Tea Along U.S. Route 66 - Photo of "Route 66" sign on an overpass.

U.S. Route 66, the historic 2,448-mile highway constructed in the 1920’s connecting Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California, passes through these states: Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.   A lesser-known fact is its decommissioning in 1985: Many roads are no longer being maintained, which — along with accessible interstate freeways — has driven businesses and even entire towns into oblivion.

What tea experiences will one have in each state when starting in Southern California and traveling east on Route 66, known once as the Main Street of America and The Mother Road?

Almost five years have passed since the last time, during a holiday season, I stepped inside South Pasadena’s Fair Oaks Pharmacy And Soda Fountain, established in 1915. Scintillating wall-to-ceiling decorations and Christmas trees covered densely with whimsical ornaments inundated the space with such warmth and festive air that I momentarily forgot that apothecary was the premises’ core business. The store’s popular specialties are the Classic Sundae and Banana Split with scoops of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate ice cream which per request should be substitutable with green tea flavor. ( In which old-fashioned U.S. ice cream parlor was the very first scoop of green tea ice cream served? Does anyone know? )

Tea Along U.S. Route 66 - Photo of Fair Oaks Pharmacy And Soda Fountain

Art+Science Café proudly presents its farm-to-cup organic beverages, but there is no tea farm anywhere in Pasadena or neighboring cities and towns. Upon further inquiry I learned it was superior-quality matcha powder from Japan – the café’s “farm-to-cup” requirement is too lax. Smoking Latte (hojicha + double espresso) and Art&Science Latte (matcha + double espresso) — formerly called Military Latte — were strong, aromatic, and quite flavorful; but not concocted with locally-sourced ingredients as “advertised,” to entice me to be a return customer.

Tea Along U.S. Route 66

Besides Phoenix, what city in Arizona comes to mind? Maybe Flagstaff? The Winter Sun Trading Company, specializing in Native American art and Southwest botanicals, has been in operation since 1976. Just from browsing the store photos I could tell it’s the kind of establishment that will prompt me to read more about tribal history and cultures after visiting. There is tremendous public interest in herbalism and botanical medicines. The most recent comment on my 2009 post Creosote Tea – not quite an introduction to herbalism/medicinal tea came from a reader sharing his experience in 2019! I ordered some Winter Sun Herbal Teas via the online shop and look forward to steeping and tasting at home.

Anyone planning a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico should consider scheduling it during the month of October when the annual Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is held. Among the Mass Ascension’s 500+ balloons from 20+ countries, I took pictures of only five individual balloons, one is of Possmann’s apple cider jug, or bembel in German. I am sure there was no gigantic tea cup or teapot flying in the air that year as the official magazine listed none.

Santa Fe, New Mexico reminds me none other than Georgia O’keeffe whose floral art profoundly impressed me as a preteen in Asia. O’keeffe’s studio Ghost Ranch is a distant 60 miles away from Santa Fe. The artist was known to drink tea and have enjoyed The Book of Tea – a little volume I never gather enough patience to read past page one. My admiration for O’keeffe deepened after learning she discouraged unfounded, extraneous interpretation of her art – let the flowers she painted be flowers.

After leaving New Mexico, travelers on Route 66 enter Texas.  Maybe a visit to U Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas?

Tea Along U.S. Route 66 - Photo of a teapot-shaped hot air balloon.

In Oklahoma, both Elk City’s Country Dove Tea Room and Claremore’s three-story Victorian-style Belvidere Mansion offer weary journeyers some dining options and rest stops. This year many of us finally learned about the tragic 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa – Oklahoma’s second largest city.

Tea Along U.S. Route 66 - Photo of the teapot hanging in the air.

Route 66’s length in Kansas is 13 miles.

Blythe Mercantile in downtown Joplin, Missouri, population 50,000, seems to have permanently closed. Yelp photos of the menu indicate it carried teas by Charleston’s Oliver Pluff & Company, a veteran-owned business.

Tea establishments in Chicago are innumerable, diverse, thus warrant a separate post. It is disheartening to read about the foreclosure of Palmer House where I stayed during my first visit to the unforgettable Windy City in the 1990s. Before COVID-19, afternoon teas were served in the opulent grand lobby.

I decided to research Route 66 not because of this post, but because of a sporadic impulse to drive somewhere aimlessly – a psychological side effect of COVID-19. I was hoping to stop for selfies with giant teapot hanging in the air, or a teapot-shaped gas station, but they are way off Route 66.

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