Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Numi Tea Garden in Oakland

One visit to the Numi Tea Garden in Oakland proves that tea service doesn’t have to be pretentious. Located off the I-880, the tea garden’s brick office building exterior fits in with the surrounding warehouses and loading docks. However, inside, you are taken to a new age, Asian oasis with plenty of indoor plants and water fountains to tap your inner om or surf the internet in peace with the free Wi-Fi.

The tea garden is very informal, usually with a seat yourself policy. The service tends to be slow with only two people the Sunday I went working the tea tastings and the retail store. Though it took a while to be greeted and get menus, the staff was friendly and the tea presentation very attentive.

Most all of the teas Numi sells online is available but there are a few to taste that are not found online like the Jasmine Pearl, my favorite. A teapot tasting starts at $2, and increases depending on your tea selection. The choices are varied with green, black, white, herbal, oolong and flowering teas, most of which are organic. The White Nectar of organic osmanthus spring was light with hints of apricot, while the Puerh Mini Tuocha was dark, rich and smelled like chocolate. The standout was the Jasmine Pearl, a floral mix of green tea and jasmine, and a definite try for any green tea fan. Numi also offers a limited selection of snacks to pair with your tea. Instead of finger sandwiches, macaroons and other high tea nibbles, Numi’s menu includes nuts and dried fruits, hummus and other Mediterranean dips, cheeses and baked goods. We decided on the muhammara, a red pepper and walnut dip with pomegranate molasses that offered a sweet and spicy kick.

The tea service is much like an Asian tea room with all your accessories atop a hollow wooden box. In an elaborate presentation, the tea leaves are poured into the infuser followed by hot water, and then a sand dial timer is turned to measure precisely when your tea is done. Any excess water is swirled to clean your tea cup and then poured over a decorative frog figurine for what I’m told is good luck. The ritual definitely makes you feel special.

After your tastings, you can walk a few feet and grab some tea bags, loose leafs, or tea pots and accessories. The loose leaf prices are some of the more affordable I’ve seen for organic teas, and unlike online, you can get as little as an ounce.

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