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March 6, 2013

Whether a cozy cup or elegant party, tea becoming trendy again

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

Mary Kuhn, tea hostess at the Royal Park Hotel, attends to
every detail of the hotel’s lavish Royalty Tea service.

Move over, Joe. Across metro Detroit, tea is fast becoming more than just a bland alternative to coffee. For many, it’s a tasty treat for health-conscious, socially mobile sippers.

Tea is more than just a drink for Jennifer Serrano — it’s a way of life. As co-owner of The Spice and Tea Exchange in downtown Birmingham, Serrano has spent a lot of time talking with customers about the many varieties and advantages of the brewed beverage. She said more and more people are coming into the Exchange these days to give tea a try.

“People are moving away from coffee. Maybe it’s just because more tea stores are popping up, or because tea has more benefits. Or maybe more people are realizing just how delicious tea is,” said Serrano.

The Exchange has about 35 varieties of loose-leaf tea available for customers, from classic Earl Grey to more unique flavors like Tropical Green Tea, infused with pineapples and strawberries. The store has a variety of what Serrano calls “dessert teas,” offering flavors like Black Chocolate, which has all the indulgence of chocolate without the fat or calories.

“A lot of people think of the old Lipton tea bags that are tasteless, really,” she said, explaining that, while the Exchange sells tea bags, the store specializes in loose-leaf tea to be used with a steeper. “The flavor of loose-leaf tea is unbelievable. The leaves are bigger, they’re fresher, and you get much more flavor out of them.”

But for many, a cup of tea is only as good as the way it’s served. Tea rooms like the Victorian Tea Parlor in Berkley and Tea By Three in Clinton Township are just a few of the places where the tradition of afternoon tea, complete with elegant china and tasty finger foods, is making a comeback with local tea lovers looking to slow down and relax in style. Social and charity groups like The Birmingham Community House and the Junior League of Birmingham are opting to host tea parties in lieu of the standard luncheon fundraisers.

In Rochester, the Royal Park Hotel has offered its Royalty Tea service since the hotel’s inception in 2004. Since then, the full tea has garnered so much popularity that the Royal Park recently decided to expand the tea times from 2-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays in order to accommodate more guests, according to Sue Keels, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

“We take the fine art of serving tea very seriously at the hotel, from the proper way of pouring, to educating our guests on the selections they’ll be experiencing,” said Keels.

Each detail of the Royalty Tea is carefully planned for every service, according to Keels, from every china cup purchased from antique shops and estate sales to the serving method. Overseeing the process is the hotel’s own tea hostess, Mary Kuhn, who, according to Keels, has been studying the intricacies of tea service for more than 20 years.

From the sweet and savory culinary micro-bites created by the hotel’s chef, to the wide variety of Mighty Leaf teas served in the hotel’s sunny gallery overlooking Paint Creek, the Royalty Tea is a great way to enjoy tea the way it was meant to be experienced.

“I think that, in the world of social media where everything is the speed of communication with emails … I think that people really are getting back to that grass-roots feeling of sitting down and enjoying an intimate conversation with special people in their lives,” said Keels. “People are turning the corner a bit and they’re craving that. I think that’s why (tea service) is becoming a little more trendy.”

While a true tea service might be reserved for a more mature crowd, no one knows the value of a good tea party better than a little girl. In Shelby Township, Tea Party Castle gives guests the chance to attend the tea party of their dreams in a parlor fit for a princess.

“We have a singing princess and a maiden that hosts the entire event. The girls get to have their hair done in a princess up-do, then they go into the gown room and pick out a dress to wear. Then they have a tea party with pastries, pink lemonade and our own special blend of raspberry tea,” said Tea Party Castle owner Sherrie Bergmann.

She said birthday parties at Tea Party Castle are the perfect way to bring to life the fairytale images many young girls only get to read about in storybooks. The day is filled with singing, dancing and even an etiquette lesson or two — a feature especially attractive to parents, Bergmann said.

“It’s fun. It’s kind of well-mannered, and I think women like to get out and do that. They get a lesson in manners and etiquette, like how to hold a tea cup,” she said. “It’s nice to be a princess, but it’s also about inner beauty and giving back. They may not know they’re getting a lesson, but they’ll remember it one day.”

For more information on events for kids, and adults as well, at Tea Party Castle, visit www.teapartycastle.com. To make reservations for the Royalty Tea at Royal Park Hotel, call (248) 453-8732. To learn more about The Spice and Tea Exchange, visit www.spiceandtea.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.