Valerie Tea House & Bakery in Echo Park

In the heart of Los Angeles lies Echo Park, an area that I usually zip through while driving on the 5, 110, or 101 freeways. This historic urban neighborhood was recently renovated over the last few years, and the result is an arty mix of shops and light eateries–the perfect way to take a break if you are stuck in LA traffic.A few large blocks north of Echo Park Lake, you’ll find Valerie Tea Shop & Bakery, a cafe known for their luxurious petit fours and baked goodies. This bake shop may look small and simple, but inside you’ll find a host of tea time treats, from Tartine to Crème Fraîche Scones to Matcha Petit Fours.

The teas served at Valerie are blended by American Tea Room, a tea shop based out of Beverly Hills. You’ll find a few of their tea varieties in the store, but if you want a full list of their offerings you’ll need to visit the Valerie Confections website. Another wonderful perk of shopping online is being able to order petit fours for your friends and family. These little cakes are a welcome change from your everyday box of chocolates, with a marked touch of elegance and good taste. For the true petit four lover, Valerie even carries a yearly subscription for these confections. What’s great is how their petit four flavors have evolved over the years. They now carry two of my favorite tea flavors, both Matcha (with lemon verbena) and Earl Grey!
You can also pick up some tea accessories at Valerie. The one teapot that they stock is one that I brew with everyday called Hario Chacha Kyushu Maru. This Japanese glass teapot is ideal for brewing tea for 1 or 2 people, easy to use and clean. If you have some time to relax, definitely make your way out to the patio area of the tea shop. On the day I visited with my friend Danielle from This Picture Book Life, we ended up sitting out there for hours, chatting away while enjoying the LA sunshine.

In LA, it’s rare to find an artfully crafted tea shop. As such, Valerie Tea Shop & Bakery does a great job of setting a standard–the atmosphere here is casual yet finished, everything you’d expect modern tea time to be. Valerie also has two other locations in the LA area, one on First Street and the other at Grand Central Market, but if you love tea as much as I do then the Echo Park location is the one you’ll want to seek out first.

Valerie Echo Park

1665 Echo Park Avenue

Los Angeles, CA  90026

213.250.9365

valerieconfections.com

Boxwood Cafe at The London West Hollywood

I took this week’s post-Oscar drama about Lupita Nyongo’s stolen pearl-studded dress as a sign that I should finally share about my tea experience at The Boxwood Cafe from several months back. In November, I visited on a bright and beautiful late Saturday afternoon when I could fully appreciate the restaurant during a proper 3 o’clock tea time. The restaurant’s modern yet classic style, the panoramic views of LA’s skyline, and a promising review from a fellow SoCal food blogger had me anticipating a good time.

In my humble option, LA’s tea scene is a bit lacking, particularly when it comes the idea of modern tea. For such a culturally diverse city, it’s frustrating how limited the options are. There are a handful of Victorian style and extravagant 5-star resorts for tea-ing, with fewer options in between. Afternoon tea at The London strikes a balance between these two styles, relaxed enough where you can stroll in Hollywood casual, yet finished enough where you still get that sense of vintage tea tradition. I love the restaurant’s comfortably elegant decor, especially their pastel blue and gold quilted couches, which remind me of my recipe for Quilted Petit Fours.
Great service is always a plus. If you’ve ever watched Gordon Ramsay in action, then you know that he’s big on making sure his staff are courteous, friendly, and knowledgable about his restaurants’ menus. Our server at Boxwood Cafe was certainly all of the above, and suggested that I try the Rose Tea with French Vanilla, which tasted elegant and lightly rosy without being too perfume-like.

Another great thing about Boxwood Cafe is that guests can also order off of the regular menu. This helps if you plan on bringing someone along who *ahem* prefers a standard lunch over afternoon tea (my hubby ordered a burger with truffle fries).

So here we go, from top to bottom…tea for one. A beautiful site, isn’t it?The currant scone was tender and buttery, and I actually like that they give you just one, with plenty of tangy lemon curd and Devonshire cream. It may sound strange, but I like think of the singular offering as a form of portion control. A few bites to savor, fullyThe raspberry financier was good, not great. It was a little on the dry side, but I think that’s typical when you aren’t eating these immediately after they’ve come out of the oven. An extra sip of hot tea and everything is solved.
Next…on to the savories! I’ve enjoyed many a tea sandwich and must admit that I found these to be carefully and thoughtfully made. The Smoked Salmon and Cucumber? Predictable in flavor but still very tasty. The Curry Chicken? Spicy and sweet, with just the right amount of curry powder.My favorite sandwich was the Asparagus and Ham, on lightly buttered bread. The asparagus is blanched and peeled into paper-thin strips so that it has texture of lettuce. The flavors are light, fresh, and spring-like. If you are getting hungry and curious but aren’t anywhere near LA to partake, no worries! The sandwich was so good, I’ll be attempting to make a copy-cat version of it soon, so stay tuned!

