I think drinking tea should be more of an affair. Once in a while, it should have a sense of occasion. And for that, there's the monthly tea tasting event at The Whistling Kettle in Ballston Spa.
"There are more tea drinkers than just a few years ago - those who want to expand their horizons or try something new," explains owner Kevin Borowsky.
So for those feeling adventurous, or just curious, the restaurant stays open late one Friday a month and offers a sampling of rare exotic teas from around the world.
At each event they put together a list of teas not available on their menu for you to sample. And to sweeten the deal, they also include their "afternoon tea" menu: a three-tiered meal of two savory dishes of your choice and one sweet. All together it's $19.95 per person.
After attending a recent tasting, here are five things to know about the events...
1. You can go alone
If you're the only tea drinker in your group of friends or you just can't find a wingman on a Friday night, don't let that hold you back. Some of the tables had groups, but about a third of the tables were people enjoying their tea by themselves.
2. The teas really are exotic
If you're more of a Lipton person than an oolong person, then get ready to step outside your comfort zone. Our menu for the night included a rarely-heard-of "yellow tea," a white tea, a genmaicha, an oolong, and an herbal tea called Reiki. They came from all over the world and, to be honest, some were... grassy. They were balanced with the soft oolong and the fruity Reiki, but English Breakfast drinkers would definitely be expanding their horizons.
3. There's a "spittoon" -- don't be afraid to use it
We didn't find out until the end of our meal, but the empty carafe on the table is meant to be a spittoon for your tea. That way, if you don't like the tea or simply can't have that much caffeine after 6 pm, you can still sample without drinking the whole cup.
4. The teas are rare -- if there's one you like, buy it
I debated for a while whether I should purchase the Vietnam Tung Ting Oolong or not. At $16 for a quarter pound, it wasn't the most expensive tea on our menu that night, but it did seem like an unnecessary expense. But then I realized I had never seen the tea anywhere else and didn't know when I would see it on a menu again. So I splurged on the rare tea with a funny name.
5. The tastings are very popular
Ever since Whistling Kettle re-launched the event last fall (to include dinner), every tea tasting has sold out. They book approximately 50 people for the night and those spaces fill up quickly. Borowsky suggests joining the email list. It's the easiest way to find out as soon as the next tea tasting is scheduled -- and you can sign up right away.
The night is relaxing, fun, and not a bad way to start your Friday night (or end it, we left at 8:15 pm). If you're new to tea, the staff is knowledgeable and they encourage you to discuss which teas you like and which you don't. They aren't hurt if you tell them, "I just didn't like that Kenya Nandi Safari White Tea. It didn't taste like anything."
Earlier on AOA: Capital Region spots for tea snobs
The Whistling Kettle
24 Front Street
Ballston Spa, NY 12020
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