Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Lighter Shade of Fail

I had heard a bit of chatter about a California based cafe that recently opened in the garment district called The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Tea is in the name, so I put it high on my list of places to try. Wading through the garment district at lunchtime is no easy feat, but I dodged my way around scowling glam women, interns carrying gallons of coffee, and blue-shirted businessmen. The line was long, but I decided to wait and see what all the hype was about. Glancing around I didn't see any tea canisters or anything resembling tea at all. Eventually I noticed a few jars at the front of the store that appeared to have teabags in them. To ease the line congestion an employee was taking orders from the line. When I asked for an unflavored black tea, I was met with a blank stare. He went to ask the barista what black teas they had, and then came back and said 'blueberry'. Um, I asked for an unflavored tea, so I tried again. After a second trip over to the barista the answer was 'English Breakfast'. Really? Their website boasts the origin and quality of their teas. According to said website they have a few nice looking black teas, but no one in the store seemed to know about that. I decided that it wasn't worth continuing my line of questioning. I left. Perhaps I'll try to go back when the line is shorter and my tolerance is higher.

On my way back to work I passed Boi to Go, a little Vietnamese take-out place. I was hungry and decided to try some dumplings. While I was waiting I noticed that they had bubble teas. After my first disappointment, I was thrilled to see this. Sadly, the bubble teas were pre-made and waiting in a case. If it wasn't so busy in the shop, I would have asked if they could be made fresh. But I was desperate for refreshment. I picked up a black tea with boba, my usual go-to for bubble tea. It was far too sweet and didn't really taste like tea, but it still softened the earlier disappointing blow. I will try to give The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf another try, perhaps during an off hour. If anyone has tried their tea, please let me know!


  1. Just noticed your blog and looking forward to reading more... finally, some who drinks tea *and* writes about it! It will be good to hear the musings another tea fanatic.

    RE: the Coffee Bean, they should be worth a visit when the line is down. Here in CA they were actually my first introduction to quality loose tea. They've tended to hide the tea display in recent years, and most have been sold as bags only for a while. The bags are roomy and designed to brew a 16oz cup, so not a bad choice.

    I'd rec the limited edition Irish or Scottish Breakfast for plain black, if they have any. Keemun and Yunnan combined is tastier that you'd think. Not too Irish, but tasty if you are not expecting Assam. The English Breakfast has never worked for me, flat and flavorless. Ceylon is good if you like Ceylons, I find them a bit gutless but that's all Ceylons for me, not necessarily CB. Some of the flavors are excellent, Apricot Black or Strawberry Green are good starting points.

    Haven't tried many of the teas on their website, these look new. The line had gotten small and unimpressive compared to 10 years ago, and now I see this huge selection. I hope they're back in the tea game, especially when I am out of Upton's offerings and have not had time to order.

    Looking forward to your review when you finally get there.

  2. I've visited one of their (The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf) locations in Austin, and it was eerily similar to your experience. My suspicion is that such a small number of their clientele care about tea that it doesn't hurt for the people behind the counter to focus on other things.

    It's not difficult to understand the many possible reasons: relatively low wages for their workers, higher numbers of devoted coffee drinkers, a bad day for the guy you happened to come into contact with...

    I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that they normally take tea more seriously, but to what end? That a few of us tea enthusiasts give them our seal of approval? And then what?

    Don't get me wrong. I'd love to have more places to be able to recommend to people. Places that don't simply see tea as another revenue stream. Maybe that's simply idealistic.


    Nice to see you talking about it, though.