A Tea Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles

The view from Japan House LA which offers cups of iced green tea and various tearelated books in the library.nbspThe view from Japan House LA, which offers cups of iced green tea and various tea-related books in the library. Photo: Maria Geyman

It’s my belief that taking care of yourself is all about the simple things. So when I boarded a plane from New York to Los Angeles, readying myself to visit the epicenter of wellness culture, I made sure to have a cup of black tea in hand. (And a copy of Bret Easton Ellis’s The Shards in my tote—turns out that on page 27, they even drink cinnamon tea.)

Over the years, I’ve become the kind of person who brings their own tea on planes—typically a Masha Tea bag from my own tea company—and asks for a cup of hot water at the airport cafe. Yet while my goal in going to L.A. to work on this guide was to drink as much tea as possible, more than that, I hoped to lean into the (admittedly now highly commodified) spirit of unapologetic self-care that permeates the city, and then to try and find the crossover between that culture and tea.

I should start by saying that I absolutely love Los Angeles, and that as a naturopathic doctor, I’ve dived into wellness trends more than most. While my relationship with naturopathic clients in New York centers on people’s daily lives—helping to solve issues like poor sleep or anxiety—many of my fellow naturopaths in L.A., such as Dr. Brendan Coutneeneare and Dr. Bryant Esquejo, are taking more direct, beauty-focused approaches with their patients with treatments like PRP facials, B12 shots, and IV infusions. It made me wonder whether people have different expectations from their wellness providers on opposite coasts, even when it comes to smaller daily habits. (Like, say, drinking tea.)


A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Contemporary tea culture in L.A. appears to be rooted in rituals, with the popular process of making matcha at home—or throwing it in smoothies—serving as the perfect example of this. But I should also note that, contrary to the hopes and wishes of many Angelinos, drinking tea is not going to make you any hotter. (Though my friend Abbie from Zizia Botanicals suggested I use the tagline “the hottest tea around” for Masha Tea.) It’s not going to change your consciousness in a way that smoking a joint or taking mushrooms will; it won’t wake you up like a cup of coffee, and it certainly won’t make you more fun at a party, like a glass of champagne.

Of course, there are benefits to drinking tea, but focusing too much on those benefits is missing the point. To me, the point of drinking tea is simply because you like drinking tea: because there’s culture and history there, because you enjoy the sense of ritual, and because, well, it tastes good. Despite being a city with large immigrant populations from tea-drinking nations, there isn’t the same kind of tea culture in Los Angeles that you might find in, say, Kyoto, London, or Mumbai—perhaps because of the aforementioned focus on the healthy, the trendy, the new. But luckily for my purposes, there is still plenty of tea to be had.

Poke Acupuncture

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

The first thing I did after booking my plane tickets was to schedule an appointment with acupuncturist Rachel Day for the morning of my arrival. Walking into her book-lined, cleanly designed office at Poke Acupuncture on my first day in the city, I glanced at the affirmations on the wall. “You have all the information you need for the next hour,” read one. “Offer yourself the grace to turn off your phone.” I’ve been getting acupuncture on and off for the past ten years and this was objectively the coolest acupuncture studio I’ve ever been to.

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

I have known Rachel since 2016, when I was an adjunct anatomy professor to acupuncture and massage students at Pacific College in Manhattan. “You broke your collarbone in 2016,” she reminded me, looking at my intake form. “Obama was president.” Rachel then proceeded to do needling, moxa, and fire cupping, as well as use an array of botanical oils and sprays. She sent me home with herbs in tincture and capsule form, a snack bar, and instructions to stay hydrated; before leaving, feeling like the weight of the world had been taken off my shoulders, I gave her a bag of holy basil tea. It was an ideal—and very grounding—beginning to what would become a very busy few days in the city.

Japan House Los Angeles

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Japan House sits on two floors in the heart of Hollywood, with the second-floor space including an art gallery and a shop selling tatami coasters, among other accouterments. But in my opinion, the best part of Japan House is the fifth floor, which houses the library.

I was the only person who had ventured up there that day, and when I arrived, I was greeted by a friendly woman asking if I wanted a cup of iced green tea. After heading out to the balcony to admire the view down Hollywood Boulevard, I then spent a while browsing the incredible library of Japanese books. Highlights included an entire section devoted to the relationship between Japan and Los Angeles, as well as a two-volume book written by a Japanese hotelier from 1934. Within its pages, I learned about the stigma surrounding stale tea in Japan.

