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North Hills Monthly

Local Tea Shops Provide Wide Variety of Tasty Libations

Feb 27, 2019 12:39PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Tupelo Honey Teas

While there seems to be a coffee shop on every corner, more and more tea shops are also popping up. Whether that’s due to the health benefits and versatility of tea, or the sheer variety that exists, it’s clear that tea has made a comeback and is here to stay.

The Blue Monkey Tea Company in Squirrel Hill offers more than 500 varieties of tea, both loose leaf and in tea bags. Owner Margaret Harris grew up on tea in her native Poland—literally. 

“I had my first cup of tea as a baby, at one day old. They give newborns fennel tea in Poland and in other European countries. I drank tea at home with breakfast lunch and dinner; it was a household beverage,” she said.

Harris, who is also the cofounder of the Pittsburgh Tea Association, explained that there are four tea categories—green, black, oolong, and white—but endless varieties of teas within those categories. She sells many rare teas, including Silver Needle, a white tea.

“It is a delicate tea that has an amazing aroma and flavor, made from tiny, young buds,” she said. Another rare tea is called China Beauty Rings, a green tea with hints of jasmine.

Customer favorites include Earl Grey, Milky Oolong (another rare tea), and the playfully named Monkey Picked Golden Hunan, a black tea with an extremely intense flavor. As an aside, Harris explained that any tea that contains ‘monkey’ in the name generally refers to tea that is grown in a high altitude and is consistent with a high quality tea.

Harris also blends her own signature teas from a variety of loose leaf tea she stocks, such as the popular Pittsburgh Breakfast variety, which she blends from six different teas, as well as Cinderella, which is a concoction of mango, citrus, and chai.

Harris offers regular classes that appeal to everyone from tea novices to tea connoisseurs. One such class is Explore Tea, which teaches the history of tea, steeping techniques, health benefits, and tea sampling, while another is a chocolate and tea pairing class.

Arnold’s Tea Shop on East Ohio Street serves 80 varieties of tea, along with a full sandwich and salad menu daily. Manager Ashley Lenoski said that they also do catering events and high tea services in their quaint shop.

One of the more rare teas they carry is an African matcha called Kenya White Rhino. “It’s rare because you don’t see a lot of white matchas,” said Lenoski. Popular teas at Arnold’s include an herbal tea blend called Foxtrot, a mix of chamomile and peppermint with a hint of vanilla.

She said that the length of time a tea is steeped, as well as the temperature, will affect the strength and flavor of the tea. Some are even cold-steeped, which she said gives it a smoother flavor.

Many people turn to tea for its health benefits, as tea is an established source of antioxidants. Lenoski said that matcha teas tend to have the most antioxidants. “With matcha, you’re getting the full tea leaf versus just an infusion,” she said.

“A lot of teas actually have weight loss properties, as long as you’re not adding cream, sugar or honey—that is where people tend to go wrong,” she added.

At Tupelo Honey Teas in Millvale, Owner Danielle Spinola carries more than 100 varieties and blends and some specialty teas in-house as well, some of which are rotated through the seasons. For example, she’ll offer a pumpkin pie tea and a witches’ brew tea in October; in the spring, she’ll brew a ‘spring cleanse’ tea. She also has teas that are popular to help with migraines, to support sleep, and an elderberry elixir to help with cold and flu season.

She said that the U.S. is only now starting to develop a tea market, with the vast majority of tea being sourced overseas. “A lot of the tea that is consumed in the world is consumed from tea plantations that have been producing for centuries,” she said.

She explained that the differences between white, black, green and oolong tea depend on when it’s picked, the climate in which it grows, and how it’s processed to determine its categorization. 

“For example, white tea can be picked only two to three weeks out of every year. Every bush produces a white tea, but it’s the first three leaves that come off the plant that make it white. The same with green—it means that the tea is not oxidized, and that chlorophyll is left in the leaf. In Japan, tea is shade-grown, so it has a different taste. Black tea is a completely oxidized leaf, while oolong is semi-oxidized,” explained Spinola.

Spinola only serves loose leaf tea at Tupelo Honey Teas. “Trying a loose leaf variety of tea opens up a world of flavor,” she said. Plus, in this day and age of instant gratification, taking that extra three to five minutes a day to wait for tea to steep is a good time to practice mindfulness.

Spinola said that they are planning events for the spring and summer and looking into hosting more tea parties, including an upcoming Mother’s Day Tea in May.

“We like to make tea accessible to all ages. This summer, we’ll be working on additional programming that will be geared toward younger kids,” she said.