I have a confession. I really don’t like coffee. Seriously. As a self proclaimed “Anglophile,” I have no shame in declaring that I am a proud tea drinker. The problem? There are few independent tea shops on Chicago’s Northshore and none that I am aware of in Highland Park. Sure, I can get a chai or pomegranate tea from our friendly neighborhood Starbucks. But since my post-college days as a so-called “above the fringe” intellectual when I hung with my other barely employed Gen-X friends in the late 1990’s and blamed the “man” for my not being able to get a job, I have yet to find a comfortable spot to sip a cup of tea and read the latest edition of the New Yorker (on my iPad, of course.)
Fast forward (eek!) twenty years and I think that I have found the space and it’s right in my neighborhood! Yes, a Gen-Xer himself and one of my musical heroes from the 1990’s (and beyond), Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) has opened up a fantastic (but small) tea house, Madame ZuZu’s in Ravinia Illinois (528 Roger Williams Ave, Highland Park, IL 60035, USA). Where once was a cute US Post Office, now stands a funky tea shop.
If you are a tea snob (like me), you’ll be impressed with the variety of teas offered from all over the world. Because the tiny shop was MOBBED, I didn’t get a chance to try them all but I am really intrigued with the list. Here’s just a sample of the names that caught my attention.
- Assam Manjushree: A black tea from India
- Gyokuro: Green from Japan
- ZuZu’s Gunpowder: Black and also from China
- Malawi: Black from Africa (I cannot wait to try this one having just returned from the continent!)
- Organic Honeybush Tea: Rooibos from South Africa
- Pai Mu Tan: An Organic white tea from China
And for those of us with coffee drinking mates and spouses, yes, ZuZu’s also sells Intelligentsia coffee. Pastries, while not made in the shop, are from one of the arguably best bakeries in the Chicagoland area: The Bent Fork Bakery. According to the article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, the tea, priced from $3.25 to $6.25 for a 12-ounce pot — is just a way to get people in the door. The article quotes Corgan as saying “What Zuzu’s really aims for is to provide a level of human interaction that can’t be achieved through social media.” Personally, putting down the smart phone and iPad to share a pot of tea with a friend does sound idyllic.
Finally the shop seemingly transports its patrons to the rumored tea houses of the 1930’s Orient where one could get a great cup of tea and a perhaps a hit of opium. While I didn’t expect to see an opium den in the back of the shop, it does have a sexy, Asian feel. I fell in love with the red and black wallpaper and the art deco lamps.
Madame ZuZu’s opened on Thursday and I might suggest that you give it few days to let the tourist and press traffic die down. (At least I am hoping that it will dissipate…soon.) As it was, I took advantage of all of the press coverage and convinced Mr. Corgan to take a picture with me.
Note to self: I should have listened to my mother: Never go out of the house without doing your hair and putting on some make-up! This photo was snapped right after walking the dog for 30 minutes. Let’s just say, I should have taken a moment to assess how I looked. Live and learn. Live and learn.