The Best Tea for Poorly Laid Plans
by Abigail Beck
Good old Robbie Burns warned us about mice and men and the laying of plans, but the schemes that go the most “agley” are the ones we fail to lay at all.
Which is how I ended up in a car with my grandmother, turning into the parking lot of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on a sunny Wednesday morning – which is, of course, the day when that illustrious institution is closed.
A U-turn around the guard shack and some rapid recalculating took us to The La Brea Tar Pits and Museum which, at least, was open. After missing the driveway first time around, we finally parked (for $2 cheaper than at LACMA) and tried to transfer our enthusiasm for blazing canvases and twisted sculptures to oozing asphalt and saber-toothed cat bones.
The statue of a great mammoth sinking in pitch outside the building used to upset me when I was a little girl. (More to the point, it was the distraught baby mammoth at the side of the pool stretching out its pitiful little trunk to its fated parent that rattled my nerves.)
Grandma wasn’t too keen on natural history at the moment either, and our stomachs were heading into survival mode.
We would get lunch. Somewhere.
How about a walk down Wilshire Boulevard? We had passed lots of restaurants while driving in – though we failed to remember just how many blocks they were from the museums. So, we had sunny weather, construction projects all around, and no food in sight.
We decided to turn down Fairfax, but the only eatery we could find was Molly Malone’s Irish Pub – not a great fit for a pair of tea-totaling ladies. I’d decided to give up, but Grandma settled to walk just one more block – and there, next to an eclectic antique shop (aren’t they all?) we found the Four Café.
On the sidewalk, small tables with wood-tile tops gave customers a shady place to rest if they preferred the out of doors. But we preferred the in of doors.
I stepped onto the glazed raw cement floor and looked around. Whitewashed walls decorated with unfinished wood in all kinds of earthy colors enclosed the small dining area, and little tables to the left were made festive by pink, white and orange alstroemeria. A display case to the right offered pastries, cookies, and cakes that, if eaten anywhere else, surely would be less healthy than they seemed in their natural habitat. Sunlight filtered through the front windows giving the room a cool, whitish aura.
One look at the menu told me this was a hipster restaurant, a proud supporter of three modern buzzwords: local, fresh, seasonal. Ah, the joys of living in Southern California where spending $3 extra for a locally grown lettuce somehow earns you brownie points. I played the hipster and ordered the chopped kale salad.
Feeling healthy and vitamin-enriched, we turned our eyes to the pastry case and, natch, the tea list.
One hot cup of pineapple coconut rooibos and a brown butter lavender cookie, please.
The tea arrived with a knotted filter bag floating on the surface, infusing the water with tart, sweet flavors. To borrow a favorite description from Poe, “curling eddies” of steam swept up from the white mug. I sipped the hot dark amber liquid – the sweet, nectarish smell didn’t translate to my tongue as well as I might have hoped, but the familiar rooibos flavor came through. Our curiosity got the better of us and I untied the knot in the filter. Without sophistication, like a rummaging mouse I sifted through the tiny orange and red leaves and found a long shred of coconut. That’s one of the perks of loose-leaf tea: You can enjoy it with your eyes and fingers as well as your nose and tongue.
I’d tried to cut the saucer-sized cookie in half carefully, but shortbread is notorious for crumbling, and it ended up looking like a lesson in plate tectonics by the time I was done. No matter – even the crumbs delighted my taste buds. The soft musky flavor of lavender was the perfect strength, and the cookie itself melted in my mouth. Paired with the tea it became a gustatory sensation!
And my appetite for modern art was satisfied, as well, (if it ever really existed): a large canvas hung nearby, covered with abstract blue rectangles.
Not at all what we planned, yet there we sat having a local, organic, sustainable, artistic and thoroughly delightful time in the middle of downtown L.A., and we’d saved two bucks on parking. Proof that, with an adventurous spirit, even the worst laid plans of girls and grandmas may often go all right.
Pineapple Coconut Rooibos
Can be purchased: at the Four Café
Cost: $3.00 for a cup
RedFence Rating: 6 (out of 10)
Header image by Christopher Paulin used under Creative Commons.