I’ve developed a relationship with tea and I feel fortunate about that because I know not everybody gets to have one. To some people, tea is just tea or a substitute for coffee when it’s not around. But tea is special, complicated, colorful and versatile, carrying not only emotional and social appeal but medicinal qualities suited for just about any mood or state of being.

It was in my late teens that I discovered the potential greatness of a cup of tea. I made time to visit a dear elderly aunt one afternoon and this wise woman took me by the hand and led me down the hillside next to her home, gathering a huge bouquet of green leaves in a matter of seconds. They smelled like lemon and I had no idea what she was doing.

“Go home and boil these,” she instructed, “and you’ll have a beautiful cup of tea.” I prayed she knew what she was talking about and that I wouldn’t be poisoned or fall into a deep sleep or something. All was well, and she was right. It was a “beautiful cup of tea,” and none like any other I had before. Making it was a little magical, too; I watched the leaves wilt and slowly shrink while the water took on an amber hue.

Since then, some of my most cherished emotional moments have involved cups of tea, many of my best meals have ended with cups of tea, and I’ve dodged more than one illness or ailment with tea by my side. Tasting different teas has also become a sensory adventure rivaling my appreciation for wine and coffee.

In a recent trip to Healdsburg, I discovered how The Taste of Tea respects the ancient ritual and tradition of tea.

The Taste of Tea
The founders of The Taste of Tea are passionate about tea, tradition and relaxation. The family member trio of Chef Nez, Donna and Tai Tokugawa are gaining a reputation not only for their tea selections but also the Asian-inspired cuisine and a lounge that features Japanese Green Tea treatments and docent-guided tea tastings.

“Tea is more than just a beverage, it is a lifestyle,” said Donna Tokugawa, who now spends her days working alongside her husband Chef Nez and their daughter Tai. A career in the financial field preceded the tea endeavor, and tea used to serve simply as Donna’s healthy hobby that helped her through some stressful years of working with money. Studying tea for 30 years, Donna is now a tea docent who specializes in Japanese, Chinese and Taiwanese teas.

Cups of tea, iced or hot, tea-tasting flights and specialty tea drinks like an Emerald MarTEAni (matcha, coconut milk, mint syrup shaken and served in a mint sugar rimmed martini glass) are opening up the world of tea for people. But the experience only gets better when tea is complimented by a few unique selections from the food menu. Traditional matcha and ramen are a couple offerings that are quickly attracting attention to the new tea house that opened its doors in March of 2015.

Expansive windows and a clean and interesting atmosphere ignite the curiosity as one enters The Taste of Tea. A tasting bar to the left beckons with large laboratory-like glass instruments used for brewing tea; tucked to the left and right are tables. Straight ahead is desirable, too, with dainty baked goods, like perfectly decorated cupcakes, cream puffs and the like. A hallway with merchandise continues the momentum, landing explorers in a back room where spa treatments are delivered.

Alchemic Combinations on the Menu
Although there were plenty of items on the menu that caught my eye and enticed my curiosity, it was the “UnWine to ReWine” that called me. Not because I was wine tasting that day but rather the way the dish was combined. It read: “Start with an Arnold Palmer to rehydrate, add Miso Soup to re-energize, enjoy two Seasoned Rice Rolls for faster alcohol absorption then finish with refreshing Cucumber and Seaweed Salads to cleanse and hydrate; top it all off with a Mini Cream Puff.” I was sold, knowing that even without wine tasting I could use re-energizing, hydration and, of course, a cream puff.

I did make a little change, however, substituting a renowned matcha for the Arnold Palmer, a tough choice, but the matcha was memorable, enhanced with a splash of vanilla, pomegranate syrup and a sprig of mint. I was right on with my need to experience the combination of foods presented here, and I was particularly impressed with the way the flavors played upon one another. It was actually very similar to wine and food pairing, which in my opinion, when done well, never ceases to amaze. as it sounds, intermittent bites of seasoned rice rolls and a spoonful of the miso soup created a little symphony in my mouth, bringing out all the intricate herbs in the rice and a delicious nutty flavor that I believe was the seaweed wrapped neatly around the rice rolls. Let’s just say that the mini green-tea cream puff really did top it all off and could deserve a paragraph of its own.

Discovery & Wisdom
So my relationship with tea continues to evolve, surprise, heal and delight. I look forward to trying out new pairings and participating in comparative tastings that I did not know existed. When life gets rough— I know that wisdom, relief and relaxation is close at hand and a piece of what ancient civilizations have been doing for centuries has finally made it to the Sonoma County doorstep. I’m grateful to those who have done the footwork to pass on this important knowledge of tea, and also to those bold enough to try something new or send a teenager home with a bouquet of herbs and limited instructions. SD

The Taste of Tea
109 North Street, Healdsburg