TeaHaus, the purveyor of bulk teas on Fourth Avenue, recently pushed through a wall to add a distinctive eatery. TeaHaus’s new parlor is pleasantly decorated with IKEA-esque furniture and antique accessories, but the big news is how good the sweet and savory fare tastes. The baked goods and fruity-nutty platters pair nicely with teas selected from the almost two hundred organic varieties sold in the retail shop. After brief repasts in this calm and friendly tearoom, I’ve always ventured back out into the cold recharged.
The old Cake Nouveau space has been monotoned with rich brown paint and furnished with padded chairs and long shiny drapes. Dress-party touches include silver teapot napkin rings, cut-glass knickknacks, and creatively filled triple-decker cut-crust sandwiches tied up with flowered chives. The substantial scones have none of a cupcake’s cloying sweetness, and even owner Lisa McDonald’s local-fruit jams go light on sugar. The plum jam flavored with South African rooibos tea is nearly a chutney. Blueberry preserves evoke the magical sweetness of handpicked little piney-woods berries, even though McDonald gets them–like most of her fruit–across the street at the Farmers Market, freezing what she doesn’t put up right away.
Most of the food I had in my first two fall visits was served at room temperature, but when accompanied by flavorful hot tea it all was filling in a cozy way. Homemade hot soups appeared on the menu in early December–parsnip-chestnut (made with oolong tea) and butternut squash (with apple-coriander tea). The new year will bring more new menu items, including tea-infused gelato and chocolates (a preview sample of Earl Gray truffles was bursting with flowery wonderfulness).
I recommend the “Quickie English Tea,” which includes three sandwiches du jour. All the sandwiches I sampled were good, ranging among cucumber, red pepper cream cheese, mashed egg salad topped with smoked salmon, curried chicken, and cranberry or grape salsa on a cheesy baguette (most of TeaHaus’s breads come from Mill Pond Bakery). Along with the trio of medium-size sandwiches you get a scone and a quartet of condiments, like clotted cream, marmalades and fruit preserves, maybe even lemon curd. Last comes a “sweet ending,” such as a fruit tart. Just after Thanksgiving, my sweet ending was a divine little pumpkin cheesecake topped with a dollop of cream and four sparkling-red pomegranate berries, which gently ushered in the next holiday season. The Quickie English Tea is $9.95, and I dare you to finish it all.
Another shareable offering is Dukkah, a North African-inspired platter of bread, olives, cheese, and dried fruit such as dates, figs, and apricots. You dip each item into olive oil and then into an irresistible mix of chopped almonds, coriander, fennel, and salt. African teas are recommended with this, but mine went fine with a first-flush Darjeeling. (Since all teas are priced the same in the tearoom, I took the opportunity to try some of the most expensive teas from the retail counter, where a 50-gram bag ranges from under $5 for basic blacks and greens to around $20 for exotic first flushes and Japanese rarities.)
For a late breakfast, I liked TeaHaus’s big bowl of yogurt, nutty homemade granola, and pears poached in tea, served with the cutest little two-inch-tall pitcher of the amber pear syrup. I had my coffee at home first, because I knew TeaHaus doesn’t serve coffee in any variety–not even chicory–and has no plans to. Ever. Really.
A travesty in Ann Arbor? I don’t think so, although I could imagine someone huff-and-puffing out the door if they weren’t forewarned, as we forewarn you now. If that’s not a deal-breaker, you’ll be glad to know that TeaHaus does have everything else you’d want in a cafe–Wi-Fi (with a cute tea-world password), caffeine galore (or not, if you choose herbal or decaf teas), and top-notch fresh baked goods.
Try it if you’re not convinced. January, as we all know, is the time to break out of old habits and get hooked on something new.
204 N. Fourth Ave.
Dining room open Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-
7 p.m., Sat. 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; kitchen closed Sun., but the retail side is open 12-5 p.m.
Pots of tea $2.60-$3.55, lunch and teatime fare $5.95-$9.95.