Step into Teaism and you've stepped into a world combining East and West just blocks from the White House. Seeing the elegant banners, the abstract sculpture and teak-and-iron benches in the front garden, a passerby could easily assume this place to be a small museum. The dream of restaurateurs Michelle brown and Linda Orr celebrates tea. Michelle and Linda adopted the mane from Kakuzo Okakura's The Book of Tea, in which he wrote: "The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it [tea] into a religion of aestheticism--teaism." The food is Asian, and the decor artistically simple--warm parchment-yellow walls. A Dadaist mural of an inverted two leaves and a bud and jasmine blossoms leads to the dining area upstairs.
Upon my visit one day, behind a low counter stood Sanda Yee, one of Teaism's managers, extending a cheerful welcome. Their tea list commands attention. A quick glance reveals more than twenty-five different loose teas and tisanes; a more careful glance breaks this down to six red teas, five oolongs, five greens, two whites, six tisanes, and chai. Notably absent: coffee. Starbucks sits a few doors away, but Teaism doesn't feel any heat. "Our goal was to make tea accessible to the public," explains Michelle "in a very comfortable, affordable environment."
Indeed, the heart of Teaism's magic is the staff's ability to quickly and correctly infuse any one of its teas and tisanes--anything for a Ben Shan oolong to a Yinzhen Silver Needle white. Large, colorful boxes decorated with handmade Japanese washi paper, created by artist Jan McGregor, contain the fifty loose teas and tisanes that Teaism sells.