WEB-EXCLUSIVE: Tea is more than just a coffee alternative. At these tea houses, it's an experience all its own.
With the steady success of both independently-owned and chain coffee houses over the years, it’s pretty safe to say the coffee revolution is sticking it out. But is tea here to stay as well? Orange County tea bar and store owners say yes. Shops throughout OC are hopping on the tea train, giving rise to this simple and ancient elixir so many Californians dedicate their mugs to. Here are some of the most fun tea shops we’ve found around the county and their take on the healthy, popular and tasty drink.
Seventh Tea Bar
3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa
Opened just this year in Costa Mesa, this hip and fun tea station is located in the heart of The OC Mix shopping center. Named in respect to the traditional Chinese belief that tea is the seventh of seven life necessities, the tea-focused extension of Portola Coffee Lab plays up its heritage with decorative reminders of Victorian London. Customers are offered oversized chairs in which to enjoy their beverages and, as if in a pub, the bar’s iced flavors are served on tap. With pH and preservation of the teas in mind, a high-tech nitrogen cooling system works to chill the iced flavors, despite the shop’s retro feel. Hot teas are, of course, brewed fresh and can be ordered, as English tradition has it, with a variety of scones, pastries and tea sandwiches made in the kitchen. Their 50 different blends, as well as various carbonated fruit and herbal tea creations unique to the store, are offered to go or to stay - though we guess you’ll want to stay.
Tranquil Tea Lounge
106 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton
Four years old and owned and operated by a brother-sister pair, this tea haven presents itself as a modern, versatile hangout unlike any high-tea house. Juggling its many roles as a café, lounge, gallery, and event space, the store has 100 blends ready to brew; including the much-loved Geisha’s Kiss, a green tea including strawberry pieces and rose petals. The lounge's extensive collection of teas is displayed in clear jars alphabetically at the front of the cafe, where customers are free to smell them and educate themselves on brew time, temperature and preparation. Hot teas are brought to your table and brewed in front of you in a personal teapot. The iced option is presented in a tall glass with a carafe on the side for a refill that you’ll definitely appreciate. If you’re feeling creative, let them prepare their Matcha float for you - a green tea version of a classic root beer and ice cream made with soy milk. You can find their all-encompassing menu of sweet and savory teas and treats on their website.
Lavender Lounge Tea Company
104 N. El Camino Real Ste. B, San Clemente
This funky and colorful lounge in San Clemente is an inviting and peppy place to bring your friends. The social hotspot features signature chalkboards around the store, vibrantly decorated with a menu of the popular teas and messages encouraging customers to Instagram themselves enjoying their purchases for chances to win free tea. The walls are lined with tins of their many blends, including Hawaiian Colada, a pineapple and coconut rooibos tea combo popular with the summer crowd. An array of seating options, artistic menu boards and tea-lined walls give the sweet shop a bohemian, welcoming feel. Devoted tea junkies, rejoice! The Lavender Lounge Tea Company website features info for its tea-of-the-month club, where you can sign up for monthly tea and product sample delivery. A membership comes in three, six or 12-month packages and includes your choice of one of three teas, muslin steeping bags and even a gift card to the store each month. Stop by for a mellow afternoon tea break - you won’t be disappointed.
311 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach
Newly located in the old Latitude 33 Bookstore space, Spice Merchants is a warm and welcoming spice and tea shop nestled in downtown Laguna. Though they don’t serve tea, the specialty store encourages customers to get creative with their teas at home, and sells everything one could possibly need to get brewing. With over 100 different loose-leaf teas in bulk jars, you’re free to have a smell and take home a bag complete with instructions on how to brew your pick just right. Intended for boiling with Spice Merchants’ all-natural teas, the blooming hibiscus and lavender flowers offered separately are perfect for a light added flavor or serve well simply brewed in their own pot. Though known for its imported goods, the store also sells different honeys locally harvested in Orange County - perfect for sweetening your cup. Altogether, the specialized shop offers an inviting environment for tea lovers who prefer to brew at home. Included on the company website is a series of recipes and ways to steep and cook things you may have picked up at the store.
Fusion Tea Bar
13771 Newport Ave. Ste. 12, Tustin
Known for its beautiful and tasty macarons as much as for tea, the popular Fusion Tea Bar offers an easily accessible, comfortable place for tea lovers to chill in Tustin. A wall of fresh, loose-leaf tea tins are prominently displayed for customers to decide on their favorite flavors. Brewed iced or hot, you have a say in your creation from the start - pick your choice of soy or organic milk and how much of their homemade German rock sugar syrup you’d like mixed into your brew for your perfect level of cloudiness and sweetness. The bar also includes specialty teas like Wintermelon and Sobrietea, which can be shaken with boba, lychee, coffee, jelly, agave, or even fresh fruit. Some of their more creative concoctions like 2 To Tango Mango (one of our favorites) is a frozen yogurt smoothie with strawberry slush and topped with mango and strawberry pieces that’s sure to cool on a sunny day. Treat yourself to a macaron or two with an iced Acai Breeze - you won’t regret it.