Tea Gardens in LA

Cool pockets of calm are quietly making themselves heard throughout the bustling streets of Los Angeles. From the cinderblock towers of downtown to the iconic beach community of Venice and the refined elegance of Pasadena, tea gardens have become places of sanctuary and inspiration for many Los Angelenos.

Tea Garden and Herbal Emporium

In West Hollywood, tucked away in a beautiful cottage on Melrose Avenue also known as the Avenue of Design, due to the number of high end furniture and art galleries that line its sidewalks, is Mark Ukra’s newest venture, Tea Garden and Herbal Emporium, formerly Elixir. Ukra, whose nickname Dr. Tea was given to him by an eight year old who thought he looked like a doctor, is a leading authority on tea and his book, The Ultimate Tea Diet, was published by Harper Collins in December 2007.

From the moment you walk in the front door of the Tea Garden, you are presented with a design aesthetic that is as comforting as a favored blanket from childhood and refreshing as a cool slice of watermelon on a hot summer day. Ukra who wears a bright orange lab coat that is as much a fashion statement as it is branding for the company, makes sure everyone is personally greeted with a healthy welcome. With over 110 teas to choose from, all neatly displayed on long shelves and housed in stainless and orange canisters, it was hard to decide which one to try since everything sounded so interesting. In the end, I chose the easy way out and let Dr. Tea choose for me. And I wasn’t disappointed. After six different teas, some hot and others cold, I was a convert to his thoughtfully prepared drinks.

Ukra and his wife, Julie, travel the world to find ingredients that make their tonics and elixirs so out of the ordinary. Every single offering is considered for it healthful components as well as for taste, color and quality. I had an iced capaTEAno to start off, yes you read that right. There are also TEAna Coladas and Banana DaiqurTEAs, but I am saving those for another visit. The capaTEAno involves Oolong tea, in which the oolong is roasted under the same conditions as coffee beans, Hojicha a la crème (dried Tahitian vanilla and vanilla blossoms), some agave and a touch of dark chocolate and hazelnut torani. It truly tasted like an ice blended coffee drink, but without the side effects. Next I tried a Chinese Pu-Erh tea, that is hand harvested from wild ancient tea trees. The black label Pu-Erh at first smelled like wonderful wet bamboo and tasted like mushrooms. The second and third cups were more subtle and more delicious than the first. I also tried tea combinations like licorice Oolong, Green Tea Pineapple and Queen Elizabeth’s black label, a tea made for the Queen herself. With each cup, Dr. Tea explained that he wanted to create a sanctuary where people can come in an relax, catch up with friends, read a book or meditate. His motto is "If I say I can, I will. If I say I can’t I won’t." It is his goal that everyone’s experience in the Tea Garden is a positive and healthful one.

In addition to the trademark premium teas, the Tea Garden also offers a Chinese herb bar and a well thought out gifts and accessories selection. There are also classes on tai-chi, yoga and meditation. Outdoors and just feet away from the store is an airy veranda, a large bamboo garden with meandering pathways and comfortable seating areas that take advantage of a large and centrally placed water feature. The Tea Garden’s online offerings is extensive as is the in house food menu that is serviced by M Café de Chaya, an off shoot of the very popular Chaya family of restaurants.

JIN Patisserie

Like Mark Ukra, Christy Choo is passionate about her little slice of paradise, Jin Patisserie, which she opened in 2003. Her tea garden and gourmet pastry shop, for which she is executive chef, is located in the Abbot Kinney district of Venice, an area along Abbot Kinney Blvd., which has become a hotspot for the world tastemakers and trendsetters alike.

Choo, who co-owns the patisserie with her husband, Kim Oh, has an impressive culinary background. Having studied at the San Francisco Culinary academy, learning the art of pastry making from one of Singapore’s noted pastry chef’s Kenny Kong, she was named the official chocolatier for Singapore’s national team during the prestigious Food and Hotel 2002 Asia competition at which she won first place in the competitive petite four division. In 2004, Jin Patisserie was named a "Best of" winner by Los Angeles Magazine and it is easy to see why.

Your senses are immediately stimulated as you pass through the over sized gate that separates the rest of humanity from trickling water, a pebble walkway, bamboo and grasses. While not a large garden, tables and chairs are carefully laid out take full advantage of the space and allow people a little bit of solitude. Ms. Choo came up with the concept for the patisserie after realizing that, "I wanted to give my customers a complete experience; a peaceful garden, an aesthetically designed store and flavors that would cause the taste buds to go wild."

The small patisserie that is located in the front of what was once a bungalow, thoughtfully shows off Ms. Choo’s creations, which are truly works of art. All of choo’s chocolates are hand dipped and nothing is machine made. Says Choo, "I use only the highest quality of chocolate from around the world, infusing them with teas, spices and interesting herbs."
Keeping with her high aesthetic, Choo’s Jin Patisserie packaging that she designed for to go and online orders, are just as imaginative. The menu boasts a number of cookies with innovative combinations such as lavender almond, peanut butter sesame and of course tea infusions as well as cakes and chocolates so beautiful that you might not want to eat them... too quickly. Choo’s loose leaf teas such as Ikebana and Sam Bodhi are a perfect compliment to the food that she serves, allowing subtle flavors to rise to the top and really giving your taste buds a treat. Taking a stroll down Abbot Kinney Blvd. has never been so fulfilling.

The Tea Garden and Herbal Emporium is located at 8612 Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. A second Tea Garden and Herbal Emporium is located at 9001 Beverly Blvd., also in West Hollywood. www.teagarden.com

Jin Patisserie is located at 1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice. www.jinpatisserie.com

Fun Fact:
According to the Tea Association of America, in 2006 Americans consumed well over 50 billion servings of tea, or over 2.25 billion gallons. About 83 percent of all tea consumed was Black Tea, 16 percent was Green Tea, and a small remaining amount was Oolong Tea. On any given day, about one half of the American population drinks tea. Approximately 85 percent of tea consumed in America is iced.

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About The Author, Steve Miller
Steve Miller is a published author as well as a marketing and public relation's consultant in the entertainment and arts communities. Steve is currently the editor of http://www.thinkdesigntips.com and http://www.thinktraveltips.comFreelance writing endeavors concern travel, design and lifestyle related issues.