Since coming to Rhode Island I have despaired over finding a new tea room to call home. Most places that serve tea here are not tea rooms but cafés. Chá Bēi is a tea room, and I’m very excited to call it my new home.
Chá Bēi is located on a busy street in Cranston. The parking lot is very small, as is the interior of the location. To be frank, Chá Bēi’s aesthetic ambiance is lacking; the tables are rough, the floor is a cold unappealing tile, the painting job is sloppy in places, etc. A generous description would express it as pleasantly quaint, and to a large extent it is; the owners have obviously taken care to provide as an appealing view as was possible. Once you accept the surroundings, there is nothing else to hinder you and you’ll find Chá Bēi has much to deliver.
When you walk into Chá Bēi you will see two comfy chairs to your immediate left, beyond those there is a magazine shelf with several issues of Mandarin Quarterly and other magazine options to choose from. There are no books. If you turn a bit from there you will see the table seating. There are three tables each of which sits two. However, two of the tables are pushed together and can be used as a table for four. Ahead of that there is the serving and ordering counter, this also has ample bar-like seating. You can see all of the teas on display in lovely clear glass jars behind this counter. To the right of that there is more bar-like seating at a free standing long table. There is no floor seating. Towards the back and directly ahead of you is the bathroom door with teaware display shelves on the right. This teaware is all for sale. They have double walled glass teacups, glass teapots, and full gongfu tea sets of yixing clay with table included.
Chá Bēi offers hot tea, smoothies/lattes, and noodle dishes. The tea menu is as extensive as I could hope to find in Rhode Island. There are perhaps 25-30 teas to choose from (all varieties of processing: green [including matcha], white, black, oolong, pu-erh), many different tea smoothies/lattes, and four noodle dishes (three in winter). There are also small tea snacks (crackers and the like) you can purchase from a hanging display near the teaware sale shelving.
I ordered a pot of green tea Chá Bēi called Lao Shan Autumn Spring. I’m not sure if it was picked in autumn or spring, its name seems to imply both, but either way it was quite nice. It was a light but distinctly rounded tea with very subtle hints of nut (Chá Bēi describes this as a hint of chestnut). I steeped it three times and enjoyed it each time. The second steep was my favorite. The tea leaves were a tiny bit faded and twigy but it tasted interesting enough, and smelled good enough, that I liked it; furthermore, its price was very practical considering.
Just prior to my third steep I ordered a regular sized bowl of noodles (there is a large size for the very hungry out there). My dish was called wheat noodles with dashi. It included shiitake mushrooms, Chinese lettuce, a hard boiled egg, and, of course, the wheat noodles and dashi stock. You could also have spam but I opted to omit that ingredient. It was nice and filling.
One of the most delightful surprises about Chá Bēi is its extremely reasonable prices. I have never gone out for high tea for such a cheap price before. It was (not including tip) only $8 for everything. The owners, a couple, are knowledgable and very friendly. The woman is from China and the man is (I presume) American. They are happy to speak with you if you are the chatting type, or let you sit and drink your tea quietly if that is your preference. Overall it was a pleasant experience and I highly recommend Chá Bēi to fellow Rhode Islanders, or visitors, who are seeking a tea room in the smallest state.
My friend and I went to the Mint Restaurant and Tea Lounge spur of the moment late in the evening. I was craving tea and Mint was the closest place serving so late. The parking for Mint is clearly marked but you will have a short walk from the lot to the restaurant (proceed to the left from entering the parking lot and follow the private pathway on the low part of the hill).
Outside of Mint you’ll notice several tables for summer use and large french doors. You won’t enter through these doors, rather you’ll move forward to a single door. Upon entering you’ll find a traditional restaurant set-up with a host (who will also act as your waitress and is the owner) to sit you. There is no teaware being sold here, nor are there any books to read. The seating entirely consists of western-style tables and chairs which are sadly not the most comfortable. The music was new age and the lighting was dim and personal.
When we arrived around 7:00 p.m. in early November on the weekend the restaurant was empty but Mint’s website recommends reservations and a review on a separate website notes being turned away because it was full. Mint’s tea menu is found clasped in the hands of a statue on your table and a dinner menu will be provided by your waitress. Mint’s tea menu is limited—perhaps 12 teas—but carefully chosen. I selected their Darjeeling white tea and it was a fine light tea. I was served a single cup but elsewhere I’ve read they do serve pots. Nonetheless, where Mint shines is their food.