Last but not least, we have the petit fours–the crowning glory of any tea time extravaganza. The L’Opera Cake was my favorite, mainly because of the rich chocolate. The cake has several lightly boozy layers of spongy cake, and is kind of like a tiramisu. The Lemon Tart was also good, but a bit of a short-cut cheat on the pastry chef’s part since it’s made from the same lemon curd that’s served with the scones. Here are a few final glimpses of The London West Hollywood on my way out. I was delighted to catch a look at the hotel’s stylish elevators, glossed with a black and white image of a dashing gentleman offering tea service. What a brilliant design concept. I can almost hear the butler saying: “At your service, madame.” How very Downton Abbey.Don’t be startled, right outside the café you’ll find an English Bulldog door stop…quintessentially English (the dog, not the door stop) and simply adorable. Too bad he isn’t real. And with that I’ll leave you with my wisest tip for taking tea at The London in West Hollywood: dress comfortable and dress classy, but real or fake, make sure to leave those pearl accessories at home!

Boxwood Cafe at The London West Hollywood

1020 N San Vicente Blvd

West Hollywood, CA 90069

310.358.7788

Tea on Saturdays & Sundays, 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM

MochiCream in Los Angeles

Before January passes us by I wanted to share about my recent trip over to MochiCream in Los Angeles. Mochi rice cakes are a classic tea snack in Asian culture, eaten for good luck and prosperity during the New Year, so there couldn’t be a better time to showcase this little gem of a shop.You’ll find MochiCream tucked inside Mitsuwa, a Japanese Market in the South Bay area of LA. The company hails from Japan, and is known for their stuffed mochi, but this time they aren’t filled with bean paste or ice cream.

mochi cream 3These mochi are lighter and softer than the ice cream filled ones that you might have had before. They’re filled with a medium bodied whipped cream and a layer of flavorful jam or paste, in the flavor of your choosing. Double Mango, Apple Pie, Darjeeling, and Sakura are just a few of their hard-to-resist specialties.
My favorite? The Houjicha. The gentle taste of the roasted green tea brings a bitter balance to the sweetness of the mochi cake. Above all, it’s the texture that I love most about these treats…silky, pillow-like, and buttery soft.
If you want to try their mochi in a less traditional shape, try their mochido, or mochi donuts. In the display case, they only feature the fake plastic ones. For the real deal, you’ll need to place your order and then wait 10 minutes for them to thaw before enjoying. 
It’s true, good things come to those who wait. After 10 minutes, the texture of the mochi is soft and fluffy, like a cloud. If you love English scones or French macarons, I’m sure these Japanese mochi are right up your alley.
My best suggestion when it comes to MochiCream is to look over your choices before you get there. Otherwise, you’re going to be tempted to buy dozens of these babies, and then you will eat them all, so it’s a good idea have a game plan. Make sure to stop over at MochiCream in Torrance for a Japanese tea time favorite the next time you are out and about in LA. Along with Fugetsu-Do, a traditional wagashi store in Little Tokyo, MochiCream is one of my favorite places in the city to get a bite of this perfectly chewy confection.

MochiCream in Mitsuwa Marketplace

21515 Western Ave

Torrance, CA 90501

310.328.8333

David’s Tea in Chicago

David’s Tea embodies everything I love about modern tea culture. The brand is bold and colorful, and they never fail to impress me with their creative tea flavors. You can’t go wrong with tea names like Sugar Plum Forest and Yes We Cran.  Glitter and Gold? Simply gotta have it…and I do!

davids tea 2Since December officially marks a month of endless shopping, I thought it might be a good time to share with you my visit to David’s Tea in Chicago last month. The shop I visited on Armitage Avenue lies in the center of a trendy, upscale shopping area on the north side of the city. The street is studded with one-of-a-kind, eclectic boutique stores like Art Effect, where I got my new favorite tea cup (it’s across the street from David’s Tea).

For a gal from Southern California, David’s Tea isn’t the easiest to find. David’s Tea is based in Canada and has several stores in the colder regions of the US (in New England and the Midwest), and a number of locations on the non-Canadian West Coast in Northern California.

