One of the older teahouses in the Seattle area, Teahouse Kuan Yin in Wallingford has been around for 24 years (the shop opened it’s doors in 1990). The shop’s longevity has made it into sort of a landmark and has also attracted many loyal customers. However, the store’s visitors are not just limited to tea connoisseurs, as its cozy atmosphere and friendly staff make teahouse Kuan Yin an inviting place to everyone, from tea newbies to coffee drinkers.
One of the first things you will notice when you enter the shop is the strong smell of spices and tea. The smell is not unpleasant, and is reminiscent of a spice shop or an Eastern marketplace. The teahouse is decorated in an Asian theme, with rice-paper panels to one side of the building, and woodcarvings, pottery, scrolls of calligraphy and local art mounted on the walls. There is also an impressive amount of pretty tea ware and accessories around the shop that customers can buy. The store’s relative quietness (only light music is played in the background) and abundance of tables and comfy leather chairs make this a great place to study, work or curl up with some tea and just relax. In fact, during my visit, I saw several people quietly typing away on their computers.
Let’s not forget about the tea. Teahouse Kuan Yin has a wide selection of teas, which are displayed in tins, containers and on shelving through the store. One of the members of the staff estimated that there are about 110 or more in their catalog, all of which are available for purchase at the store, or to be brewed hot or iced. I decided to sample their famous Kashmiri Pink Chai, which is made from green tea, almonds, spices, milk and sugar simmered together. The tea gets its pinkish-brown color, and its name, from the tea turning pink during the brewing process from oxidation.
I was interested in what a green tea based chai would taste like, since all of the other chais I’ve had have been brewed with black tea. Using almonds in chai was new to me as well, which, I learned from the store’s blog, is a northern Indian variant in making chai. The generously large cup of chai I received did indeed have a pink tone, and a smooth, almost floral flavor. The tea was much more mild than others I have tasted, and the spiciness that is often present in chai barely came through. Despite being different than what I am accustomed to, the chai was tasty and would be a good option for people who don’t usually like spicy flavors.
The food menu is almost as varied as the teahouse’s tea selection and contains pastries, cakes, breads, samosas, soups and even curries. The ham and cheese stuffed pastries and samosas looked inviting, but I limited my splurging to tea, and went with a simple snicker doodle cookie. The cookie was perfectly baked, with just the right amount of moistness, and tasted delicious! Overall, I really enjoyed the environment and offerings at Teahouse Kuan Yin. The teahouse is definitely a place I would take friends to grab a snack and chat or revisit on my own to try to learn more about the shop’s history, and drink more tea of course.