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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. In 2014, Men’s Health Magazine ranked Portland #1 on a list of America’s top cities for “Java Junkies;” wherever you are in the city, there’s an independent coffee house close by. And while Americans’ consumption of hot tea is increasing, it’s still well below the rest of the tea-drinking world. Local tea fans are unfortunately all too familiar with the experience of June Mclean, who last year 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,” she wrote. “Some restaurants in Portland don’t even have tea. Herbal teas do not cut the mustard.”
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:
89 Exchange St., Portland | 207-210-6566 | dobrateame.com
Hours: Monday – Thursday 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sunday 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
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.
30 City Center, Portland | 207-879-7625 | soakology.com
Hours: Monday – Wednesday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Thursday – Saturday 11 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m.- 5 p.m.
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. The men includes a variety of loose teas and specialty drinks made with tea and chocolate, small plates and desserts.
195 Congress St., Portland | 207-774-3484 | homegrownherbandtea.com
Hours: Tuesday – Friday noon – 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
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 | 207-761-8041 | nelliestea.com
Hours: Wednesday – Friday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.- 3 p.m.
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 | 207-865-2123 | jacquelinestearoom.com
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Jacqueline’s is a true tea room in the Victorian style, with just two options on the menu. The first is Cream Tea: pot of tea, scones, clotted cream, lemon curd and jam is served on a walk-in basis from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Afternoon Tea: a four-course meal that includes scones, finger sandwiches, desserts, soup/ sorbet, and unlimited tea is served by reservation only from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.
274 Goding Rd., Acton | 207-636-1812 | gardengatetea.com
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 11:30 a.m – 3 p.m.
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.
36 Water St., Randolph | 207-458-1825 | facebook.com/BlueWillowTeaRoom.net
Hours: Monday and Tuesday 11:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Patti Farrin, who runs Farrin’s Country Auctions with her husband, Rusty, opened her bright and pretty tea room in a former handbag factory in 2012. She offers two options: homemade scones, preserves, Devon bream and a pot of tea for $10; or a complete tea lunch with fresh fruit, tea sandwiches and desserts (in addition to the scones) for $20. Reservations are required for both.
177 Main St., Waterville | 207-458-1825 | selahteacafe.com
Hours: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sunday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
A hangout for Colby College students seeking an off-campus refuge, this modern cafe serves a large variety of teas in French press pots. There’s a full breakfast and lunch menu, as well as the usual gamut of coffee drinks.