Wouldn't you know it? Just when I thought I'd finished gallivanting around the area visiting and writing about tea shops, and made the decision to focus future columns on people instead of tea, a great new place, offering a fabulous selection of quality loose-leaf teas, opened in Lawrence.
It's at 712 Mass. and is aptly named "Teapouro." It offers more than 200 loose-leaf teas displayed in see-through containers on shelves inside the front entrance, as well as specialty bubble teas.
The black, green and oolong teas and herbal infusions stand on separate shelves, making the selections easier to narrow down. In addition to the tea's name, there's a description of the flavor, plus instructions for optimum water temperatures and brewing times. There's the usual array of black breakfast and afternoon teas, as well as almond, cherry, apple crunch, elderberry and grapefruit. The herbal infusions include mint, hibiscus, organic peppermint and even a children's organic fruit tea. For those who favor a stronger beverage, there's South African rooibos and Tibetan wild lavender. High-quality iced teas, found on shelves near the end of the bar area, include flavors like Persian spice, cherry and chai pomegranate.
One of Teapouro's unique features is its display of mini-vacuum storage jars all numbered to correspond with teas in the larger jars. You can open the mini-jars and smell and feel the leaves' texture before making a final choice. It's helpful for those who want to try different teas but aren't quite sure what to pick. Having a sniff and feel can help narrow the field. The tea's origination spot can be checked on the nearby "World of Tea" map.
Once selected, you take the large container, with the corresponding number, to the bar and place your order. There's a choice of a single cup, or a two- or four-pot. I selected the $2.68 two-pot. The scarlet ceramic teapot with matching cup and saucer was placed on a tray with a cloth napkin, milk and a timer, which buzzes when the optimum brewing time is achieved. (This can be anywhere from three to 10 minutes, depending on the tea type.)
The whole experience provides the novice with an opportunity to step gingerly into the world of tea and the tea connoisseur with a chance to experiment with new flavors.
With tray in hand, I parked my posterior on the comfortable armchairs in the spacious area near the front windows. It gave me a good vantage point to observe the shop's interior as well as downtown activity.
The building, formerly home to Fields Gallery, retains many of its original features, including the brick walls and wooden floors, but Denise James has managed to re-design the interior to create a unique look. At first glance, one gets the impression of being in a peaceful Buddhist gathering-place. There's an 8-foot high gong, several laughing Buddha statues, Buddhist prayer rolls, a gently flowing fountain, bamboo blinds and the beginnings of an indoor Zen garden in the alcove above the bar area. Large and small dragon sculptures and statues, symbols of good luck in China, adorn the walls and crevices. The rustic pumpkin-colored walls blend with the brickwork and the hand-made African wood tables. The chairs, including the bars stools, are padded. Strategically placed scatter cushions create a sense of stylish yet simple abundance.
Leticia Gonzalez, a dental hygienist at the Douglas County Dental Clinic, likes the new space.
"It's very relaxing. I don't feel rushed here," she said.
She loves the shop's best-seller - the bubble tea.
"It has a pretty smooth texture and a slightly sweet taste," she explained.
The aroma from the cooking tapioca balls (for the bubble tea) wafted gently toward us and teased our nostrils and taste buds.
Utility inspector Wade Mashburn, whose ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower, stayed with a pot of Earl Grey - a traditional black, slightly fruit-flavored, English afternoon tea.
"This is a great place to unwind and relax, and the tea and service is excellent," he said.
He's right. Teapouro is well-worth a visit.
It's also a good place to call a temporary halt to my tea jaunts. Future columns will focus more on people.
Tea: 5 (out of 5)
Ambience: 5 (out of 5)
Service: 5 (out of 5)