May 2, 2011

Beverage revolution brewing locally

Tea rooms, cafes gaining popularity in Waterville, elsewhere

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- In this go-go world, sitting down for a cup of tea is calming, refreshing and inspiring, say those who love the beverage.

TEA IN CENTRAL MAINE

• Selah Tea Cafe, 177 Main St., Waterville
• Hillside Coffee & Tea Room, 22 Waterville Road, Norridgewock
• Baxter Tea Co., 289 Water St., Gardiner
• Victorian Lace Tea Room, 21 Reynolds Lane, Burnham
• Hunnisett Reed English Antiques & Tea Room, 53 Main St., Phillips

SELAH TEA CAFE

Located at 177 Main St. in Waterville, the cafe is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The menu features soups, sandwiches and breakfast food that includes Belgian waffles, baked oatmeal, breakfast sandwiches and fruit parfaits. Kristan White bakes scones, bars, tea cakes, turnovers and Danish. The cafe serves small-bite foods including baked brie, warm goat cheese with fresh herbs, and Selah pockets. Some teas offered at the cafe include Scottish Caramel Coffee, Peach Apricot and Herbal Bella Coola.

They also cite the physical and emotional health benefits of drinking tea.

"It's a contemplative drink," says Rachel McGee. "Tea is more of a 'Sip, take your time with it, read a book.'"

The love of tea -- and good food -- is the reason McGee, 30, and her husband, Bobby, 29, have opened Selah Tea Cafe downtown.

The couple and their eight employees wear dark T-shirts that say, "Sip, pause and calmingly think."

The philosophy is one that is gaining popularity all over the world and prompting the opening of tea houses, tea cafes or tea rooms.

One tea expert predicts that tea will become the "next coffee."

"Tea is the second-most popular beverage in the world and water is the first," says Lisa Boalt Richardson, who writes and teaches about tea and is a consultant to tea-related businesses.

Richardson, of Alpharetta, Ga., says America started as a tea-drinking nation and now is trending back to that tradition.

"I don't think tea will ever replace coffee, but I think it might be on the same plane as coffee," she said.

Tea drinking has increased in the last few decades.

Richardson says there was a resurgence in the 1980s when people wanted to slow down and find a little escape from the fast-food, fast-paced environment of that decade.

Now, tea-drinking has turned into something a bit different, with people seeking its health benefits, enjoying a wide variety of teas and learning different ways to prepare and serve it, according to Richardson.

Market research shows tea-drinking is expected to grow 10 to 20 percent more by 2014, she said.

Author of "Tea with a Twist," and "The World in Your Teacup," Richardson says Americans are creating their own tea rituals -- something they never really had before.

"I think since America is such a melting pot of many different cultures, we're coming up with our own, which is a very American thing to do. I think for Americans, it's (tea drinking) fun, it's hip, it's cool, it's healthy and it's good for you -- and not just for your body."

Coffee has more caffeine than tea and may give you a jolt when you need it, but that jolt drops off at some point, she says.

Tea drinking, which originated about 5,000 years ago in China, can also give you a boost, but also can be soothing and calming.

Karen Heck of Waterville says she loves coffee, but is not supposed to drink it because of health reasons. She finds tea a great alternative.

"You can drink it late at night as opposed to having caffeine," she says. "You can drink it to wake up, you can drink it to go to sleep, you can drink it during the day to perk yourself up."

The Selah Tea Cafe serves more than 40 varieties of tea, as well as, yes, coffee, for those who prefer it, according to Bobby McGee.

When you order tea, a server brings to your table a cup and saucer, a tea press containing hot water and loose leaf tea, and a tea timer. You determine how long the tea steeps -- three, four or five minutes -- and then get to press the handle and watch the infusion.

"There are different ways to infuse tea," Bobby McGee says. "We happen to use a tea press."

Many of Selah's 40 varieties of tea sell for $2.79 a cup, but the priciest one is $9.29 a cup -- for Orchid Oolong.

(Continued on page 2)

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