Mint’s menu changes frequently, making it a perfect spot for regulars who crave different tastes for their palate. The menu is almost entirely vegan and vegetarian with a focus on organic! It nonetheless remains heavily robust and excitingly eclectic. From the early November menu I ordered (if I remember correctly) an absolutely amazing cauliflower soup, sautéed broccoli and kale with rice and beans, and a fabulously scrumptious chocolate moose for dessert. My friend ordered pad thai with peanut sauce, and a chocolate coconut treat for dessert. I tried everything and everything, as I came to expect, was delicate and lovely.
A caveat is the price. At $20 per entrée it’s quite expensive, although you can see the obvious quality that comes with that price. If you’re wise about it you can fill up on an appetizer and/or entrée split between two people, being sadly sure to skip dessert, to save some money. I’m not sure if Mint has rules about such practices however. My friend was also a bit disappointed because he is a picky eater who doesn’t like complicated dishes (as in dishes with more than three base ingredients), nor does he like rice, beans, or soup. This makes it a bit hard for him to find something at Mint. We were thinking a salad might be best for him next time.
All in all, Mint is a lovely place to stop by for high tea. In the future I’ll likely attend for the food alone. If you would like tea, you might be sure to request a pot if desired as they don’t seem to cater to the tea room crowd much. A long tea session won’t be as comfortable as in other places, but the food will keep you seated and satisfied.
Today I made a special two hour trip to Middlebury to visit the Stone Leaf Teahouse. For those unfamiliar with Middlebury, I recommend a GPS; for me, the area was confusing to navigate by car. The Stone Leaf Teahouse is located in a small business plaza that has its own parking. One can enter the teahouse through a side entrance, located in a covered walkway between the teahouse and another business, or through a back entrance.
Upon entering through the side entrance, you will come to the service counter and teaware display area. This teaware is all for sale and they have the largest selection I have seen yet in Vermont. (The exception being the Teavana store in Burlington but with $65+ markups on their cast iron teapots I hardly think they’re worth mentioning.) The Stone Leaf Teahouse sells cast iron, steel, glass, ceramic, and Yixing clay teapots. They also sell other tea accessories like chanoyu/gongfu ceremony equipment and, of course, teacups.
To be served you can seat yourself and a menu will be brought to you. On the lower level is traditional western-style seating, but if you ascend to the loft (taking off your shoes before you do) you’ll find three low tables with very short zabuton sized stools with cushioning; they’re attractive but not quiet as comfortable as one might hope. Each table also has a rug underneath providing added comfort if you like to stretch your legs out. There is no back support unless you take the table closest to the stairs behind the screen, there one person can lean against an outside corner and its wall.
The Stone Leaf Teahouse provides patrons with books to read from a small bookcase found at the base of the stairs. There is also free internet if you prefer. I entertained myself with my own book: The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti A. Skomsvold. It was perfectly suited to the occasion. The music played was, as with most teahouses, eclectic but generally soothing; I overheard one patron ask and the owner indicate that Zoe Keating was being played. If one needs the restroom, they will have to exit the teahouse through the side entrance and cross the covered walkway to a single-occupancy restroom.
There is a moderately large selection of teas, maybe 70 by my guess. Be forewarned however, there is no high tea here. All you will find to eat is snacks—delicious snacks but snacks nonetheless. I ordered a pot of Hojicha. It was a very interesting and exciting green tea that comes to a honeyed and reddish brown color when brewed. This is because the tea is fired at a very high temperature during processing. Its smell was delicately strong and its taste similar. The Stone Leaf Teahouse’s Hojicha has a very light and airy flavor with an echo of earth that hangs like the final hum of the E string on a guitar. Overall I would describe it as a mellow tea well suited to the evening palate.
My Hojicha was expertly but comfortably served by the owner. I was provided with a Japaense yokode kyuusu for brewing my tea, a pitcher for serving my tea, a teapot with water and tea warmer to have hot water on hand for additional infusions, and of course my teacup and saucer. My tea was served on a lovely little tray that the teahouse actually sells for a reasonable $16. In addition to my tea I ordered some mochi and almonds to keep my stomach from complaining too much. The almonds didn’t compliment the Hojicha per say, but I found the mochi suited very well and the almonds added the bulk I needed to prevent hunger.
At the Stone Leaf Teahouse you’ll find an atmosphere of calm and serenity highlighted by their natural dim lighting. It’s possible you’ll hear some chatty fellow patrons but if you’re there for a long sit they will come and go and you’ll find yourself centering easily again on the quiet peace of the space. There is never a rush to leave and when you do you’ll quickly be eager to return. I know I hope to make monthly trips in the future.