For those like myself in far off places like SoCal, I love shopping online at David’s Tea. Their themed tea packages like David’s Starter Kit, Healthy Collection, or Teas That Say Thanks are ideal for gift giving and appeal to a wide range of tea enthusiasts. I love that they sell so many yummy herbal blends that everyone can enjoy, any time of day.

One of my favorite David’s Tea blends is Happy Kombucha, a fermented oolong blend that’s mixed with chunks of pineapple and mango. It’s ideal for the healthful hippie dreaming of a tropical vacation. Forever Nuts is another favorite. This caffeine-free, nut based herbal is perfection during months of cold weather.

What I love most about David’s Tea is that they make each blend entertaining. If you’ve never had a cup of one of their blends, you’re totally missing out! My only gripe is that they need to open up more stores, especially in and around LA. The Oh Canada! blend is great, but can you imagine how delicious a tea called Dawn’s Early Light would be? More David’s Teas in the US…that’s my vote!

David’s Tea-Lincoln Park

924 West Armitage Ave
Chicago, IL 60614
773.883.2183

TeaGschwendner in Chicago

If you’re in Chicago and find yourself in need of a break after shopping on Michigan Avenue, take a brisk walk north and you’ll find TeaGschwendner, an artisan tea company based out of Germany. Here in the US, we’re lucky enough to have 2 TeaGschwendner shops both located in the Chicago area, but in Germany there are over 130 TeaGschwendner stores, and even few more scattered throughout Europe and the Middle East.

If you think you might get lost on the way over to the store, check out this clip by TeaGschwendner where you can figure out how to pronounce TeaGschwendner, just in case you need to ask for directions. Not only will you get a glimpse of Thomas Holz, the Master Tea Taster at TeaGschwendner, but the clip should also give you a new appreciation for tea selection, steeping, and of course, slurping!

Entering TeaGschwender is like entering a bank vault packed with fragrant tea-filled aluminum safe deposit boxes. Instead of finding money, gold watches, or a string of pearls inside each box, you’ll find some of the world’s most exclusive teas…drinkable treasures waiting to be discovered and revealed.

Despite TeaGschwendner’s exceptional reputation among seasoned tea drinkers, the staff are incredibly friendly, knowledgeable, not the least bit pretentious. On the day I visited, Ryan, the store manager, provided outstanding insight into the company’s teas and lead me to just the right blends to please both my palette and my pocketbook.

If you are a seasoned connoisseur of Indian and Chinese teas, the shop has a very impressive stock of teas from Darjeeling, Assam, Ceylon, and beyond. For aspiring connoisseurs like myself, there are some more modest blends to choose from, including Almond Milk (one of their new honeybush blends), Bamboo Pomelo (an award-winning herbal blend at the North American Tea Expo in 2013), and Asian Pear (a mild green tea with a soft pear essence…my favorite!).

If you need some more help choosing a blend, don’t hesitate to ask for a taste! Below is my “slice” of the Carrot Cake blenda tangy, spicy brew with large chunks of carrots, oranges, and raisins studded throughout.

The Black Oothu and Green Manjolai are teas grown in South India, in tea gardens located in the middle of a Bengal Tiger Reserve. These teas are the result of the company’s partnership with the Nature Conservation League of Germany, and part of the proceeds that come from these teas go towards helping endangered Royal Bengal Tigers in South India.

The shop on State Street isn’t that large, but it does hold a wide selection of tea wares from all around the world. I especially love TeaGschwendner’s signature teacups, which are very wide and shallow. It’s the type of teacup that takes an extra bit of finesse to drink out of, reminding you to slow down, savor, and take a break.

TeaGschwendner carries a few brands of rare gourmet chocolates, including these handsome bars from Mast Brothers, based out of New York. The only thing better than drinking tea is drinking tea with a complex piece of chocolate, and what a feast for the eyes these bars are!

Here’s a look at some of the colorful Moroccan teacups I found next to Japanese cast iron teapot displays at the store. Stay tuned…you’ll be seeing the blue cups reappear in one of my upcoming posts soon!

Part of the charm of this shop is that it allows you to travel the world through a cup of tea. If you are lucky enough to visit one of their shops here in the US or elsewhere abroad, TeaGschwendner’s excellent customer service and attention to detail are sure to leave you with a renewed appreciation for world-class teas.

