“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

How is it possible that something brewed from dried leaves, which looks so innocuous, can be so evocative? Yet, tea both inspires and soothes. And it’s the first thing I’m after (not the martini, Mrs Draper) when I walk through my front door after work.

There’s nothing as comforting as a good, hot cup of it – its color, flavor, aroma, and, of course, its celebrated calming qualities. Throw some fresh-made scones and clotted cream into the mix and this becomes an irresistible repast.

Although, I’m capable of brewing a satisfying pot myself, I all but jumped when a tea-mad friend called recently and asked if I fancied visiting a “fantastic tea shop” out in Westfield, NJ. Sure it wasn’t in immediate Baristaville, home of the Terra Tea Salon, but I was curious, and it was a relatively easy 20-minute drive away.

Ana Beall’s Tea Room is ensconced in a quaint and pretty house on Westfield Ave, a street that could easily be transplanted into Montclair. One can pick from its afternoon tea menu, brunch or lunch menu. And it’s so very civilized, sipping a cup of hot tea, with company, accompanied by light, finger-sized sandwiches and dainty desserts, and luscious scones with clotted cream.

Perhaps in a tea room, however, one shouldn’t order a gazpacho, even on a warm day. The soup was thin and underseasoned, likely under-ingrediented too.

But all else – tea, sandwiches, mini desserts, scones – were as they should have been, and rendered all the more enjoyable by the cosy atmosphere of Ana Beall’s bright and airy tea room, with its generous windows and homey feel.

Ana Beall’s Tea Room

415 Westfield Avenue, Westfield, NJ 07090
Tel: 908-264-4221

Tea (and Coffee) in Nutley

Minutes from Montclair is a charming tea salon on Nutley’s Chestnut St. Modern Leaf and Bean, owned by Patty Howard. It opened in November 2009, but, possibly due to the business’ reticence, it’s taken me a year to know of its existence.

In the cheerful, sunshine-yellow space, intact with its original tin roof and walls, you’ll find a wide range of organic and fair-trade coffee, and 50 kinds of loose teas, also organic and fair trade.

Howard, describing the trigger for starting her own tea salon, said, “I had a coffee and tea business via email for years, but when my husband lost his job two years ago, we were driving by this space and saw that it was available.”

“It felt right, that something that wasn’t Starbucks, should fill this spot.”

On offer are biscotti, cookies, cheesecake and pies (from Montclair’s Pie Store). Howard said that salads, soups and other lunchables may be on the menu in the near future, although for now, Modern Leaf and Bean only has refrigeration facilities, not a kitchen.

A pot of freshly brewed, strong tea sufficed to make my friend and me happy; being able to sit in a bright, inviting space with a relaxed atmosphere was priceless, and enjoying a mini version of one of Samantha Coddling’s pies (without having to bake it for 20 minutes), an unexpected bonus.

Still, for now, Howard says the majority of her clientele aren’t the sit-down tea aficionados, but a younger crowd of sophomores and juniors dropping in after school.

Modern Leaf & Bean

146 Chestnut St, Nutley

Open Mon-Wed 8am-6pm; Thu 8am-7pm; Fri 8am-8pm; Sat 9am-8pm

And, Brewing Soon in Montclair …

is Insanitea, on 570 Bloomfield Ave, which awaits its health inspection but is meanwhile selling soaps, candles, lotions and other toiletry items, all made on the premises. Eventually, it will also serve tea, pastries, appetizers and other light bites.

Tea facts:

-Tea is chockful of antioxidant polyphenols and has more antioxidants than many fruits and vegetables

-An average cup of tea has just under half the caffeine (40mg) of an average cup of coffee (85mg)

-Copious tea drinking, of 4 to 6 cups daily, may help reduce the risk of gastric, esophageal and skin cancers -Herbal teas and not strictly ‘tea,’ as they aren’t derived from the Camellia plant’s leaves and don’t share the health-promoting properties of tea

-South African red Rooibos tea also falls within the herbal tea category and has no proven health benefits

-A study by University College London researchers showed drinking black tea can lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, following a stressful event.

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C.S. Lewis