It's All About the FoodChristmas Baking with SusieJ

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After SakeFest, GR and I went to dinner in Center City. (I know the area east of Broad and west of Washington Square has a catchy name -- maybe Washington Square West -- but it's not catchy enough for me to remember.) During our wanderings, I spotted TBar, 117 S. !2th, which I'd wanted to try since first learning that my old neighborhood went upscale a few years after I moved out. That, and we were down to PG Tips loose tea for breakfast.

TBar is both retail and restaurant; I was interested only in the retail. They have an extensive selection of loose teas: black, oolong, green and flavored. Prices start at $6.50 for two ounces, making it some of the most expensive tea I've ever bought.

However, there are lots of ways to make an informed choice. Most or all teas can be purchased in a pot; TBar offers a large "Book of Tea" with extensive descriptions of the teas; staff offer to let you smell the loose tea. I just picked from the descriptions.

If you are used to the to the supermarket descriptions of English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Earl Grey and Dareeling, you might be lost. The teas are described by country of origin (Indian, Ceylon), and some have tea grades (like SFTGFOP: Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). Teas are organized by TBar name; to find an assam requires perusing the descriptions. There were a number of flavored teas and a wide selection of green and oolong.

English Breakfast: A not-to-strong, well-balanced basic tea. There were no surprises and likely to be acceptable to anyone used to Lipton. The second brewing was nearly as good as the first, and also good cold.

Nilgiri: Delicate with lots of bright notes. The second brewing was not nearly as good as the first; all of the bright flavor was lost.

Mt. Everest: Mildly smoky but not heavy. The second brewing was close to the first.

Moonlight PM: Billed as low-caffeine and tastes it; tea doesn't lose it's caffeine easily or well. The only good decaf I've found so far has been Barry's Gold, an Irish import.

For years, Philly tea enthusiasts were limited to the Spice Terminal, Fantes and other stores in the Italian Market. Although the teas were better than the supermarket, none had the variety or quality offered by Steap and TBar. It's wonderful to see the selection expanding: no more mail order for me!

Will I go back: I'm inclined to keep my purchases at Steap, which has better prices and as wide a selection. On the other hand, if I'm in the area and looking at a near lack of tea for the weekend, I wouldn't mind trying the Russian caravan or other teas.

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