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January is National Hot Tea Month; appropriately so, since there may be no better time to wrap your cold hands around a hot cuppa’ than in the dead of winter.
Avid tea drinkers are acutely aware, however, that coffee gets most of the hot-drink attention these days. Recently, a reader emailed Portland Press Herald food writer Meredith Goad, lamenting the difficulty of getting “a decent cup of tea” in Maine restaurants. “Weak tea brewed in lukewarm water is not a fitting end to a fine dinner,” wrote June Mclean. “Some restaurants in Portland don’t even have tea. Herbal teas do not cut the mustard.” Read the story: “Readers weigh in on what they want from Maine restaurants.”
June is right: for a true tea aficionado, there’s nothing worse than being served a bargain-brand tea bag immersed in a cup of barely hot water — the tea equivalent of gas station coffee. It doesn’t cost much, or take much effort, to serve loose tea — or at least a high-quality bagged tea — preferably in an individual pot.
Thankfully, there are places — in Portland and elsewhere in Maine — where you can find properly brewed tea. Herewith, a tea guide:
151 Middle St., Portland
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10 am-9 pm; last call is 1/2 hour before closing.
Poetry readings and acoustic music often accompany the tea service at this “bohemian-style tearoom,” a concept that originated in the Czech Republic. The menu includes middle eastern and Asian-influenced vegetarian savory dishes, sweets and snacks. Free parking in the back lot on weekends and weekdays after 5 pm.
30 City Center, Portland
Hours: Mon.-Wed. 11 am-7 pm; Thurs.-Sat. 11 am-9 pm; Sunday 11 am-5 pm
This “foot sanctuary and teahouse” serves tea at a few tables on the main floor; spa treatments for the feet are offered in a tranquil space downstairs. Them men includes a variety of loose teas and specialty drinks made with tea and chocolate, small plates and desserts.
195 Congress St., Portland
Hours: Tues.-Fri. noon-6 pm; Sat. noon-5 pm
Owner Sarah Richards is a practitioner of Ayurveda, which uses herbs and nutrition to balance the body. Her apothecary-like shop is a healing-focused sanctuary, where you can sit at the bar and sip a custom blend. Salads, sweets and sandwiches are offered, too.
45 Industry Rd., Suite 1A, South Portland
Hours: Wed.-Fri. 10 am-5 pm; Sat. 10 am-3 pm
Owner Marianne Russo is a certified tea specialist. Nellie’s is first and foremost a shop, but also serves pots of tea. Seating is limited.
201 Main St., Freeport
Hours: Tues.-Sat. 11 am-3 pm
Jacqueline’s is a true tea room, with just two options on the menu. Cream Tea: pot of tea, scones, clotted cream, lemon curd and jam is served on a walk-in basis 10:30 am-2:30 pm
Afternoon Tea: a four-course meal that includes scones, finger sandwiches, desserts, soup/ sorbet, and unlimited tea is served by reservation only 10:30 am-1 pm
274 Goding Rd., Acton
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 11:30 am-3 pm
Offers a traditional tea with scones, tea sandwiches and desserts served by reservation only. The small lunch menu includes chicken pie, salad and a daily sandwich.