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Time For Tea

Afternoon tea is making the rounds in high places

By Najeeb Hasan

IN MOST cultures but ours, there's nothing more essential than the afternoon cup of tea (except perhaps the morning cup of tea or, even, the cup of tea served after the sun goes down). We Americans, though, are certainly catching on. Whether we're gulping down tiny cups of green tea at the corner sushi joint or making a beeline for the pot of steaming chai (black tea mixed liberally with sugar and cream and sometimes with spices such as coriander, cloves and ginger) at the closest Indian restaurant, we're exploring waters that the rest of the world has already charted, mapped and measured.

Tea has always been just another one of those things that we ethnocentric Americans ignore because of our ignorance of the subject matter. Like soccer. Or the metric system.

But unlike our uneasy relationship with millimeters, Americans are following the path of Shen Nung, a 2737 B.C.E. Chinese emperor, when it comes to tea. According to legend, the emperor was heating water over a fire when leaves from a Camellia sinensis plant just happened to end up in his pot. He took a sip and decreed (perhaps foreshadowing Viagra advertising) that the concoction gives one "vigor of body, contentment of mind and determination or purpose." This claim has validity, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a highly reputable source when it comes to anything but food pyramids.

The history of American tea drinking is, much like the FDA, marred by politics. Of the three varieties of tea that come from the Camellia sinensis plant (black, green and oolong), the FDA reports that 95 percent of the tea consumed in the United States is black tea. Only 60 years ago, Americans were drinking both black and green tea at a 40 percent clip. World War II, however, necessitated cutting off the Chinese and Japanese tea markets, the world's major sources of green tea, and black tea consumption shot up to 99 percent (black tea, was, of course, being imported from British-controlled India). Today, our main sources of tea are Argentina, China and Java.

The classiest place to get a spot of tea in San Jose is arguably the Fairmont Hotel. At $24.50 a person, tea drinkers are treated not only to afternoon tea but also to all the pomp of tea's tradition, complete with finger sandwiches, traditional British scones and cider. The Fairmont set up a program with the Hyde Park Hotel in London to learn about tea quality and etiquette, bringing in the hotel's tearoom manager and pastry chef to make sure they were doing it right. The Hyde Park Hotel, of course, is famous for serving the Queen Mother tea in London.

The Fairmont's Lina Broydo is understandably more than enthusiastic about her tea. "During the winter, people drink more tea," Broydo says. "When you have something like the Nutcracker ballet for three weeks, you are lucky if you can get reservations for our afternoon tea. It's a very wonderful time. Whenever I invite people for afternoon tea, they are so thrilled. I think everybody should have afternoon tea. People would be in a much better mood. The thing is that people now prefer tea; they don't want to drink alcohol and drive. Tea you can drink as much as you can, and it doesn't effect your driving. It keeps you alert. People are so rushed during the day they don't have time for lunch. At 3 o'clock, they are starving, so they say, Let's go and have afternoon tea at the Fairmont."

Broydo pauses to take a breath and continues: "We even have tea etiquettes. We once brought in a tea etiquette maven. We brought her in, and she became so popular that we had to extend to another session. Amazingly enough, we had a quite a few men come in for the sessions. She taught us how to curl our pinkies; she taught ladies how to drink tea without leaving lipstick on their cups; she brought an assortment of different teacups; she taught us what you pour first, the milk or the tea. It was wonderful."



Avalon Tea and Herbs
60 Fifth St, Gilroy
408.842.7003

The Fairmont San Jose
170 S. Market St, San Jose
408.998.1900

Imperial Tea
111 Story Rd, San Jose
408.298.8217

Lisa's Tea Treasures
1876 S. Bascom Ave, Campbell
408.371.7377
377 Santana Row, San Jose
408.247.3613; www.lisastea.com

Lowry's Irish Coffee House
350 W. Julian St, San Jose
408.993.9356

Renaissance Tea-Whise Only
2145 Lincoln Ave, San Jose
408.267.2823

Sweetea
2435 S. King Rd, San Jose
408.238.7038

Ten Ren Tea Company
1732 N. Milpitas Blvd, Milpitas
408.946.1118

Young's Tea
338 Barber Ln, Milpitas
408.433.0851
10983 N. Wolfe Rd, Cupertino
408.252.1330



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