Sit 'n' Steep

The Scented Leaf is a lovely, modern tearoom—but can this formula be successful?

The word "tearoom" conjures images of tiny, sedate places trimmed out in lace, with classical music playing quietly in the background, and stale scones sitting under a glass-domed cake plate. Well, welcome to the 21st century and the Scented Leaf Tea House and Lounge.

Located on bustling University Boulevard just outside of the UA's Main Gate, Scented Leaf offers oodles of tea choices, a few desserts, an ever-changing soup menu and, in the evening, live music. It's a neat little spot to spend a few hours while pretending to write your paper for English class.

But does this formula bode well for success? On our first visit, we had to wait for a table. There can't be more 20 seats in the tiny room, and most everyone there was lingering over tea, studying alone or in small groups. Save for one young woman who brought in her own lunch (a no-no, in my book), we were the only ones eating.

And then there are the prices—our bill for two medium ice teas ($3.35 each), two bowls of soup ($5.50 each), a slice of berry cheesecake ($6) and a slice of mousse pie ($6) was almost $40 after tax and tip. On our second visit, we fared a bit better, with a grand total of about $25. But on that visit, we simply shared a pot of tea ($4 for one person; $6 for two; $2 more for each additional person), plus a cup of garden-vegetable soup ($4.50) and a dessert apiece ($6, or $5 for fruit pie). Are these student prices?

The room is sparsely decorated, with a few paintings on the walls. Next to the counter where you order is the display case where the daily sweets sit. One wall is lined with a leatherette sofa and low tables. On the other wall, the teas are displayed in faux mini-crates and packages. (Prices ranged from $8 for a package of yerba matte, to a $20 package of golden monkey.) In between are a few small tables. Tea choices are numerous, with several in every type: black, green, white, oolong, rooibos and herbal. There is a long list of seasonal teas and new additions as well. A pot of premium tea is $6.

The soups and a few of the desserts are made in-house; other desserts are made by a "friend," the server told us. The soup of the day was a green chile stew. We found it to be quite satisfying. A smooth, spicy puree the color of a roasted green chile, the soup was studded with plenty of ground beef and tender, tiny cubes of potato. The spiciness continued from first bite to last. The warm, soft pita triangles served alongside were a nice touch. This would have been quiet comfort on a chilly day.

The desserts were so-so. The mousse pie was rich and thick, but it was the dark-chocolate cookie crust that made it work. The cheesecake was almost light in texture, but was missing that tang I like in cheesecake, although the berries on top were nice.

Visit No. 2 occurred about a week later. This time, finding a table wasn't a problem (it was later in the day), but we wondered again how that plays out as far as paying the rent. Again, no one was eating.

Service was spot-on during both visits, and on the second visit, the young man at the counter was especially helpful and informative. He explained to us what pu-erh tea was (we'd ordered the coconut pu-erh), and how he was the one who made the apple pie we enjoyed. He later came by and offered us a second brewing, explaining this particular tea changes with a second brewing.

My friend thought the pie was almost as good as her grandmother's. The tender crust was packed with apples that had been cooked to the perfect toothsome texture and were spiced with a nice balance of cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. The raspberry-and-white-chocolate cheesecake was also better than the desserts on our first visit; both flavors came though in a mellow way.

The vegetable soup was decent, loaded with carrots, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans and the like.

I may be showing my age here, but the payment process is too techno. It's all done via a tablet. I get the concept, but there were two things wrong about how it went down: One, in order to add a tip, I had to use the tablet, which on the first visit was spotted and smeared—yuck! And when I asked for a receipt, I had to choose between receiving it via email or text. For my purposes, this was extremely inconvenient. It took almost six hours to receive the first email, and then the receipt was two pages long. I never received the second email.

The Scented Leaf is a very nice little spot, and it is obvious that the owners are passionate and knowledgeable about their product. I'm just not sure if they picked the right location. In any case, I wish them all the luck in the world.

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