Take Time for Tea

Take the time to enjoy tea at one of Alabama's tea rooms (left to right): Townhouse Tea, Emma's Tea Room, Smith-Byrd House Tea Room

Take the time to enjoy tea at one of Alabama’s tea rooms (left to right): Townhouse Tea, Emma’s Tea Room, Smith-Byrd House Tea Room

by Sarah J. Schmidt

Afternoon tea — a continental habit inherited from our British cousins — turns out to be more than just a mark of good breeding. Recent studies show it’s healthy too. Since it’s loaded with polyphenols (antioxidants that help deter cell damage) and phytochemicals (plant chemicals that help prevent disease), just about every kind of tea offers some degree of health benefits.

All tea (black, white, green and oolong) derives from the Camellia sinensis plant but differs in processing, which makes caffeine levels vary, but the resulting oxidation gives each type of tea different antioxidants, so that all tea — even decaf — is helpful. Herbal teas, or “tisanes,” come from flowers, herbs and other plants and, therefore, aren’t really tea in the technical sense, but they offer similar health benefits. For example, rooibos tea (pronounced “roy-bus”) made from the African Red Bush, contains antioxidants but little to no caffeine.

Not much of a tea drinker? Perhaps you haven’t found your flavor. Visit a tea shop to sample dozens of options. Any one of these three Alabama tea rooms is a good place to start:

Emma’s Tea Room

LEAN_Hville-TeaTime2With dainty décor and homemade desserts, afternoon tea at Emma’s on Huntsville’s historic Pratt Avenue feels familiar, like a visit with your favorite aunt. Owner Rebekah Klein could very well qualify as a favorite aunt while she scurries with teapot in hand, taking care of patrons and imparting bits of tea trivia when prompted by curious customers’ questions. “One reason people took up the habit of afternoon tea,” she said, “is not just for that caffeine boost but to refuel and rehydrate after a long morning of draining activity.”

And that’s exactly what Emma’s Tea Room does with an impressive menu of delicious sweets, savories (all Rebekah’s recipes) and more than 65 varieties of Fair Trade teas from around the world.

Townhouse Tea Shoppe

LEAN_MtLaurel-TeaTime3+Owners and longtime friends Rebekah Mills and Darlene Self met at church and spent many afternoons visiting tea shops until deciding to open their own. Now, they host frequent tea tastings and special events, along with the tea shop’s signature three-tiered tea service. A typical afternoon finds Darlene working the room with free taster tea samples. “Frequently, people say they don’t like tea, but then they try something and find it’s really good,” she laughed.

The menu conveniently categorizes tea offerings by caffeine composition, something health conscious patrons appreciate, Rebekah said. Their best seller: Evening in Paris, an infused twist on Earl Grey with hints of caramel, vanilla and black current.

Smith-Byrd House

LEAN_Pville-TeaTimeSelf-proclaimed tea addict Beth Melling sipped a blend years ago that stuck in her taste bud memory, but she never found it again. After years of experimenting, she created a remarkable blend that’s “pretty close,” she said. It’s now a premiere offering at the tea room and B&B she and husband David operate at Smith-Byrd House, a circa 1890 Victorian home in Prattville’s historic district.

The Smith-Byrd Tea, as it is known, blends a crème Earl Grey with vanilla, rose petals and lavender. A local soap maker got creative and produced a line of scrubs, soaps and lotions using Beth’s special combination of herbs — truly a tea lover’s treat.