rock Tea, the shop’s specialty, has a thousand years of history.
“A very good match,” said Shi.
Tea Tasting’s current chief tea master, Qitong Ye, is the first person to be recognized at the national grade.
Tea Tasting offers the following teas for tasting: Phoenix Oolong Tea, Wuyi Rock Tea, Yunnan Black Tea, Jasmine Tea, Pu’Er Ripe Tea, and Wild Highland Rose Tea.
The teas are brewed hot and fresh, the traditional Chinese way. There is no sugar, and there is no boba. Everything is according to tradition.
Initially, only table tasting was available, and it involved a choice of up to two teas for an in-depth experience. The main purpose was to relax and appreciate the taste and aroma of the tea.
After getting customer feedback, a flight tasting at the bar was later added, featuring a more quick sampling of all the teas to understand personal tea preferences because many people did not know where to start with tea.
“So far California, not too much of this type style tea here. I hope people can enjoy. Actually right now we have more — our customer, they like it — but still they need to get time to know about it and know how to brew it. It’s challenge for me be honest,” said Shi.
It seems that at the end of the day, the heart of any tea time service will continue to remain the same: simply relax and enjoy.