Gourmet Tea at the Capital Grille in Pittsburgh

As part of the celebration of my wife and my fourth anniversary, we decided to have a high end night on the town in Pittsburgh. The plan was to hit the Capital Grille on Fifth Avenue for dinner, followed by a performance of symphonies by Russian composers Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff at Heinz Hall. Being an admirer of classical music, not only because there is much skill involved, but also because there are no lyrics to ruin it like much of today’s music, and the fact that my wife is from Moldova (former Soviet satellite), we are always looking out for good symphonies to experience. If the composers are Russian, then she gets just as excited as I do.

But let’s get to the point. Yes, the food from Capital Grille was very good. With the price point that the restaurant demands, the food better be good, so that should not be surprising. The scotch was great, and a perfect compliment to the steak. However, I did not see any tea listed on the main menu. This was disappointing, as I had no time during the afternoon to enjoy any tea.

My wife asked for a dessert menu, and I intended on asking if they had any hot tea. I expected them to have the typical display box of six Tazo teabag selections, at best. To my surprise, listed on the dessert menu, was a short list of “gourmet” teas. My first thought was “Why is this on the dessert menu? I would have skipped the scotch and gone right for the tea had I known they had something decent.” See the photo below for a semi-blurry, but legible picture of this short tea list.

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Four teas, three if you disqualify the chamomile selection for not technically being tea, but certainly better than the Tazo that was expected. My second thought, as I perused the list, was “Hmm, Earl Grey, from a single estate in Sri Lanka. Maybe I should ask which estate it is from, just to see if they can answer that.” I decided on the Bai Hao (Oriental Beauty) oolong, as the time was about 7:30 PM, and it’s my time of day for oolong or green tea. My wife ordered her dessert drink, and I ordered the Bai Hao, with the intention of asking about the estate in Sri Lanka that the Earl Grey is sourced from. However, the waiter did not even realize that I was ordering tea when I asked for Bai Hao, and he looked at the menu to see which tea was the oolong. At that point, I decided it was not even worth the time to ask about the Earl Grey.

The tea arrived quickly. The waiter, simply doing his job and knowing little about the tea, poured me a small cup. At this point, the tea sachet holding the Bai Hao could not have been in that water for more than a minute. My wife reminded me that it would be rude and weird for me to pour the tea from the cup back in to the pot to allow for my preferred brewing time. The tea sachet was pulled from the pot at what I estimated to be about two and a half minutes. The sachet was generously filled with Bai Hao. Being the considerate husband that I am (right, Alinushka?), I waited for my wife’s after dinner drink to arrive. I smelled the tea, and it was missing some of the obvious fruit aromas that are typical of Bai Hao. The honey aroma was there, but the fruit was lacking.

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Pouring Myself Some Bai Hao Oolong at Capital Grille

Perhaps I am being overly critical. The tea was good, much better than I expected to have. I thoroughly enjoyed two pots worth of the Bai Hao. As we were preparing to leave, I was having an internal argument whether or not to open the sachet to inspect the leaves. Two reasons were feeding my desire to inspect. First, the lack of fruit aromas and taste. Second, the shape of the sachet was inconsistent with the open leaf twisted style of Bai Hao that I am familiar with. The tea in the sachet appeared to be expanding like a semi-ball oolong might. What do you think I did? We were seated at a table that was literally in the middle of this very upscale restaurant. Did I take the chance of looking like a child playing with his food in this nice restaurant?

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You better believe I did! I opened that sachet, dumped every last leaf on the saucer, and proceeded to do my usual leaf by leaf inspection. My findings were inconclusive, however. The restaurants lighting was very dim, and it was difficult to determine the color of the edges of the leaf. The leaves were all large fragments. I did not find any fully intact leaves. The leaves did appear to be semi-ball style oolong since it took some unrolling and unfolding to view the entirety of the leaves. Some of the leaves did show signs of possible bug feeding (small holes in the middle), which is indicative of a Bai Hao style of oolong, but certainly not definitive evidence. The size and shape of the leaves convinced me that these leaves were most likely from Taiwan, as described on the menu, but whether this tea was truly Bai Hao, I have my concerns. Next time, if there is one, I will ask the waiter to not place the sachet in the water prior to bringing it to the table. Then it’s time for a dry leaf inspection.

Overall, I do thank the Capital Grille for offering loose leaf tea, however short the list may be. I was quite satisfied with the two pots of oolong. It was pleasant to see that an upscale restaurant in Pittsburgh values the quality of tea that they offer. In fact, it made me wonder how many of the nicer restaurants offer such teas at all. It also gave my wife a good excuse to suggest going to upscale restaurants more often. I agreed with her, and I hope to make this a series of posts analyzing the tea menus and quality at the nicer restaurants in Pittsburgh.

As a lover of tea, it is certainly my hope to see more and more businesses offering better quality tea. The Capital Grille exceeded my expectation simply by offering loose leaf tea at all, and the fact that I would have enjoyed any of the four on their menu tells me that someone inside that company does know something about teas. I left a business card with a note saying that I would be reviewing the tea on my website, and thanking them for offering loose leaf tea. I doubt that the waiter or busser passed that note on, but if they did, and someone from the Capital Grille is seeing this post, then thank you again for offering gourmet teas. Please excuse the knit-picking above. I will gladly recommend your restaurant for the food, the scotch, and the tea. Cheers!

Thank you for taking your time to read this review. Please leave a comment and start a discussion.

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