Full steam ahead for Wisconsin tea lovers

When Katrina Isaacson says “you’ll never see me bring a latte in here,” you sense a level of determination that belies her gentle smile. Johanna May’s Fine Teas, near Wausau, is named after her mother, a much-loved coffee drinker who died at age 46.

The proprietor is the mother of four boys, “so this is my girl,” born in 2005.

Katrina’s harmonious blend of antiques from auctions – “nothing has cost more than $100” – comfortably furnish a former storage shed which seats 20 and entices with unpredictable lunches and artisan tea blends. Think Winter Beet Salad (citrus vinaigrette over spinach, beets, grapefruit, blue cheese and sugared pecans) and feta-dill scone sandwiches (with cream cheese, Greek olives, spinach, turkey, cukes and tomato).

Almond Cookie, a green tea with slightly sweet almond and coconut, ranks as the most popular tea. I opted for Johanna’s Blend, a subtle Chinese white tea whose silver needles steep with wisps of orange peel.

Loose tea is scooped into a tiny bag that hangs from the lip of a cup and resembles a delicate coffee filter, making it easier to “smell and see the beauty of the agony of the tea – the unfurling of leaves as hot water hits them,” Katrina explains.

She makes the tearoom experience as casual or formal as customers desire. Bicycle riders take a quick detour from the 83-mile Mountain-Bay Trail. Others dress up for a leisurely, four-course tea encounter.

Coming March 12-14 is the Spring Tea Tasting, for sampling unusual tea infusions. Learn more about Johanna May’s Fine Teas, 9104 Callon Ave., Weston, at www.johannamaysfineteas.com, 715-355-6816.

Tea totally takes over these additional Wisconsin businesses, each of which stocks dozens of types of loose tea from around the world.

Atrium Tea Room, 202 Pine St., Sheboygan Falls – The alley between two century-old buildings was enclosed in 1989 and turned into a tearoom in 2007.

Owners of Richardson’s Furniture Emporium “wanted a place for customers to sit and linger” while deciding custom design details, says tea specialist Kathryn Schwark. She asserts that everyone who works at the classy furniture store can make a perfect pot of tea, and you don’t need to buy furniture to enjoy it.

Soups, salads, quiches, flatbreads and paninis lure a lunch crowd to the narrow and naturally bright space. Others visit to simply sip, or savor a high-tea feast of finger sandwiches and dessert nibbles in the afternoon.

A March 28 event explains the growing popularity of tea in body care to food products. Class cost is $25, which includes a three-course culinary demo and tea samplings.

www.atriumtearoom.com, 920-467-6659.

Anaba Tea Room, 2107 E. Capitol Dr., Shorewood – Plant lovers will dig the setting, a former auto garage, northeast of Milwaukee. A large and edgy garden boutique fills the street level. A rooftop atrium, popular in warm weather, is reserved year-round for private events.

And in the basement is a busy tearoom, whose décor resembles an English tea garden with Asian influences. The guy in charge, Gregg Des Rosier, wears a black derby, chef’s coat and gregarious smile.

His menu choices always include a vegan soup, plus inventive tea sandwiches (like Asian Egg Salad – with water chestnuts, and Ginger Pear – with chicken salad). Everybody seems content here: Moms and preteen daughters in frilly dresses were a table away from a couple in sweatshirts, jeans and tattoos.

Fair trade products and sustainable business practices are priorities. Anaba – Japanese for “little known but pleasing place” – sometimes presents music, hosts an art show opening March 4 and offers free tea tastings April 11.

www.gardenroomonline.com, 414-963-9510.

Ma-cha Teahouse + Gallery, 1934 Monroe St., Madison – What looks like an ordinary, two-story house actually contains many eclectic nooks for private conversation. Add a steaming cup of tea or miso soup, plus galleries of original art.

Three types of rice bowls (smoked salmon, tofu and veggie), the Lotus Bagel (cream cheese, cucumber and black sesame) and baked goods (some involving tea) round out the abbreviated menu. Count Japanese matcha – a finely powdered green tea used in traditional tea ceremonies – among the numerous drink options.

Teahouse Manager Anthony Verbrick aims for a welcoming but Zen-like mood. Cell phones off, Wi-Fi on. Rich oranges and reds warm walls and seating in the Moroccan tearoom. Or nestle onto floor cushions in the serene Grace’s tearoom and pretend you’re in Asia.

www.machateahouse.com, 608-442-0500.

Watts Tea Shop, 761 N. Jefferson St., Milwaukee – Look for from-scratch English muffins made with buttermilk and citrus-y Sunshine Cake cloaked with boiled frosting, served on the second level of a shop that since 1870 has specialized in fine tabletop products – crystal to china.

The relaxed pace, graciousness of staff and soothing background music harken to a time when quiet conversation and leisurely dining were commonplace and valued.

It’s a wonderful place for children to learn and practice their manners in a genteel setting. Upcoming events include Breakfast with Benjamin Bunny and Jemima Puddleduck, $20 per person, March 27 and April 3; and the annual Mother Daughter Tea ($25) on May 1 and 8.

www.wattsteashop.com, 888-607-9575.

Legacy House Tea Room, 4221 Lien Rd., Madison – Up to 20 tea lovers are seated in this cozy house, which also sets aside space for fiber and visual art sales. The fedoras and wide-brimmed hats that sit atop boxes can be borrowed, to get you into a teetotaling state of mind.

It is customary, during bridal showers or birthday parties, for the guest of honor to hold court on the deep red settee. Dainty desserts, individual quiches and scones with homemade toppings add pizzazz.

www.legacyhouseimports.com, 608-663-1340.

I also have heard good things about Infinitea, 112 E. Grand Ave., Eau Claire. The most recent accolades came from Kedar Deshpande of Minneapolis, shortly after my column about vegetarian restaurants. The site administrator for www.VegGuide.org considers Infinitea a good stop, and the business confirms that its menu is vegetarian.

Bakery comes from The Creamery in Downsville, a small town with a big reputation for culinary quality. Add live jazz on Tuesday nights and a Spanish conversation table on Wednesdays.

www.infiniteateahouse.com, 715-514-1975.