A Bit of Boho in Baltimore
Having found myself in Baltimore over the holidays, I couldn’t resist checking out a tea shop and finding out what else would be here of interest for me. I coerced my brother into the adventure, which would involve 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 really expect. Of course I like tea and the photos of the food 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 rather 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 bunch 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.
Their 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 thoroughly after we ordered and found they were selling 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 thoroughly 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 a bit 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 particular Ceylon blend.
Next up on our agenda was the culture. For a smaller city, Baltimore has a surprising number of museums including: The American Visionary Art Museum, The Baltimore Museum of Art, The Walters Art Museum, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I’ve been to these venues before and wanted to try something new, so we decided to go to the Evergreen Museum and Library, which is also known as Evergreen House.
The house was originally owned by the Garrett family of Baltimore, who made their fortune in the railroads. The family donated the house, the library and all of its possessions to Johns Hopkins University in 1942. We were told the house is a great example of Gilded Age Architecture and it certainly looks gorgeous from the outside.
If you want to visit Evergreen, you do need to plan ahead. Wandering around the inside of this 48 room mansion by yourself is strictly forbidden and docent tours leave every hour on the hour. We arrived somewhere around 1:10 pm and found a delightful exhibit on the first floor of watercolors by the Russian Emigre, costume designer, book artist and illustrator Aleona Isakova. Unfortunately pictures in this facility were not allowed or I would have tried to take a few snaps.
Somehow we managed to get a private docent tour of the facility around 1:20 pm, which included a very thorough history of the Garrett family. Throughout, there were magnificent Tiffany lamps, gorgeous glass objects by Lalique, and paintings by Raoul Dufy and Miguel Covarrubias, owned by the Garretts. I was 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 were told tales of resident artists visiting the family because they made the dinner table conversations more exciting. 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 you are interested in seeing some photos 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.
I thoroughly enjoy art and history, and felt our visit to Evergreen House was enchanting. If you make it to Baltimore and are interested in the arts, 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 which is full of books, comics, zines and music. I think we actually 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.
Our next stop was the local wine bar, 13.5% in the Hampden neighborhood. I couldn’t resist a glass of verdejo, which seems to go well with the theme of “intoxication” here.
These two culture vultures had a really 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.