Tulsi is a tea room located in an old home converted into a shared business place and it is my home away from home. The other businesses include several massage therapists, an astrologist, an apothecary, etc. When you first approach the home (having parked at the public parking available on State Street) you’ll see a porch where tables are available for tea room patrons in the summer. As you enter the house you’ll come into a hall where, in the event of overflow, you can request to be seated if the tea room is full. It will, in the cooler months, be a bit drafty, and it will always be a bit cramped if you’re ordering food with your tea, but I’ve always found it well worth it when no other options exist.
To the left of the hall you’ll find the bathroom, and to the right is the tea room. When you enter you’ll see four or five tables for traditional seating, most of the chairs being a tad uncomfortable, and one floor-seating option by the bay window behind the shoji screen. That shoji screen also hides a small bookcase full of books for patrons’ reading pleasure. To the rear of the room you’ll find the service counter and dessert window. To the left of this counter is a small built-in bookcase that houses the black binder tea menus; in my memory, there are about 50 teas to choose from. On the counter you’ll sometimes find a printed pamphlet of the take out/food menu (don’t be confused by the similar looking catering pamphlet). If you’re unable to find the printed food menu, you’ll have to look to the back wall for the posted food menu. There is always plenty to choose from and vegan/vegetarian options are usually marked; feel free to ask if unsure.
When you’ve made your selection you can put back your tea menu/food menu and wait to be assisted. (Simply standing by the counter will accomplish this.) You can choose to pay for your order now or after you’re done in the event that you might add to it. At Tulsi you’ll seat yourself and you can feel free to do so before you order. My favorite spot is the floor-seating arrangement because of its privacy and comfort during long tea sessions. Sadly, this spot is often taken. Near there, you’ll also notice Tulsi’s teaware selection and books for purchase on a mounted bookcase.
My favorite tea from Tulsi is the middle way (middle priced) green tea called Genmaicha; it is served and steeped in a cast iron pot (sadly without tea warmer) to keep the tea hot but be prepared for a possible associated bitterness with the white/green teas because of the heat during steeping. My absolute favorite meal is the dosa plate with potato curry and three chutneys. I also highly recommend the samosas (buy the $2 day old ones! they taste just as good as fresh ones). I can’t recommend the cookies because they are too dry but I wholeheartedly recommend the chocolates, although, for the strict vegans out there, it’s very rare to find one without honey.
Tulsi’s atmosphere is warm and friendly, with a bright room and soothing and/or smooth music. Fellow patrons are mostly of the quietly chatty and silent variety but it does vary from day to day. If luck is with you, you can experience heavenly serenity, peace, and comfort in a tea room, if not as lucky, you experience an absolutely scrumptious meal and delectable tea to keep your mouth watering for days.
Dobra was the first tea room I ever visited and I almost immediately fell in love. It is often busy but is worth the wait. There are many tables to sit at, but if you’re lucky you’ll find one of the four raised booths with floor seating available. These booths provide privacy and intimacy in an otherwise crowded tea room. When you are being seated—you can request a seat if you see it free—you’ll be given Dobra’s amazing menu and a bell.
The bell is for calling someone over to help you order. Dobra’s menu has, in my memory, at least 100 teas to choose from, and the menu provides ample guidance for the novice: such as explaining the differences between tea types (e.g., green and white). My favorite tea at Dobra is their Moroccan Mint. The menu also has several options for eating including meals (like their pita plates and a lentil dhal soup with rice) and desserts (I highly recommend trying the daifukumochi). There are many vegan and vegetarian options available which are clearly marked.
The atmosphere at Dobra is characterized by dim lighting, eclectic but soothing music, and a relaxed but helpful staff. There is also a large selection of books patrons are able to read. At Dobra they will never rush you out the door (this is also why it stays so busy I think) and you can feel free to settle in for an entire afternoon and evening if that is your wish. For the college student (there will be many of them here) or businessperson the free internet (and ample outlets) can be a great boon. Dobra will frequently provide you with a tea warmer for your tea so you will have a warm pot for hours.
When you have made your selection you call someone over with the bell to make your order, and you are welcome to ask to keep the menu and bell if you think you will add to your order later. When you have finished you simply get up and attend the service counter in the connected shop. They will likely ask you to confirm what you ordered. This shop is a recent addition that is used to showcase their teaware products and to store their ample tea supply.
All in all, Dobra provides a great selection, great preparation, and a great atmosphere.