Kakuzo Okakura, author of The Book of Tea, writes that "The cult of tea is founded on the adoration of beautiful things among the sordid facts of everyday existence." That's a guiding philosophy for State Street's Dobra Tea, which opened in September, transforming the former Real Chili into a passable slice of what used to be called "The Orient" (i.e., "everything that is not the West"). Plush rugs and rattan chairs evoke India or the Middle East; couches and a few raised seating areas where footwear is left behind prompt visitors to settle in to a celebration of tea. Don't expect to run in for a quick cup to go.
Dobra is a tearoom - not the doily-and-lace-curtain British stereotype, and not a restaurant, either. Food orders should be accompanied by tea, and the small menu is created expressly to not overshadow the star of the show. And while the food (snacks or appetizers, really) is fine, why would you come here if you didn't want to drink tea?
The "Memories of Prague" is a Dobra specialty, a blend of black Assam tea mixed with a small amount of bitter chocolate; it comes with small pitcher of milk, a mini-pot of honey, and a couple of Bohemian spicy nuggets - Prague's cross between a doughnut hole and Pfeffernusse. The tea blend is assertive but not harsh, a velvety mahogany when poured from the pot.
The hummus plate is almost perfect, a simple blend of chickpeas, sesame and olive oil, sprinkled with za'atar. It's mellow too, unmarred by unsubtle garlic. The accompanying pita is fresh and lightly grilled, and raw veggies - sweet red pepper, slices of cucumber, and carrots - are pleasant enough, if unremarkable. If you're looking for heavenly sweet comfort, try the couscous Casablanca. Sweetened with honey, the couscous is mixed with slightly cooked apples and bananas and crispy salted cashews and almonds. It's like a subtle apple pie in a pot, and much more satisfying than steel-cut oatmeal. The Bohemian spicy nuggets can also be ordered as a side. Miso soup lovers can opt for a bowl with the Japanese teas.
The Moslim tea is a quick pick-me-up, a good option for the solo visitor and the least expensive tea on the menu at $1.50. The lemony black tea is served with sugar and your choice of an additional spice (cardamom, mint). Most other teas are pots for two or more, so bring a friend.
Dobra features a large number of green teas, a few yellow and white teas, pu-ehr (double-fermented and an acquired taste), mate from Latin America, rooibos from South Africa, and a few other specialties like the "gong fu" method of brewing tea.
Some teas are linked back to an online "travel diary" that chronicles the adventures of tea buyers for the Prague-based chain (the State Street branch is only the second in the U.S.) as they source their teas, with comments like "...we have warmed ourselves at fires in the clay huts of Nepalese shepherds and drunk their salty tea with rancid yak milk."
Fortunately, that one didn't make the menu.