TeaGschwendner 

1160 North State Street

Chicago, Illinois 60610

312.932.0639

Adagio Teas in Chicago

Greetings from Chicago! I’m in the Windy City this week searching for the most comforting fall blends I can find. Many people come to Chicago searching for some buttery deep dish pizza or a snappy hot dog. But what do I look for? Teas that I can’t find in a sunny, 90-degrees-in-October place like Los Angeles.

There’s something about Chicago that makes it uniquely tea-friendly. Long wool coats and bone chilling temps set the stage for a thriving tea culture, and Adagio Teas is one of those tea shops that makes tea drinking that much more enticing.

Although Adagio Teas is actually based out of New Jersey, they have 3 brick and mortar retail stores, all located in Chicago. I visited the Adagio store on State Street in Downtown Chicago. The store isn’t exceptionally large but it is filled with a huge variety of tea goodies from clay teapots to tea flavored chocolate bars to zodiac themed teas.

The Masters Collection is a set of high-quality international specialty teas at Adagio. Most of the teas from this collection are from China or Japan, and are single origin teas not blends. These teas come in Asian-inspired decorative tins where Formosa Ali Shan, Fujian Ti Kuan Yin, and Fujian Silver Needle are among the most popular steeps from this collection.

This tea shop is currently holding a World of Artisan Teas tasting tour, where each week 3 teas from one tea-producing country are featured for your tasting pleasure, free of charge. After your tea tastings, you’ll get a stamp in your “tea passport” just as you would if you had traveled to that country. A fully stamped passport entitles you to a gift from Adagio at the end of your travels.

If you are a picky tea drinker or want to try your hand at creating your own personal blend, there’s a station at the back of the store where you can mix and match teas to suit your taste. You can even schedule private tastings where you can learn about and discover new teas.

On the day I visited, I selected Adagio’s Formosa Bai Hao to try. This tea has a distinctive honey-like peachy essence that transforms into a sweet, woody brew once steeped. Bai Hao is also known as Oriental Beauty, and is highly oxidized which makes it reminiscent of fallen autumn leaves.

The friendly and knowledgable staff at Adagio Teas on State Street do a great job at taking the mystery out of tea drinking. I love that the brand celebrates tea in so many dynamic and creative ways, and aims to educate customers at the same time. You can also find some of Adagio’s teas and teaware on Amazon, but if you are in the Chicago area, a trip over to one of their vibrant stores is well worth your time. 

Lamill Boutique in Silverlake

A few weeks ago I met the charming and vivacious force behind This Picture Book Life, Danielle Davis. I met Danielle at a blogging workshop back in June, and when I asked her what type of material she blogged about, she interestingly said…”picture books!” I was intrigued and actually didn’t really know what to expect, but after visiting her site that evening I wanted to know more. Not long after, Danielle and I decided to meet up at Lamill Coffee in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles to discuss life, tea, and of course…picture books!

If you have kids or simply love children’s books, you must check out This Picture Book Life. Every week, Danielle introduces readers to books that are not only beautifully illustrated, but also dynamic in meaning and purpose. These books aren’t your average children’s books. Her book recommendations are modern, artistic, and even a little dark at times. More often than not, they have a complex take-home message. The books are for the modern child living in a modern world.

There couldn’t be a better place to have met up with Danielle then Lamill. The shop is contemporary and refreshing, just like her blog is. Despite it’s trendy feel, it’s actually quite relaxing and peaceful once you are inside. If you need a few hours to study, blog, or to simply hide away from LA’s bustle, you should definitely stop by.

Lamill is well-known for their coffee, but they also have a large variety of specialty teas to choose from. I had a hard time choosing between Gossip Tea, a Organic Morrocan Mint Tea, and Nip and Tuck Tea, a Japanese Citron Green Tea. I decided on the latter because the tea sounded so quintessentially LA.

My only gripe about Lamill is that they oversteeped my green tea. It was definitely on the bitter side, and had me wondering if I should have ordered that Gossip Tea instead!

Danielle and I ended up chatting for almost 4 hours at Lamill. You can see from the flickering candle that our afternoon tea break was soon becoming an evening wind down. If you visit in the evening, Lamill also has some light snacks and desserts to enjoy. Anyone up for Brioche Ice Cream Puffs or Mocha Waffles?

If you can’t stop by, you can order Lamill’s teas online. They also have a small shop next door that sells unique gifts and tea accessories. The next time I head back, I think I’m going to try Creative Unblock, an Organic White Tangerine Tea. An extra dose of creativity could never hurt!

And with that, I’d like to extend a special thanks to my new friend and fellow blogger, Danielle, for allowing me to feature her charming and imaginative site on my blog today! This Picture Book Life…don’t miss it!!