Tucked away between the quaint townhouses of Dupont Circle, Teaism serves a combination of loose leaf tea and healthy Asian cuisine to the D.C. food scene.
Just off of Dupont Circle’s busy Connecticut Avenue, Teaism has been celebrating the art of tea in the same storefront since 1996 on top of two more locations that founders Linda Neumann and Michelle Brown opened in Penn Quarter and Downtown in 1999. The restaurant concocts more than 100 varieties of tea, but its specialty also extends to food like bento boxes, curries and rice dishes from countries where tea is grown in Asia and North Africa, including China, Kenya and India.
While curbside seating and a large willow tree decorate the outside of the establishment, the entrance opens to an exposed kitchen sectioned off by a counter for ordering. Boxes of tea stacked floor to ceiling bearing names like tieguanyin, manipura and sencha line the back walls. To the left of the kitchen, shelves display local artisan mugs, plates and coasters, tea, cookies and scone mixes and a variety of tea-making equipment for sale. Reusable cups, straws and silverware are also available for purchase.
The first floor is otherwise limited to eight small wooden stools placed against the window overlooking R Street. A staircase to the left of the entrance leads upstairs to an open room with booth seating stretching along windowless walls and table seating arranged in the center of the room. Yellow walls and dimmed lights contrast the navy blue colors of the benches, art and serving bowls, setting the scene for a cozy vibe as instrumental music plays in the background.
My friend and I arrived at Teaism just after 7 p.m. Valentine’s Day, and as we snuck into a corner booth we noticed the space was filled mostly with couples, all deeply engaged in conversation. We mulled over the menu, contemplating what to order between the all-day breakfast items like the Okonomiyaki ($12.50) and cilantro scrambled eggs ($12.50), the five bento box offerings ($16) or the hot items, including udon noodle soup ($14.75) and palak paneer ($14).
We started by splitting the broccoli tots ($6), known as the restaurant’s “trash or treasure” dish, made of food scraps to help reduce food waste. They were a more mature version of tater tots, crisp to the bite but oozing with a creamy goat cheese and broccoli filling and dunked in togarashi dip – a mayonnaise-based sauce flavored with seaweed, sesame seeds, orange zest and siracha. Served in a set of six, the dish was an ideal size to split between two people.
For a main course, I settled on the dream salad – a lettuce base topped with quinoa, chickpeas, mint, beet hummus, fresh orange, dates, Golden Monkey nuts and orange fennel vinaigrette. The salad was an explosion of flavors as tart juice oozed out of the fresh orange. The beet hummus was savory and nutty, and it paired well with the orange fennel vinaigrette to coat the salad. The mint added a hint of aromatic spice that contrasted the sugary, chewy dates. The salty nuts delivered a needed crunch to the otherwise soft texture of the quinoa and chickpeas. The dish was light and citrusy, a balanced follow-up to the slightly greasy broccoli tots.
I washed the meal down with the light and herbal iced jasmine green tea with boba. The drink was mild and slightly fruity, and the brown sugar-soaked tapioca pearls were the perfect sweet surprise in every sip. I have never tried boba with green tea instead of milk tea, but it was a more refreshing beverage to compliment my meal.
You simply cannot make a trip to Teasim without getting a tea of some sort. For a sweet finish to your meal, there are plenty of options – you have the choice of lassi ($4), hot chai ($4) or boba tea ($4) if you are beverage inclined. If not, there is also jasmine creme brulee ($4.5), matcha gelato ($5) or the restaurant’s famous salty oat cookie ($2.70).
The shop’s focus on sustainability and locally sourced ingredients is a refreshing break from the wasteful nature of fast, casual chain restaurants in the District. The nutrition packed into Teaism’s Asian-inspired dishes is a needed contrast to the oftentimes lazy diet of a college student.
Teaism is providing bright, light and outright flavorful dishes and teas with the added bonus of a zen ambiance and environmentally friendly mission.
This article appeared in the February 23, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.