By Jordana Starr, Photos by Dan Little
A hot cup of tea is often the best prescription for melting the winter chills away. As spring moves into summer and we trade warm boots for flip-flops, however, tea drinkers often relegate hot tea to the occasional chilly summer night. But tea isn’t just a beverage for the winter and late fall; there are teas for every season—even the dog days of summer.
I sit down on a comfy couch by the windows at Crepes Tea House in West Springfield and open the thick, leather-bound tea menu, which is divided into seven sections: chai, oolong, white, green, herbal, black, and red. Each tea can be ordered by the cup, pot, or samovar, a traditional metal urn with a spigot. The teas—there are currently 134 on the menu—have juicy-sounding names like mango sorbet, tropical ambrosia, acai berry, and blood orange. I order a cup each of the strawberry rose oolong and pomegranate white tea.
“At first, we had 100 teas,” says Arturas Ribinskas, who opened Crepes Tea House in 2010. But after a few years in business, the menu was ready for a change. He held a private tasting for his employees and regular customers, which resulted in 50 teas getting the axe, with another 80 being added to the menu. “All our teas are organic,” Ribinskas adds. “They contain real fruit and no artificial ingredients.”
The food menu is a blend of Russian specialities and Western dishes. As my teas arrive, I order the pelmeni dumplings and nalesniki, a ricotta-filled crepe.
Ribinskas came to the United States from Lithuania in 2000, after trying for nine years to run an auto parts business in the former Soviet state. But between an inconsistent legal framework, corruption, and brain drain after joining the EU, Lithuania was not a hospitable place to do business. “You know how you have that moment in your life when you need to change your surroundings?” he asks me. “It was time.”
I watch the teas change color, from clear to blush, the dried fruit and flowers imparting their color. The strawberry rose oolong is very light on the palate, and the vanilla adds a creaminess and thus balance to what could otherwise be an astringent tea. The pomegranate white tea is more fruit forward, with a rich fruit aroma, a little bit of tang, and just a hint of sweetness to the finish. The teas are both warming and refreshing.
My food arrives and it is well worth the wait. “It takes a little time,” Ribinskas says, “because we prepare all food to order and use fresh ingredients.” The dumplings are delightfully savory, and the crepes are the perfect balance of tart and sweet.
I lean back on the couch, enjoying the last sips of my tea. Ribinskas invites me to stay as long as I’d like. “We’re creating a cozy and welcoming atmosphere here where friends and family can come together and enjoy spending time together.”
Next time, I’ll be sure to bring some friends.