Essencha, located in Oakley, is considered one of the premier tea houses in the greater Cincinnati area. Part of this is its trendy location. Part of it is the great tea, part is the atmosphere and part is its more contemporary style.
|Hours||M-F: 11-6 PM
Sat: 11-7 PM
Sun: 10:30-6 PM
|Address||3212a Madison Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45209
|Avg. Cup $||$4.00 USD|
Unlike most of the tea houses in Cincinnati Essencha celebrates tea as an approchable part of life which anyone can enjoy, as opposed to a more British styled High Tea which certainly has its own attraction.
The first thing you'll notice when you approach Essencha is the dearth of parking and that Google and MapQuest get their directions wrong, though the location is correct. I was taken to a road behind the establishment and had to turn around.
Once I'd parked in the small-ish lot behind Essencha (entrance at the front) shared by other stores in the vicinity I found my way down a small set of stairs to the side door and was immediately greeted by a warm, inviting atmosphere with hearthy colors and quiet conversations.
Japanese and Chinese art is displayed on the walls and in the spacious bathroom, and a mural along the far wall certainly provides an interesting eye piece. The clear centerpiece is a hanging wooden scaffold which is suspended from the ceiling across the middle of the restaurant helping it feel warmer and less industrial.
One of the more unique features at Essencha is the "Passport." Essencha's passport allows you to keep track of which teas you have and haven't tried and what rating you gave each of them (out of 5 tea leaves). Although you have to leave the passport at Essencha, it's a rather convenient and novel way to make tea bit more adventurous for newbies and experienced drinkers alike!
I'm drawn to Genmaicha as a rule, since it helps me to decide how much attention a blender or teahouse pays to the smaller details of flavor. Essencha offers a robust Genmaicha "Extra Green" blended with Matcha. As I've noted before, this pairing doesn't really get me going since I feel it betrays the more humble roots of Genmaicha's history. Nontheless, the blend was aromatic and flavorful, if a bit less earthy than I'm used to. I'll review this specific blend sometime in the future.
Although I was suprised to note a Pu'erh on the menu I decided I would try Essencha's Kukicha (often called twig tea due to the inclusion of leaf stems). Flavorful, aromatic and with just the slightest hint of bitterness at the end which I've come to enjoy from a good green tea. I'll state for now that I thoroughly enjoyed this blend and will also review it in the future.
The teahouse offers a decent menu of culturally inspired meals to go with their teas. I chose to go with a Japanese Beef Bowl (Beef Donburi), a good match to my Kukicha. The beef wasn't cooked too long and the rice was nice and light. The option of brown rice would be appreciated, but wasn't apparent and a selection of veggies to accentuate the beef would have been nice. The meal comes only with grilled onions, beef and rice.
Desserts are offered at Essencha as would be expected of any teahouse or coffee house. Cute little pastries, cookies and confectionery appear very appetizing and tempted me more than once. I resisted the temptation as I was already full from the donburi and two hearty mugs of tea.
Essencha also offers to sell their tea loose in custom labeled bags or tins. They also sell decent mugs, infusers and tea pots. I didn't notice any tea cozies to keep the pots warm, or any tea scoops/spoons or even any sugar cubes for those who like theirs in proper shapes.
A cup of tea isn't 'cheap' at Essencha. But you're certainly paying for a little more than you get. Both the Genmaicha and the Kukicha were $4 a cup. Still less than some would spend at Starbucks for a lesser quality tea or coffee, but more than I'd expected. The donburi ran me rougly $8 for what should have been 'maybe' $5-$6.
I'm not sure whether to blame the pricing on the location (Oakley is frequented by the trendy young professional crowd), the relativeley young age (Essencha is less than 5 years young) or what the owner's (Tracy Monson) market research indicated was what the market was willing to pay. Regardless, I feel the prices are just a tad high. I was anticipating $0.50 to $1.00 less than what I got.
All in all I'd give Essencha a 4 on a 5 scale. Essencha is the best place to have tea in Cincinnati if you're young, trendy or want a place to relax with a friend or two. The decor and setting are stylish but not distractingly so. The teas are of a quality selection, but are priced a just tad high. The foods are tasty and although the flavors are matched well to the teas they're also slightly pricy for what you get.