By Jonathan Shikes
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Now that national chains have made coffee shops seem more homogenized than ultra-pasteurized creamer, many people are turning over a new leaf. As a result, in addition to Oaks & Berries and A Spot of Tea (see review above), the town suddenly has a dozen other places where you can find a good cup of tea.
One of my favorites is Country Garden Tea Room (2839 South Broadway in Englewood), recipient of the Best Children's Tea award in this year's Best of Denver issue and a wonderful place for adults, too. Owner Bobbi McCandless decided to take over the space next to her garden store and turn it into a tearoom, which she crammed full of florist-related retail items -- bridal accessories, holiday decorations, rustic soaps -- along with an antique Hoosier cabinet, mismatched cups and saucers, many, many teapots and a collection of little girls' hats. With this cozy, intimate setting, McCandless has earned a well-deserved reputation for helping little girls live out their Alice in Wonderlandfantasies; the space also looks ideal for a bridal shower or other gal get-together. The frilly tables, grouped close together for good gossip, are always set with fresh flowers -- and every tea drinker walks out with a rose.
The food, served by McCandless's family, is more down-to-earth than that found at other, more frou-frou places, and it's also less expensive. For ten bucks a person, the deluxe afternoon tea includes fruit or a cup of soup, a half-dozen finger sandwiches (including a unique mushroom-and-cheese version), two cute little homemade quiches, scones with jam and Devonshire cream, and a bottomless pot of tea chosen from a wide selection of bagged Celestial Seasonings offerings. For kids, the $4 plate brings a PB&J sandwich, a fresh fruit cup, and cookies covered with whipped cream and sprinkles. On the first Sunday and Wednesday of the month, Country Garden also serves up tarot and palm readings with its tea.
Canos Collection (235 Fillmore), still going strong at sixteen years, may be the town's oldest tearoom, but owner Joyce Mahn recently decided to change its name to the Welsh Dragon Tea Shop. "We sort of finally got it that the name wasn't telling people what we do here," says the Welsh native, who couldn't be more charming or better mannered -- in other words, ideally suited for her line of work. "And we're in such an odd spot that they couldn't see what we were doing, either." The shop is located in the atrium balcony of the retail strip that's sided by Mel's Bar and Grill, but unless you were heading to the loo from Mel's, you'd never know it existed. Still, that makes Canos/Welsh Dragon a nice find for people looking for an inexpensive tea as well as odd little retail items that Mahn's discovered in her travels. The tearoom offers tea until 4 p.m. and also serves a full lunch, including such items as shepherd's pie and chicken pot pie, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. High tea, which runs $8.75 per person and includes finger sandwiches, pastries, fruit and chocolates, is available by reservation only for parties of eight or more, and those in the know mark off the first Sunday of each December for Mahn's harp-serenaded Victorian Christmas tea, which takes over the entire upper floor of the mall.
The grande dame of teas in town is the elegant version at the Brown Palace (321 17th Street), which runs from noon to 4 p.m. daily and costs $17 to $20 per person.
The House of Windsor (1050 South Wadsworth Boulevard in Lakewood) is another oldie but goodie that sets out high tea at 1:30 p.m. daily (except Sundays); although you can buy such lunch items as pork pies and sausage rolls, the $10.95 per-person price nets sandwiches, a trifle or pastry, and scones with cream and jam. House of Windsor makes its own preserves, which it also sells, along with an excellent variety of teapots.
Even restaurants are taking time for tea. The Fourth Story, atop the Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek (2955 East First Avenue), not only offers one of the town's best teas, available anytime -- try to get server Cesar E. Sanchez, whose knowledge of teas is impressive -- but also features monthly tea tastings. Heading the get-togethers, which cost $18 per person and include pastry chef Nikki McCauley's yummy sweet and savory pastries, is Chris Chantler of Vail Mountain Coffee Roasters, the company that supplies the Fourth Story with its teas. (The cold-cure blend is delish.) The next tea tasting is at 3 p.m. April 26; call 303-322-1824 for reservations. And Empire Diner (3 South Broadway) and the Mercury Cafe (2199 California Street) also offer teas.
For a unique tea, check out the Japanese tea ceremonies featured most summer weekends at the Denver Botanic Gardens (909 York Street). Held in the tea house in the Japanese garden, the teas are as calming and inspiring as a religious service, and also very informative. The Botanic Gardens will also offer a series of teas during its British week, June 2-8, complete with a Mad Hatter-style gathering on June 2. You have to register in advance for any of these teas; call 720-865-3580.