Greater Phoenix is not usually associated with tea, but the capital of Arizona is quickly being infused with a tea culture that has no rival in the Southwest. That tea attitude should come as no surprise because for years, literally, the writing has been on the wall.
Nestled in the foothills of Scottsdale’s McDowell Mountains lies the sprawling 600-acre desert complex called Taliesin West, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1937, Wright purchased a piece of that desert and set about building the campus, which would serve as his home, studio, and teaching center until his death at the age of 91.
The buildings and the landscape at Taliesin West coexist in harmony – form and color, beauty and grace, nature and science are all blended. This was a concept Wright learned from The Book of Tea, written by Okakura Kakuzo in 1906. His favorite quote from that classic text is etched in the wall of the campus auditorium, “The reality of the building does not exist in the roof and walls but in the space within to be lived.”
Afternoon Tea at the Arizona Biltmore
It’s only a short drive from Taliesin West to the only existing hotel in the United States with a Frank Lloyd Wright-influenced design, The Arizona Biltmore. “The Jewel of the Desert” resort was designed in 1929 by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. Unique to the property are the “Biltmore Sprites,” slender statues of ethereal spirits conceived in 1914 for a project Wright was working on in Chicago.
Six of the disarming creations are strategically placed throughout the gardens, bringing an aura of peace and tranquility to the historic resort. The famous Biltmore swimming pool was a favorite hangout of Marilyn Monroe, and Irving Berlin penned “White Christmas” while sitting poolside.
A white Christmas in Phoenix is a rarity, so guests flock to see the elaborately decorated lobbies filled with two-story Christmas trees and a dazzling display of gingerbread houses. And a reservation to Afternoon Tea at the Arizona Biltmore is the beginning of many happy memories for Phoenix families. While visions of sugarplums might dance in some children’s minds, it’s Eggnog Brulée and White Chocolate Peppermint Scones that keep these young revelers awake at night.
Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix
Frank Lloyd Wright would be pleased to know that Phoenix now has an authentic Japanese garden, thanks to their Sister Cities partnership with Himeji, Japan. The Japanese Friendship Garden, named Ro Ho En, consists of a 3.5-acre Japanese Stroll Garden with tea garden and tea house. This serene setting features flowing streams, waterfalls, footbridges, lanterns, and more than 50 varieties of plants. One of the main attractions is the Japanese Tea House.
Japan’s influence on Wright can be traced back to the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago where, as a young architect, he saw his first Japanese tea house, and immediately began incorporating the Japanese art aesthetic into his designs. After touring Taliesin and all the great tea places in the Phoenix area, it seems fitting to end your pilgrimage at The Japanese Friendship Garden, where you can lift a bowl of sencha to Wright. Tea, art, nature, and tranquility all combine in this mystical oasis.