Just north of Chicago lies the prosperous suburb of Lake Forest.  This quiet place is the surprising home of a boutique Japanese tea house with French flair – the Green Teaist.

Anyone with a penchant for o cha would not be disappointed – not a single corner has been cut by the enterprising owner, Mr. Hoken Seki.  As a man with an eye for detail, I confess that there is much to impress, from the sleek Japanese wood boxes that house the tea to the climate-controlled tea cellar.  A few minutes inside the salon – oui, the salon – and you cannot help but realize that everything has been thought out with great care.   A few minutes more and you realize that such attention could only have come at great expense.

Sixteen tea options – all Japanese – await the guest on the menu.  These, and perhaps an additional ten selections, can be found on their tea list for purchase from the cellar.  At the table, my friend Josh and I decided to tackle teas of relative intensity.  Josh chose deep-steamed Fukamushicha from Shizuoka, while I was intrigued by their Ureshinocha, a Tamaryokucha-style tea from Saga Prefecture in Kyushu.  As advertised, the latter carried bright notes of lemon or lime zest with customary notes of nori and melon.  These teas were served with a small, dark chocolate wafer and I was impressed by the ability of the tea to carry the pairing.

The tea service has distinct Japanese elements, but possesses an unmistakably Western signature, a fact that is underscored by the Afternoon Tea-inspired tea sandwich assortment that we enjoyed.  Our host, Joe, was gracious and professional, sporting a monogrammed TGT button-down vest and green tie.  The Green Teaist treated us to a demitasse of premium Kyoto Gyokuro paired with a tea-dusted sugar cookie specially made for the teashop by Gerhard’s Bakery just down the street.  This tea was truly exquisite, with a creaminess that gave fuller meaning to the Japanese term umami.

We finished with a pot of Kyobancha, a fantastic summer harvest tea which –  filled with twigs and rough leaf matter – is perhaps best described as rustic.  Steamed and then sun-dried, the tea is finished with a wood firing, imparting the most lovely roasted caramelized “carbon” notes.  Fans of roasted Japanese teas take notice; this offering is sublime and I am looking forward to trying it on ice later this week.

Attached to the salon, you will find the tea cellar and a modest selection of traditional Japanese chaki and Western teaware.  Especially stunning were their various natsume and hand-carved wooden canisters that any tea enthusiast would appreciate.  Most curious was a two-piece glass contraption that resembled the Chemex coffeemakers my friends are fond of using.   This strange device is an iced tea maker: leaf and ice are placed into the top cylinder and the infusion then slowly trickles down through a glass filter into the pot on the bottom.  Perhaps 2010 will be the year that “back-to-basics” coffee trends touch the tea world.

As a committed (read: addicted) Japanese tea lover, I was game for the pricing, but the double-digit dollar pots of tea are sure to make a few guests wince.  No matter the take on that issue, I believe any dedicated tea drinker will be inspired by what the Green Teaist is attempting to do—take tea appreciation to another level in the United States.

A visit is a must for any tea connoisseur living in the Midwest.  For those beyond reach, the online shop grants you access to some of the best Japanese tea found in the United States.

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