Not every major American downtown has sustained a home for tea exploration in their city center in this economy. But Philadelphia's Tbar continues to deliver an ample menu of beautiful teas to a downtown landscape otherwise bustling with jewelers and hoagies from its spacious South 12th Street cafe.
Though the shop attempts to cater to everyone—and even boasts a selection, which we did not see, of tea-based beauty products!—serious steepers can page through the Tbar binder of current offerings for a tea that suits them. It's a menu that leans towards blends and fruit-themed infusions, but the store is built on a backbone of dedicated tea appreciation; their scores of loose leaf offerings include a wide selection of greens, so that seemed the obvious direction for tasting. (Tea samples are lightboxed beautifully under the counter to showcase leaf styles as well—a beautiful idea.)
We sampled the Green Snow Buds (Lu Xue Ya) tea, which is a contemporary high mountain varietal that is not to be confused with its counterpart, White Snow Buds, though its almost billowy-light flavor brings it closer to the white end of the spectrum itself. Green Snow Buds is a needle-shaped tea composed of an early-picked leaf surrounding a single bud, which, once infused, you may peel the leaf back to reveal. Once steeped, Green Snow Buds reveals a honey nose opening up to the very green, lightly earthy taste, with slight chestnuttiness.
Tbar's current salon vibe is more one of coffee-shop-lingering (or snack and bubble-tea lingering) than tea sampling, but the store carries a small selection of teawares and books for your experimentation at home, and everything on their menu is available for whole-leaf purchase as well.