Capital Region spots for tea snobs

tea snobs composite

Tea time.

By Casey Normile

This time of year is prime tea-drinking season. And much like coffee, there's a wide range of teas -- from black to green, from organic to single estate.

Here are some local spots where tea snobs* can cozy up to a cup of tea and explore...

*We're using the term "snob" here playfully (of course) -- but if you don't like it, just substitute "discerning, well-mannered tea drinker of sophistication and good taste" wherever you see the word snob.

For the Funky Adventurous Tea Snob: Lil' Buddha, Lark Street, Albany

lil buddha tea interior tea pot

This small, quiet, cozy spot on Lark has more than 60 kinds of tea, including black, white, chai, herbal, pu-erh, oolong, rooibos, and yerba mate. The entire back page of their menu is devoted to their tea offerings so you can probably find a tea you've never tried before. A cup is $2.50, a small pot is $3.50, and large pot is $5.50.

It's a good spot to bring a friend to catch up, but probably not for bringing a large group (the room only sits about 18 people). Also, the café is vegan, so there's only coconut or soymilk for your tea.

You can tell it's for tea aficionados not only from their large selection, but also by their tea timing. If you get a tea to go, they'll make sure to tell you how long to let it steep for so you don't over-steep. Another sign: Lil' Buddha's bulk offerings, which range from $6 for a small 3 oz. container to $24 for a 3 oz. container of Organic Dragon Well Green tea. That's some pretty serious tea.

For the Traditional Tea Snob: The Tailored Tea, Latham

Tailored Tea exterior.jpg

Even the building of The Tailored Tea would please an old-school tea drinker. Built in 1785, the former farmhouse was turned into a quaint teahouse last April. Now, patrons can have breakfast, lunch, brunch, and afternoon tea while feeling like their carriage is waiting for them outside.

Even though Tailored Tea's selection isn't as large as Lil' Buddha -- and there might not be someone to explain the flush of a certain variety -- tea snobs will enjoy the experience. You can get a pot of tea (kept hot with a votive candle underneath) in a sunny sitting room, nibble on a homemade scone, and pretend you're in England -- or Colonial America, at the very least.

Tailored Tea offers English Breakfast, Chamomile, and the other standard teas. But they also fill out their menu with varieties such as Wu Yi Oolong, Autumnal Darjeeling, and Pomegranate Black Currant.

For the Busy Tea Snob: Professor Java's Coffee Sanctuary, Wolf Road, Colonie

professor javas cup of tea

Professor Java's is sort of a mixed bag of café/restaurant, so you never know if it will be busy or quiet. And while the staff isn't necessarily as well versed in tea as it is in coffee, the cafe always has a full list of organic teas from the Schenectady-based Divinitea available, making it any easy stop for commuting tea snobs.

They offer tea lattes (teas steeped in milk in honey instead of water), a tea of the month as well as a monthly Tea Club.

Flavors such as Ginger Lemon Mint, Pinhead Gunpowder Green Tea, and Cinnamon Vanilla Rooibos are available for $2.50 for a large bowl-like mug with free refills on water. Unlike Lil' Buddha which steeps the tea for you for perfect flavor, Java's leaves the tea bag out of the mug for self-steeping.

The Church of Tea Snobs: The Whistling Kettle, Ballston Spa

whistling kettle exterior 2013-1

The Whistling Kettle is a tea lover's paradise. The "sniffing bar" at the entrance kind of looks like those votive candles you would find at the entrance of your place of worship. But instead of offering a prayer, all of their teas are available for a sniff -- to get an idea of the flavor -- and feature a full description of its characteristics, country of origin, infusion, and ingredients.

whistling kettle sniffing bar 2013

Like Lil' Buddha, they steep the tea for you and it comes in a little pot, good for about 3 cups of tea. And like The Tailored Tea, they also offer afternoon tea with three courses and unlimited refills of the tea of your choice. They also offer tea tastings (example from December), which fill up FAST.

The Whistling Kettle has a full menu for breakfast and lunch, but the majority or it is devoted to their tea -- three full pages of it. The best part is that they tell you about what you're drinking. Instead of ordering "Kambaa" and hoping you don't hate it, the menu tells you:
+ It's a single-estate black tea, which means they are "broken down by region then by specified estates or farms and are prized for their distinctive flavor profiles."
+ It should take about 6-10 minutes for the tea to be steeped and served
+ Kambaa is one of the top 4 estates from Kenya. It's very malty with hints of light currant.

No hassle, no confusion, just pure tea snobbery and enjoyment.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The Tailored Tea
+ Afternoon tea at the Whistling Kettle

Yep, Casey works at Professor Java's.


Midtown Tea & Tap? I haven't been in a while, but I've enjoyed good loose leaf tea there served in lovely enameled cast iron pots.

And even though there is no place to sit down, serious tea snobs would do well to go to the Divinitea store on upper Union in Schenectady, talk with Linda, and fall in love with some of her leaves.

I haven't been there, but have ordered tea from Sensibiliteas in Glens Falls (and sent my mother there to get me things), and I am a big fan. My mom said the shop is adorable.

The Local in Saratoga has a fairly good tea selection and offers tea sandwiches and a variety of British food!

Midtown Tap & Tea Room is not a tea room. Don't believe the hype. They are a bar and restaurant and that's it. Simply having tea available doesn't make you a Tea Room people.

Although I've enjoyed the Tailored Tea and would definitely go back again, my favorite is still Whistling Kettle.

I agree with Rachel. Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa is a tea lovers mecca. I have learned a lot about tea there. So much so that I now try out tea rooms when and wherever I travel. Although exploring new tastes has been fun I always look forward to returning home for lunch and a cup at the Whistling Kettle.

I used to LOVE The Good Leaf Tea Co. (predecessor to Lil Buddha). My favorite tea there was Love. I shamefully have not been able to return to the pot since it changes to Lil Buddha, but I plan too for sure. I visit their website occasionally in preparation! I also want to visit Sensabilities.

My hubby and I are HUGE fans of the Whistling Tea Kettle - Bar None, our favorite tea and sandwich spot.

I wonder what are folks thoughts on corporate tea - the seemingly elephant in the room: Teavana.

My spouse is a tea snob, so I end up benefiting by association. :)

While we go to the Whistling Tea Kettle for tea and snacks, we still buy tea from Teavana, sometimes. We also buy tea from a lot of other places, too. It just depends on what blend he wants and where we found it. Most of our tea is brewed at home by blends he makes himself, so I think that my kitchen is our personal top spot for a tea snob. :)

Anyhow, I don't think Teavana really applies here since you can't sit down in a little cafe to drink it & that's half of the fun.

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