Making Time for Tea

CrepesTeaHouse-1-DanLittle-20180419.jpg

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.

CrepesTeaHouse-6-DanLittle-20180419.jpg

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.

CrepesTeaHouse-5-DanLittle-20180419.jpg

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.

261 Union St., West Springfield
Sunday–Thursday: 7am–11pm
Friday & Saturday: 7am–1am

Blended Bliss: Tea Guys

Blended Bliss: Tea Guys

Roasted cocoa, barley, coffee. Caramel, maple, walnut. Raspberry, rhubarb, honey. At first glance, these may seem like ingredients on an exquisite dessert buffet. Instead of being baked into pies, brownies, or cakes, these ingredients make up just three out of 100 plus blends from Tea Guys, a tea company based in Whately.

Read More

Celebrating the Sweet Feast with Herrell's

herrellsteaAt sunset tonight, July 17, the month-long observance of Ramadan comes to a close in the celebration of Eid al-Fitr. Literally translated as “the Sweet Feast,” this culinarily-focused observance features sweet, rich dishes.

Herrell’s Ice Cream in downtown Northampton is offering two special ice cream flavors in observance of this celebration. Judy Herrell, president and owner of Herrell’s Ice Cream, told me about the inspiration behind their special Moroccan Mint Tea and Baklava flavors.

It all began with a mysterious phone message from someone (she never found out who) at the Springfield Islamic Center asking if she could offer an ice cream in honor of Eid al-Fitr. Judy is no stranger to developing new ice creams based on traditional flavors, earlier this year Herrell’s offered Haroset ice cream for Passover, and in past years they’ve developed date-nut-halva and tamarind-coconut ice creams at customers’ requests.

Judy had already been thinking about Baklava ice cream––her family has both Ashkenazi and Sephardic roots, and both sides of her family made a version of the nutty, honeyed pastry. She designed a formulation that contains local honey, walnuts, almonds and pistachios.

Moroccan Mint Tea took a little longer to develop. The traditional cup of tea, enjoyed by people across the Middle East and beyond, uses an equal volume of green gunmetal tea and mint leaves and a substantial amount of sugar. Many, many test batches later, a final recipe was developed. A frequent Muslim visitor to Herrell’s ended up serving as an official taste tester during the months-long development process. Judy said “When she tasted our last batch and asked to take a few pints home for her father, I knew we’d gotten it right!”

Both gluten-free flavors will be available at the Northampton store through this Sunday, July 19. After that, they’ll be put into the ever-changing ice cream flavor rotation.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 7.34.46 AM“Everyone is welcome at Herrell’s.” says Judy. “We want people to to be able to taste another culture, new flavors. It’s one way to taste the world.” As a traveler and explorer, Judy loves the way she can share news traditions and flavors with her customers. In addition to her desire in offering flavors for everyone to enjoy, she is also proud to say “Herrell’s has been buying and supporting local, with a focus on sustainability, for its 35 years in business.”