I drink lots of tea. I’ve sipped countless cups at Hong Kong-style dim sum houses, stuck my pinky finger aloft at Ritz Carlton’s exorbitant afternoon-tea ceremony and sucked the brew through oversized straws at innumerable Chinese tea joints that also peddle boba.
Tranquil Tea Lounge is nothing like any of those. Its proprietors treat the leaves with the care of meticulous curators, the inspiration of mad inventors, the zeal of passionate advocates. This place revels in tea. It celebrates tea. If there were a graduate course in tea, an internship here would be a requirement.
“The folks who own this place are self-professed tea snobs,” a fellow sipper told me. Are they ever. With an encyclopedic menu that catalogs every conceivable and not-so-conceivable permutation of teas black, green, oolong, white, pu-erh, rooibos, maté, herbal and tisane, one could visit for a hundred consecutive days and never taste the same drink twice.
For every tea, you have to decide whether you want it iced or hot. Choose iced, and you’ll receive not only a tall, sweaty glass, but also an extra carafe to top it off. Opt for hot, and your server—who may be owner Michellee Phelps or her brother, Jonathan Munsayac—will pour hot water into a strainer-equipped teapot to brew your chosen leaves.
The iced ones are prepared at the bar. Leaves are measured from silver canisters that line a shelf like those at an old apothecary’s shop. The tea is then steeped, sweetened and shaken with ice, as if it were a martini. Next to the register is a sniffing station, with all the varietals stored in tiny jars.
Sip any tea slowly, so its perfumes can climb up your nostrils, tickling receptors you never knew you had.
The popular Asian Pear—a sweet, green-tea-based nectar that drinks as easy as breathing—is brewed by steeping exotic tea leaves along with dried fruit and/or spices. This process applies to most of Tranquil’s blends. Some are subtle. Some are bold. A few are seriously pedigreed, such as the Ti Kuan Yin Monkey Picked Oolong, which, according to legend, was once actually harvested by trained primates. Plus, there are those with cocktail titles such as Fijian Sunset, African Princess and My First Crush. The descriptions and components listed under them are as exhaustive as wine vintages or herbal supplements, yet they are as fun to order as they are to suck through a straw.
The slightly tannic Mauna Loa, is a mixture of green tea, almonds, white chocolate bits, macadamia and pistachio nuts, Roman chamomile flowers, cocoa kernels, and cracknel bits. The composition of my Chili Truffle beverage included black tea, cocoa bits, chili, white chocolate and pink peppercorns. I was more relieved than disappointed that the brew was more chocolatey than spicy.
Except for the occasional Englishman, Tranquil’s target demographic are females of a certain age and predilection who were woefully underserved in a downtown known mostly for testosterone-fueled rock & roll bars and boozy cantinas. Since its debut last June, this tea lounge has been embraced as a refuge. A private banquet room has been the site of many bridal showers and mom-blog gatherings. (Tip for those of us with Y chromosomes: You will be outnumbered.)
Light salads and half-sandwiches are the preferred things to nibble here. Nobody orders the full sandwiches: Tranquil’s permanent $8 special includes a choice of half a sandwich, side salad or soup of the day, along with your choice of almost any tea.
The soups, by the way, are glorious in and of themselves. One day, Tranquil offered a tomato-basil bisque topped with grated Parmesan that was a natural bridge to the melty three-cheese panini I dunked into it. A chicken-rice soup I had on an earlier visit featured grains bloated to tapioca-like proportions—the closest thing you’ll get to boba here.
There’s some serious Top Chef precision plating going on with the Hawaiian poke salad, a cylindrical platform of cubed ahi crowned by an avocado halo and surrounded by greaseless baked wonton crisps.
And of course, sweets. A warm chocolate chip, peanut butter and banana scone crumbles as beautifully as the chocolate and caramel sauce swirled on the plate. The crispy-yet-chewy French macarons are stuffed with teeth-rotting fillings that actually taste like the flavors they’re supposed to represent.
Me? I prefer to close with the North End Float, which is a chilled glass of cocoa and pu-erh tea with a scoop of vanilla ice cream dropped into it. The malty-ness reminded me of glasses of Ovaltine I had as a kid. I drank it after a few bites of their dainty cream puffs, which were cute as buttons. Yes, I said “buttons.” Hey, I’m secure enough in my manhood to count Tranquil as my new hangout. What about the rest of you dudes?
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Tranquil Tea Lounge, 106 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 869-3577; www.tranquiltealounge.com. Open Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Teas, $4-$5; food, $3-$9.
This review appeared in print as "Bodacious Tea: The proprietors of Tranquil Tea Lounge do it all for the love of the leaf."