Specialty Teas Take on a Starring Role
In terms of beverage reverence, tea is often overlooked in favor of wine, craft beer, and even coffee. But at the Park Hyatt Washington’s Tea Cellar in D.C., teatime has been duly venerated since the building’s renovation in 2005.
Located in the lounge area, the Tea Cellar features its own humidor to age special varieties, such as pu-erh—a Chinese tea that undergoes microbial fermentation to tease out complex flavors. In addition to this cache, the Park Hyatt has 37 varieties of rare and single-estate teas, ranging from herbals and tisanes to black and Chinese green. The Tea Cellar also has some decades-old pu-erh, with one that even goes back to 1949. Other varieties include Monkey Picked Golden Oolong from the highest mountains in China, a Mallorca Melon tisane from Spain, and a Black Canadian Ice Wine Elixir—black tea from Sri Lanka with grapes and ice wine syrup from Canada—that can be served by itself or in a cocktail.
“I go out to a lot of restaurants and see the standard English breakfast [with] words like ‘green tea’ or ‘white tea’ on the menu; it’s very generic,” says Christian Eck, tea specialist for the Park Hyatt Washington. “We get a lot of guests who know the teas that they like, and when they see it on the menu, or when they see a nicer version of it than they’ve had anywhere else, it really makes for a unique experience.”
The experience is further enhanced by a three-course pairing menu, available exclusively on Sundays. While the structure follows the scone-savories-sweets paradigm, the dishes eclipse the garden variety of teatime foods. The seasonal menu rotates weekly; oftentimes the fare mirrors the global nature of the teas. Recent offerings have included Lemon Pepper Macaroons, Cabbage Wraps of curry chicken salad, and Trout Rillette with fermented vegetables. Eck says bold, rich teas pair well with bold, rich dishes, but high-acid teas can also add new dimensions. For example, a Darjeeling balances the sweet spiciness of curry chicken with floral and woodsy notes.
Thanks to lessons from Eck and outside educators, servers at the Park Hyatt can guide guests in their selections.
“Tea is, unfortunately, not one of those things that people walk in the door with a lot of knowledge of,” Eck says. “Most of our staff have been here a year or more, so they’ve learned over time. They’ve tasted a lot of the teas and they know what they like to pair them with, so that really helps.”
The three-course Sunday pairing menu is $45, not including the cost of the tea. Although a couple of pu-erh varieties fetch a triple-digit price, most range between $8 and $32, allowing guests to try new varieties.
“The one thing I always tell people is just experiment and try things you haven’t seen before—that’s my philosophy,” Eck says.