“Japanese never drink tea which has been kept overnight,” the book read. “It is considered an insult if one is served such tea. In feudal days, every criminal condemned to death was served with overnight tea on the execution group before he was beheaded.” No wonder they prefer to avoid it.

Steep Tea

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Every single person who knows about food (and tea) in Los Angeles recommended Steep Tea in Chinatown above all else, and it didn’t disappoint. I participated in a traditional Chinese tea ceremony with one of the owners, Samuel Wang, who told me to select my own teacup. I picked a small brown one: “Very traditional,” he noted. “I like it.”

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

With lo-fi music in the background, we spoke about how there are surprisingly few tea shops in the city. “One man drove over an hour from Thousand Oaks for our opening and said, ‘I’ve been waiting for a shop like this for 20 years,’” Wang remembered, noting that it’s that kind of feedback and reception from the community that keeps Steep Tea going. “Look around,” Wang said. “Nobody is really on their phone.” It was true: people were reading, having intimate conversations, and taking it slow. Steep also offers tea cocktails in the evenings, a select menu of Chinese sharing plates, and even a small shop. “I like to drink tea and watch the rain,” Wang said—the sign of a true tea lover.

Silver Lake Pool & Inn

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

The Silver Lake Pool & Inn sits in the heart of the buzzy Los Angeles neighborhood, just steps away from a branch of Erewhon—convenient for any fan of the latter’s head-spinning tea menu, which features activated matcha lattes and a long list of non-dairy milks. On my first morning, I ordered room service from the Silver Lake Pool & Inn’s restaurant, Marco Polo, and had breakfast in bed in a robe while gazing out at the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory from my window.

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

The hotel carries La Colombe tea, which took me straight back to my days living in Philly just across from the La Colombe roastery years ago. (If you want to know more about the Philadelphia coffee company, listen to the recent episode of the podcast How I Built This with its founders, Todd Carmichael and J.P. Iberti.) And Silver Lake Pool & Inn also happens to be part of the Palisociety group—so when I picked The Shards back up again and read Easton Ellis make reference to the Palihotel, I knew I’d made the right choice on where to stay.

Downtown Arts District

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

The second thing I did when I found out I was going to L.A.—after that acupuncture appointment, that is—was to book a haircut. Not only is an afternoon spent with Ryann Bosetti better than any therapy session, but she also had plenty of tea recommendations up her sleeve. First up was Afuri Ramen, a sleekly-designed eatery that sits around the corner from Bosetti’s studio in the Arts District. There, I settled down with a matcha horchata—made with green tea, cinnamon, and rice milk—and a nourishing bowl of soup.

While in the Arts District, I also discovered a secret tea shop that—believe it or not—asked to remain nameless. “We’re kind of like the Room of Requirement in Harry Potter,” the owner told me. “Those who need us find us.” The gorgeous two-story space, lit by three giant Akari lamps under which you can enjoy an evening tea service, purposefully does not publicize its location. If this intrigues you, do a little more digging—if you truly need it, you may just find it.

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Not too far away from this secretive hotspot lies The Good Liver: equal parts gift shop, homeware store, and tea shop. Here, you can schedule a Japanese tea tasting or shop for items like Canadian aluminum lunch boxes designed in 1957, English Brown Betty teapots, and Japanese city pop records.

The Maybourne Beverly Hills

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Of course, L.A. isn’t all about wellness—the global hub for the art and film industries has its glitzier side too. And the one morning that I was able to truly relax in L.A. was when I stopped by the Maybourne Hotel in Beverly Hills for afternoon tea and a spa session. “Beware,” said the woman heading to the steam room as I was waiting to go in for my facial. “It’s the best one I’ve ever had.”

(An aside: The Maybourne came recommended to me by my cousin Celina, a Beverly Hills native, who also encouraged me to try Chado “the O.G. back in the ’90s,” Monsieur Marcel, where she stocks up on Mariage Frères, and T Tea Shop in the Farmers’ Market.)

After alternating between the steam room, dry sauna, and magnesium soaking pool, I headed up a few hours later to the outdoor terrace for tea. The server suggested the Claridges blend—the Maybourne is a sister hotel to the London institution whose afternoon teas are the stuff of legend—with tea sandwiches and a jasmine blend with the scone course. I alternated champagne with my tea and enjoyed eavesdropping on the very Hollywood milieu of lawyers on my left and comedians on my right, both “talking shop.”

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

A note on coffee and tea

When it comes down to it, L.A. is more of a coffee city than a tea city. While there are tea houses, you really need to seek them out and it seems like people are more interested in matcha lattes, boba tea (which as a tea purist, is to me a different category entirely), and the good old-fashioned coffee shop.

