The stinging disappointment of poor tea service used to wash over me time and time again in the 90’s. I particularly remember a time many years ago when a friend and I were dining at a swanky steak house in Edmonton.
I had suggested we cap off the exceptional meal with a nice pot of tea to settle our stomachs, we had unduly gorged ourselves and I was feeling just a
tad bloated. Ike wholeheartedly agreed and I summoned the waiter for his tea selection. He reappeared momentarily with a little wicker basket. It yielded the following choices (I remember this clearly): Red Rose, Twinning’s Earl Grey, Stash Peppermint, and some unknown Chamomile. I recall the feeling of being let down, disregarded, even placated.
I looked at Ike, while he looked at me, both of us thinking the very same thing, what a truly lame offering from such a great restaurant. Feeling somewhat like I was backed into a corner; I selected the Earl Grey and Ike chose the Red Rose.
Less than a minute passed, and the tea arrived in those drippy flip lid stainless steel pots. The water was barely steaming and had a fizzy foam on top. I knew exactly what I was in for, stereotypical restaurant tea service (horrid). If you recall, these small pots will lose a third of their precious cargo on the tablecloth while you poured. It was ultimately a dismal failure from beginning to end.
You may come back to this fine steakhouse for the Angus beef, but the whole tea experience is something best forgotten.
However, I do not forget these things, and neither do a lot of my brethren. Because tea is probably the last item your palate will taste before leaving any dining establishment, chances are it will leave more of an impression on you than the two sides accompanying the main course, or even the main course itself.
And sadly, this is where most chefs completely miss the boat. This is a squandered opportunity, a brief chance to raise the bar on a component of the dining experience that can leave an indelible impression.
Fortunately, time has a way of healing all open wounds. Today, nearly a decade since this memorable tea experience, I can see a small shimmering light at the end of that tepid tunnel.
It was, nonetheless, a recent trip to Winnipeg that surely surprised the hell out of me. I dined at three popular eateries in Winnipeg and was served loose-leaf tea each time. We are not talking about those pseudo tearoom/teahouse restaurants that have a full menu, but call themselves a tea spot, but rather a cross-section of the entire dining spectrum. I went to a crowded pancake house on a Saturday morning, a modern bistro, and arguably Winnipeg’s finest restaurant, 529 Wellington. At the end of each meal, I was offered a full (and separate) TEA MENU, a well-written, nicely organized card with upwards of 30+ loose-leaf teas.