New Cafes Offer A Variety Of Tea Delights

Nathan Adkisson

By Nathan AdkissonContributing Writer

Tea is no longer just dirty water, especially in Evanston, where more than 100 varieties of this ancient drink are available in one store alone.

Evanston’s venues for tea range from the corporate-owned to the small family establishment. Although Argo Tea and Dream About Tea both sell tea, the two could not be more different, offering different experiences for consumers.

Dream About Tea offers about 120 types of tea, more than most commercial establishments, said Hong Wu, co-owner of Dream About Tea on north Davis Street.

“It’s about service and quality,” she said. “You can blind me and I will taste all of these teas and know which one it is.”

Jesse A. Njus, a Northwestern theatre graduate student, was chosen by the owners at Dream About Tea as “customer of the year.” Njus said she was first an infrequent customer but later “got sucked in.”

“Now I’m here two or three times a day, ” she said. “You can just have a simple drink or you can make it a big deal if you have a lot of time and you want to enjoy the sophistication.”

Dream About Tea’s most popular specialty drink is Pu-Erh, Wu said. This tea is brewed loose in the cup, without a bag, and has a sweet but mellow flavor, she said.

For the fourth year, Dream About Tea has tea classes, which Hong said she is proud to offer. By the end of the fifth session, Wu said, a participant should be able to name the basic categories of teas and their main properties, identify each type of tea through sight and taste, be knowledgeable in the authentic stories about teas and Chinese tea customs, and feel comfortable discussing the joys of tea with anyone.

Owning a tea shop has been a longtime dream of Hong’s, who was born in Dragon Well, a village in southwestern China. After coming to America she went back to school, where she and her husband had a class project that simulated starting a business. Hong chose a tea house and her assignment later became the foundation for her tea shop.

Wu also spoke about the importance of teapots throughout Chinese history.

“You can tell all about a person from his teapot,” she said. “Every dynasty in Chinese history had a master teapot maker. Now they are collectables that get more valuable as they are used.”

A different tea experience is available at Argo Tea, on Sherman Avenue, where Pi Wen Looi and Grace Park were having tea on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

“Coffee is a daily thing, it’s very on-the-go,” Park said. “Tea is something I like to enjoy.”

Looi drinks coffee in the morning, but she said she can have tea anytime during the day.

“(Argo) is more like a Starbucks for tea,” Looi said.

Argo is on its way to becoming a large chain, with six stores in the Chicago area and plans for more, said Daniel Lindwasser, a marketing executive for Argo Tea.

Lindwasser said he thinks Argo is in a class by itself, unique from Starbucks and other tea houses.

“Starbucks is more complimentary than competitive (to us),” he said. He said Argo uses a different approach to making tea.

“All our teas are prepared in advance,” he said. “We use syrup and make them in a microbrewery.”

Lindwasser added that each tea offers a different experience for the consumer.

“Like wine, our teas are from all over the world,” he said. “The taste is different depending on where it was grown.”

Also like wine, tea drinkers can come from all over. On any day, tea can be enjoyed by an actress, a Loyola graduate student or a member of any fraternity, just as it was on a recent Tuesday afternoon.

Reach Nathan Adkisson at [email protected]