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Tea's the Thing

Christopher Gardner

Tea Time: Lucy's Tea House disposes of our antiquated notions about tea.

At Lucy's Tea House, tea takes on a life of its own

By Ami Chen Mills

NOW MIGHT BE a good time to dispose of our antiquated notions about tea--as in, there are a few caffeinated types beyond Lipton and a few dozen herbal concoctions in bright boxes, inscribed with quotes from Lao Tzu. On the menu at Lucy's Tea House in Mountain View, tea is mixed with fruit juice and honey, milk and yogurt, ginseng and tapioca. Tea is served on ice or piping hot, in ice cream and in milkshakes, and is given names like Forest Heaven, Dragon Eyes and Molly Honey.

At Lucy's Tea House--a homey wicker and batik affair on an alley off Castro Street called Wild Cherry Lane--tea's the thing. There's also food in the form of "tea snacks" and sandwiches, including a smoked tofu sandwich ($4.99) stacked Dagwood high with tomatoes and onions on soft whole wheat bread and loaded with pungent cilantro.

But, as I say, the tea's the thing. According to my mother, the Taiwanese can get "quite fussy" about their teas, and Lucy's tea house reflects this intense tea reverence. "Pure" pots of unadulterated, steeped tea range from $2.50 to $7. But the novelty of Lucy's is in specialty teas, like Oriental Beauty, described as a tea "with orange juice and a beauty-skin color."

On a recent visit, my mom and I sampled from among many poetically named offerings in Lucy's wood and leather­bound menus, which resemble small flower presses. Although $3.99 seems a bit much to pay for any mug of tea, my Forest Rain Drops served as both beverage and dessert, made soothingly creamy with hot milk and hearty with amber, tea-flavored tapioca balls. My mother's Forget Me Not on ice was a fragrant blend of pineapple juice, yogurt, honey and chrysanthemum tea that combined the best elements of a fruit smoothie with the refreshing lightness of tea. Though pricey, Lucy's teas are undeniably some teas. Get them to go and get 50 percent off--perfect for an afternoon tea break.

Those who choose to sit (Lucy's stocks a small library of tea books and board games) might avoid the rice cakes (unglorified rice crackers) and go for a sandwich or the daily special ($4.99), consisting of a meat selection (tofu is also available) served with a mound of rice, salad with Thousand Island dressing, a stewed tea egg and crisp broccoli laced with black pepper, ginger and garlic. The daily special and all sandwiches come with jasmine-honey tea and tea ice cream.

If the menu seems a hodgepodge, it's because Lucy's Tea House is Lucy's. Owner Lucy Li's pig collection fills the shelves, and the windows are framed by pink geraniums in handpainted boxes. A low couch houses tea-sipping lovers, and the mood is always laid-back. This is Taiwan's answer to the American cafe--at least before Starbucks blew in like a Formica spore on the wind--eclectic, uncalculated and comforting.

Lucy's Tea House is located at 180 Castro St., Mountain View (415/969-6365). Open Mon.­Thu., 11am­10pm; Fri.­Sat., 11am­midnight.

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From the August 15-21, 1996 issue of Metro

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