Still, some of the best places to drink tea in LA are coffee houses. I got a great matcha latte at Maru in Los Feliz, which incidentally had really beautifully packaged coffee that my friend ended up buying to take home. While I wandered around the bookstore, I heard somebody ask the cashier: “Do you have any inexpensive tea cups with quotes on them?” The answer was no—so if you’re looking for those, head elsewhere.

Canyon Coffee

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Canyon Coffee in Echo Park, run by couple Ally Walsh and Casey Wojtalewicz, has a thoughtful, seasonal tea menu with blends from Tea Habitat. (Their Chinese black tea was one of my favorites from the whole trip.) They also carry a selection from Berkeley-based tea line Leaves and Flowers, as well as Kettl matcha—plus, they serve toasts and delicious pastries by Sasha Piligian with cute details like sesame seeds on the banana bread. Another Canyon Coffee highlight? The proximity to my next recommendations, Cookbook and Des Pair Books.


A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

When I first heard of Cookbook, it was through a new friend I met at a dinner party that I went to on my first night in Los Angeles. To me, the name suggested it would be a “shoppy shop”, but it was far more focused on fresh food than I expected, reminding me of one of the small groceries in Paris that stock a thoughtful range of seasonal produce, cheese, meat—and, yes, tea.

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Along with a selection of loose teas, Cookbook also carries PG Tips: a British favorite that several people at the dinner party told me they stock up on there.

Des Pair Books

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Des Pair Books has only one or two copies of each title it stocks, so when I saw three copies of a book called The Dud Avocado, I was immediately compelled to pick it up. Yet while I assumed it was a trendy book about Los Angeles today, it turned out to be a comedy by American author Elaine Dundy, written in the 1950s while she was in Paris. After having a quick flick through, the shop’s owner, Addison Richley, mentioned that she was reading it currently too, and we quickly got to chatting about books we had recently enjoyed.

I ended up buying four books in total: The Dud Avocado, a Rita Ackermann art book, a Gregory Corso poetry book with a Patti Smith quote on the back, and a François Truffaut screenplay. After all, every tea lover knows that good books are essential to a perfect tea experience—especially when, realistically, most of the tea that you’re drinking is at home.


A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

On my final morning in LA, I had lunch at Honey Hi, which carries a lovely herbal tea called “Earthship” by Wooden Spoon Herbs with my friend Neada Deters, the founder of skincare brand Lesse. (Incidentally, I have already taken several baths since returning to New York—hot cup of tea beside me, of course—while doing a Lesse face mask.) But after picking Neada up near her beautiful hillside home, I realized I wanted to spend my last day in the city in nature, rather than trying to chug matcha lattes in strip malls.

Neada suggested stopping at Gjusta Grocer, which not only stocks Masha Tea, but is also just a 10-minute walk from Venice Beach. The gorgeous bakery, with its shop next door, is the perfect place to pick up some bread and a cup of tea, before heading to the beach to watch the sunset.

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

Sitting by the water on my last afternoon, watching the sunset, I imagined an alternate world where I lived in Los Angeles. My home would be somewhere up on a hill overlooking the city, or by the ocean with the sound of lapping waves in the distance, citrus trees dotted around the yard. I would do pilates every morning, and serve tea and oranges to guests like in the Leonard Cohen song. It might be a fantasy, but this really is the best way to drink tea in Los Angeles—with friends, outdoors, and with a spectacular view.

A Tea Lovers Guide to Los AngelesPhoto: Maria Geyman

There are some true gems in the city—many of them mentioned above—yet the tea shop owners I spoke to themselves were equally surprised that there just aren’t all that many tea outlets in Los Angeles compared to other big cities. It’s a state of affairs that is slowly shifting, however. Flowerhead Tea, which is popular for its colorful and playful approach to tea, is slated to open a shop in the year to come. Also arriving later this year is Hotel Lucille, located in an iconic Silver Lake church from the 1930s and with a garden and spa that yours truly happens to be doing the tea program for. Even the secret tea shop mentioned above may be opening a not-so-secret location in the near future.

I love Los Angeles—I think it’s both glamorous and often kind of funny. I left there feeling like a cliche: listening to the two newest Lana Del Rey singles repeatedly for hours, finally finishing The Shards, and frankly, looking great. (A facial, acupuncture, haircut, and spa session all within the course of four days will do that two you.) As I prepared to board my flight back home from LAX, I began preparing my own lemon balm tea at the airport—already anticipating my next tea-hunting visit.

Via Vogue

Joyce Rey
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