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Tea and the return of conversation

Ana Alvarado, left, and Marley Rozman, both nine, enjoy tea at The St. Paul Hotel.
MinnPost photo by Roxane Battle
Ana Alvarado, left, and Marley Rozman, both nine, enjoy tea at The St. Paul Hotel.


Tea is good for you. An often repeated, widely reported food fact worth $10 billion dollars…or more.

Sage Group International, a specialty tea think tank based in Seattle, describes its projection of $10 billion in tea sales by 2010 as a “conservative” number.

Other market forecasters predict a $15 billion retail tea business in the United States by 2012, double the $7.4 billion industry it is right now. Compare that to less than $1 billion in 1990, and you gotta ask: Wat’s up with tea?

It’s good for you.

“Whether it’s cholesterol, cardiovascular, weight loss, no one is disputing it any more, they’re just fighting over the numbers now,” says Bill Waddington, owner of Tea Source, a specialty tea shop in St. Anthony.

Tea is bigger than wine
At any given time, Waddington stocks 250 different loose-leaf teas at his St. Anthony and St. Paul stores, and, he says, that’s the other part of tea’s appeal: baby boomers have not only discovered tea’s health benefits, but its flavor as well.

“The world of tea is bigger than the world of wine,” says Waddington.

Among his favorites, prairie passion tea, an aromatic mix of black and green tea leaves with pieces of passion fruit, rose hips and sun flowers. He carries six different varieties of Ceylon tea, 15 different blends of Darjeeling.

“Would you walk into a wine store and expect to find only one kind of merlot? Same perspective,” he says. Some of the rarer teas go for $100 dollars a pound. Tea, that Waddington personally tastes and travels the world to find. He’s headed to Darjeeling, India, next February.

“When you tap into people’s tea, you tap into their culture.”

The art of conversation
At The St. Paul Hotel, director of catering Terrie Bulanek serves tea to 4,000 people a year.

“Starting right after Thanksgiving, we do two teas, four days a week, Thursday through Sunday, five weeks in a row, and we usually sell out by the end of October,” says Bulanek.

For $35 a person, kids can sip on mini Shirley Temple martinis while their parents enjoy endless cups of black current tea. Over two hours and five courses, guests graze on turkey and raspberry butter finger sandwiches, orange and blueberry scones, snicker doodles and sugar cookies.

“It makes them have to be a little grown up…napkins on their lap,” says Nancy Alvarado, 40, of St. Louis Park. Her 9-year-old daughter, Ana, is seated on a upholstered couch in the hotel’s lobby next to 9-year-old Marley Rozman. Both girls are drinking tea and milk out of antique cups, while Alvarado and Marley’s mom, Tiera Rozman, 38, also of St. Louis Park, enjoy catching up. A fire flickers in the lobby fireplace while a pianist plays Christmas music. A wait staff, in white pleated aprons, makes the rounds, pouring tea out of silver pots.

“I come for the tea, they come for the tradition.” says Rozman. This is the third consecutive year the foursome has had tea at The St. Paul Hotel. “It’s fun to actually get to sit and talk for a hour.” says Rozman.

“And we get to laugh,” says Marley.

“It’s always multi-generational,” say Bulanek, “Because teas are a way to try and bring back etiquette and manners, and get away from the cell phones and video games and back to the art of conversation.”

And did I mention? It’s good for you, too.

What: Holiday Tea or Dinner with “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play”
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18: tea at 3 p.m.; dinner at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Dec. 19: tea at 3 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 20: tea at 3 p.m.; dinner at 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 21: tea at 3 p.m.; dinner at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 22: tea at 3 p.m.; dinner at 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 23: tea at 11 a.m.; tea at 3 p.m.

Cost: $50 per person for tea performances and $65 per person for dinner performances

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