Unsatisfactory Restaurant Tea

I’ve got a deep, dark secret.

I almost never order hot tea in restaurants. If I need a hot beverage with or after my meal, I order coffee.

I have reasons for my treachery: Most restaurants don’t serve good tea, and even if they do, they don’t always know how to serve it. In fact, some of the biggest tea blunders that I’ve encountered were perpetrated by restaurants that specialize in “afternoon tea”.

Take one Chicago restaurant, which shall remain nameless, that boasts a Saturday afternoon tea service. They have a credible tea selection and even manage to serve it in high-quality teaware. Where they fall down is with the water: They insist on heating their water to a temperature corresponding with the type of tea served (i.e., cooler water for green tea, near-boiling for black tea). This is wise. What is not wise is failing to develop a process for getting the tea out to customers sitting at the same table at the same time. Even worse, the restaurant can’t manage to get hot water refills to customers either.

(Suggestion: Two separate hot water dispensers, one holding water at 180° F and the other keeping the water at 208° F, should sort out water-matching problems pronto.)

Another restaurant doesn’t have proper teaware for loose leaf tea service. Tea is served in tiny, individual pots with even tinier cups. The pots don’t have an infuser, and the tea must be poured into the cup through a strainer. Any leftover tea, and there is leftover tea because the cups are so small, sits with the tea leaves, getting  more bitter and disagreeable by the second.

Grimaldi 2 Cup Infuser Teapot
Grimaldi 2 Cup Infuser Teapot

(Suggestion: If a restaurant doesn’t want to invest in teapots with built-in infusers, it needs to make sure that the capacity of its teapots and its teacups match up.)

One of my most disappointing tea experiences occurred at a lovely hotel famous for its afternoon tea. Everything about the experience was good,  particularly the food, except that the tea menu listed only one unflavored black tea on its standard tea menu.  Unflavored black teas are particularly food-friendly, especially when enjoying a meal of cakes and sandwiches. Yet every other tea was either flavored, some other type of tea (green, white, oolong) or an herbal tisane. What I wanted was a traditional Assam to stand up to a spread of finger sandwiches and pastries. What I got was a somewhat weak Yunnan black, tasty, but not ideal.

(Suggestion: Restaurants and tea rooms that serve food with tea should focus on their black tea selection, while offering other options for those who prefer them.)

What are your pet tea peeves?

See also:
Everything but the Tea
What To Look For In A Good Tearoom
Update for All the “Tea Princesses”
You Know You’re a Spoiled “Tea Princess” When…

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13 thoughts on “Unsatisfactory Restaurant Tea

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  4. First of all, serving Mighty Leaf Tea as your herbals is NOT ok (hotel ending in “sula”, I’m looking at you).

    Second of all, if I call you with a long list of dietary restrictions for the tea service sandwiches/pastries and I’m told you can accommodate them, do not take 30 min to cough up half-a**ed food and act surprised when we show up to our reservation on time (RITZ–also Mighty Leaf Tea sinners).

    All I want is a real, unadulterated rooibos.

      1. Jim Dellow

        It is so annoying when u pay extra for a pot of tea & it only gives u 1.5 cups of tea ! And the cups are not very big – smaller than at home. Disgusting.

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  8. It’s been a long time since I went out for afternoon tea but I, too, never order tea because it just is never satisfactory. I’d rather wait until I get home so I can have a good cuppa tea, just the way I like it. (That doesn’t work well when travelling of course.)

    Interestingly, in Canada Tim Hortons serves steeped tea and does a pretty decent job so that is the one place that I can order tea and be happy.

  9. Mo

    pet peeve? besides their serving Lipton or some other very cheap tea? Presuming that just because the herbal teas aren’t bigelow, that they’re better. I really don’t think Stash is special at all. And most restaurants serve very stale Earl Grey bags.

  10. As a tea drinker this is certainly a challenge. I often take loose tea in a T-Sac and just ask for hot water. My pet peeve is in the conference world where hotels use hot water containers that previously used coffee.

  11. Thanks for the article, Lainie. I have a countless number of stories but I’d to share one with the readers, which made me giggle. A friend of mine was invited to a Afternoon Tea (High Tea) event, so she went along with her boyfriend. Both of them love tea so you can imagine their surprise when they were each presented with a cup of coffee. My friend went to the counter to explain that she was at the High Tea gathering and that both she and her boyfriend were given coffee by mistake. The service staff explained that she hadn’t made a mistake, and that only coffee would be served as part of the High Tea. I couldn’t stop laughing when my friend told me. High Tea / Afternoon Tea. The clue is in the title isn’t it? :o)

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