When it comes to hot caffeinated beverages, Pittsburgh’s penchant for coffee is well known.
But there’s a strong and growing culture of drinking tea in this town as well. Pittsburgh has tea shops and tea cafes, hot tea to go, iced teas and bubble tea. Whether you’re an aficionado who knows your oolong from your pu’er — or just want to try something new — you can do it here. They’re all open for indoor service except for Tupelo Honey Teas, which has a takeout window.
Bantha Tea Bar, Garfield
Banthas are large, woolly, horned beasts in the “Star Wars” universe, and this Garfield spot really does look like a watering hole on the planet Tatooine — a retreat from the heat of the day, where galactic freighters are hired, bounties are hunted and Han Solo always shoots first.
OK, the vibe is a bit more mellow than that. There’s nothing harder for sale than smoky Russian Caravan tea. The lone “Star Wars” reference is a stuffed Bantha gazing down from a shelf filled with jars of tea. There are few sharp corners at Bantha. Most of the room is smooth and sand-colored, with subtle sparkle from a mural of flowering vines on the floor and backlit blue and yellow glass bottles inlaid in the bar.
Iced drinks are popular, such as Coconut Chai, Green Tea with ginger, peach and orange, and Lemon Saber, which is coffee with lemonade in it.
Blue Monkey Tea, Squirrel Hill
Margaret Harris is Pittsburgh’s top tea educator and evangelist, hosting classes at Blue Monkey Tea about the origins, types, steeping practices and health benefits of tea, even via video through the pandemic shutdown. Right now, every Saturday at 5:30 p.m., Harris hosts free virtual tea programs on Facebook Live and Instagram, offering classes such as Tea 101, Matcha Class. Tea Mocktails Yerba Mate and Other Energy Teas — even one on tea leaf reading, where she dresses up as a fortune teller.
A native of Poland, Harris fills her shop to the brim with European delicacies and snacks — British biscuits, shortbread cookies, chocolates — and, of course, teapots, mugs and kettles. There’s a whole wall of loose leaf tea jars, and just about every kind of boxed teabag, from Stash to Republic of Tea to the classic British Typhoo. Right now, what’s selling are immune-boosting teas and cold remedies, like Flu Fighter Blend, Echinacea, Elderberry and Ginger teas.
Gryphon’s Tea, Bloomfield
This little tea shop next to Donatelli’s Italian Food Center in Bloomfield is a great place to buy fine loose leaf teas. The shop’s wooden shelves are bursting with more than 40 unique blends, including evocatively named drinks like Vagabond Thru Persia, a blend of turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, lemon and rooibos tea. There’s also Hearts of Hunan, a dark tea with withered rose petals, aged for a smooth, deep brew.
Matcha Lattes are selling right now, as are a lot of loose leaf teas to go. Also popular right now is the Citrus Rose tea, a blend of rooibos tea, mango, papaya, orange and rose petals that’s good hot or cold. London Fog, a vanilla and Earl Grey black tea with a touch of lavender, is another big drink for Gryphon’s at the moment. Curiously, they also carry culinary spices and medicinal herbs.
Rose Tea Cafe, Squirrel Hill
Bubble tea! There are now lots of places to get this treat that is shaken with ice to create a foamy layer at the top, with chewy tapioca balls at the bottom, and slurped through a big thick straw. But this excellent Taiwanese restaurant was the first to offer it in Pittsburgh. Their bubble teas are invariably sweet and milky, with options like Almond Milk Tea made with black tea, Taro Milk Tea made with green tea, Coconut Milk Tea made with black tea, or Mango Milk Tea made with green tea. It’s worth checking out their food menu, too, which stands out from the standard Chinese-American fare with a full array of authentic Taiwanese dishes.
Dobra Tea Pittsburgh, Squirrel Hill
This incredibly comfortable and inviting space boasts a Moroccan Casbah feel, with lots of comfy, pillow-laden nooks that you can nestle into for a great conversation over a cup or two of tea. There’s beautiful inlaid tile on the walls and tables, warm, pastel-colored walls, low benches and lots of floor cushions.
The sheer variety of tea available here is overwhelming — so if you know what you like, they probably have it. But if you want to try something new, you’ve got amazing options. There’s a helpful guide for the best teas for each season. Each has a story. The Magnolia Mao Jian, for example, is a naturally scented green tea from Guangzhou that gives off a soft glow and is made with whole magnolia flowers: “It shines when served in a summer garden or during bleak winter months when it can thaw even the deepest gloom.” All tea is served in traditional vessels from the country of origin or in handmade traditional pottery. They also make bubble tea.
Just ring a bell when you’re ready to order. There’s also a small vegetarian food menu of light bites. During Covid, Dobra is doing a lot more takeout business and has a few tables outside on busy Murray Avenue.