Where San Fran Tea takes a tour of Baltimore and has a splendid adventure
Having found myself in Baltimore over the holidays, I couldn’t resist checking out a tea shop and finding out what else would be there of interest for me. I coerced my brother into the adventure that involved tea and a dose of culture, a few of my favorite things.
We picked Chocolatea mostly due to convenience, so I had no idea what to expect. Of course I like tea and the food photos on their website looked pretty tasty. Here’s a picture of it from the outside; we found lots of brick buildings in this Charles Village neighborhood. Later I found out that Baltimore used to be the brick producing capitol of Maryland, not sure if that accounts for the architecture here or not.
Inside, we found this unassuming scene and went to the counter to check out the menu. This is not a tea place strictly for purists; they also had coffee, hot chocolate, chocolate truffles and a range of food that included traditional brunch favorites like waffles and lunch savories.
I decided to order a pot of the Yunnan O FT which came to us in this lovely Bodum Bistro Nouveau teapot.
The shop’s description of the tea was as follows:
Ancient tea trees, its deeply flavored infusion has notes of peppery spice, chocolate, sweet raisin and a malty finish.
I decided to walk around and investigate the space after we ordered and found teas for purchase from Rishi, Teaforte and Mark T. Wendell. I began to suspect our yunnan tea was from Rishi; this description of the tea from Rishi’s website would seem to lend some credence to this theory. I enjoyed this tea but found that it needed a longer steeping time in order to develop some character. After 2-3 minutes it was lacking in flavor, but 5-6 minutes of steeping seemed to be the perfect range for this yunnan.
Both of us decided to order Asian food to go with our tea, I got the vegetable teriyaki and he got the chicken teriyaki pictured below. Of course almost everything is better with a dab or two of peppy sriracha, right?
Before we left I couldn’t resist buying a tin of Mark T. Wendell’s Cheericup Ceylon. I’ve ordered quite a few teas from their historic company established in 1904, and have always wanted to try this Ceylon blend.
After finishing our tea, we focused on the culture. For a smaller city, Baltimore has a surprising number of museums including: The American Visionary Art Museum, The Baltimore Museum of Art and The Walters Art Museum. Having grown up in Maryland, I’d been to these venues before and wanted to try something new. For a change of pace, we decided to go to the Evergreen Museum and Library, also known as Evergreen House.
The Garrett family of Baltimore, who made their fortune in the railroads, originally owned the house. The family donated the house, the library and all of its possessions to Johns Hopkins University in 1942. It’s a great example of Gilded Age Architecture, seen here from the outside.
If you want to visit Evergreen, you need to plan ahead. Wandering around the inside of this 48-room mansion by yourself is strictly forbidden but docent tours leave every hour on the hour. We arrived around 1:10 pm and found a delightful exhibit on the first floor — watercolors by the Russian Emigre, costume designer, book artist and illustrator Aleona Isakova. Unfortunately I have no pictures of the inside, as photography is off limits in the facility.
We got a private docent tour of the facility around 1:20 pm, which included a thorough oral history of the Garrett family. Throughout the house we saw magnificent Tiffany lamps, gorgeous glass objects by Lalique, paintings by Raoul Dufy and Miguel Covarrubias, all owned by the Garretts. I felt awestruck by the large and beautiful 30,000 book library which included a large Architecture book collection. For Johns Hopkins students, books are available to read with permission on the facility. The magnificent house also includes a bowling alley, gymnasium, a theater, and a large collection of Japanese antiques including netsukes, pouches, ojime and snuff bottles. We heard tales of resident artists visiting the family because they enlivened the dinner table conversations. A string quartet would regularly perform for the family and guests and Alice Warder Garrett was known to perform there herself.
The Russian Artist Leon Bakst designed the theater; if seeing some photos interests you, there is a nice article about it and the socialite rompings of the Garetts here on the bmore website. A photo and a nice write-up on the luxurious library also appear here on the Washington Post’s site.
Our visit to Evergreen House was enchanting. If you make it to Baltimore and the arts or history interests you, I would highly recommend checking it out.
It’s always fun to explore Baltimore with a local, so after the Evergreen house I was taken to this funky bookstore, Atomic Books full of edgy books, comics, zines and music. I think we spotted the two remaining punk rockers left in the world here. I wanted to buy many things but instead just left with the latest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, nervous about trying to cram more things in my suitcase.
Next we stopped at the local wine bar, 13.5% in the Hampden neighborhood. I couldn’t resist a glass of verdejo, which seemed to go well with the theme of “intoxication” here. San Francisco tea… wine in Baltimore… why be picky?
These two culture vultures had a splendid and educational day. I will definitely be going back to try more tea shops and perhaps take a tour of Homewood, once owned by the Carroll family of Maryland, and also under the umbrella of Johns Hopkins University.