In his Essay on Boiling Spring Water (circa 1570), T'ien Yiheng wrote, "Tea is drunk to forget the noise of the world." Knowing this, Essencha Tea House (3212 Madison Road, Oakley; 513-533-4832; loose tea and "teaware" available at essencha.com) provides a tranquil atmosphere where patrons can escape the hurly-burly of daily life. This is not your Aunt Millie's tea parlor, with doilies and Victorian floral wallpaper. Rather, the small space, which opened in March, tends toward minimalist, Zen-like décor.
Though it gets brisk near the door, the seating is comfortable and the knowledgeable servers eagerly share their passion. In fact, tea service here is wonderfully ritualistic, with lyrical descriptions ("A gentle Sri Lankan mountain breeze aroma"), carefully regulated water temperature and precision-timed infusions. Just don't expect things to move quickly — all that ritual takes time.
At a rear counter, nearly 70 available teas are displayed. The lunch menu, however, is brief: a few sandwiches, several soups and salads and some pastries. We started with a fragrant bowl of cloudy Miso Soup (included with lunch) with scallions and tender cubes of tofu.
We also chose Corn Chowder ($3.75) brimming with vegetables and cream, perfect for the damp, chilly weather.
We asked our server if particular teas would pair best with our food. She suggested we go with whatever style we liked. In fact, we found that my Yunnan Goldtip Supreme Black Tea ($5.25/cup) overwhelmed the delicate Miso Soup, while my wife's Ceylon Silver Tips White Tea (also $5.25/cup) was too subtle for her chowder. So we switched, to great effect.
A Fall Salad ($7.50) — baby greens with pomegranate vinaigrette, goat cheese, mission figs and spiced pecans — was sweet and delicious. We also opted for a special: tender grilled eel ($10.95) served warm over Japanese rice with a side of briny seaweed salad. Our meals were well prepared, and since the reasonable portions didn't leave us stuffed we sampled desserts.
While not made in-house, a Key Lime Tart ($3.95) with a chocolate-lined crust was terrific and paired well with my second tea, Organic Jasmine Pearls ($5.25/cup), which was awesome — intense yet light, floral and refreshing. Their "signature" Matcha (concentrated green tea powder) Scone ($2.70) just wasn't flaky enough, but the accompaniments (clotted cream, jam and lemon curd) were great.
And a special Earl Grey Almond Steamer ($2.95) was hot and rich — the perfect ending before we reluctantly returned to the noise of the world. Grade: A-