Tea for tots? Why not! Caffeine-free herbal and fruit blends are all the rage for kids right now, and many local stores are brewing specialty flavors just for little ones. We bring you a list of the best and, so you can turn it into a tea-and-play date, offer suggestions for great parks nearby.
924 W. Armitage Ave.
other locations: 3530 N. Southport Ave. & 1645 N. Damen Ave.
Sip: The cute chalkboard sign out front and the rainbow of bright colors inside welcome kids with open arms. This wildly popular chain knows fun, which you’ll see in their playful packaging and tea names like Magic Dragon and Bamboozled. Many flavors rotate seasonally, with this summer boasting a carnival theme: Caramel Corn with bits of real popcorn and caramel, Cotton Candy (sprinkles in loose-leaf tea? yes, please!), Cherry Snowcone and more. Make it an all-out experience by tasting samples or smelling blends your kids pick out. You can buy tea by the ounce or order a drink to enjoy on the spot. Extras like agave or honey sticks in grape, root beer and pink lemonade sweeten the deal. You’ll want to pick up their kids’ iced tea tumbler, since flavors of the week are just $1 when you bring a reusable mug.
Play: Pack swimsuits and walk four blocks to Adams Park, where a playground, sandbox and seriously impressive splash pad awaits (call ahead for open play times). Or walk a few blocks northeast to Oz Park for romping in a storybook setting; there are statues of all the main Oz characters and the onsite Dorothy’s Playlot is as magical as they come.
photo: Duran Sandwich Shop’s Facebook page
Duran European Sandwiches Cafe
529 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Sip: Known and loved for its artistically arranged open-faced sandwiches, this Wicker Park hotspot also has a tea service your mini foodie will eat up. Starting at 11 a.m., $15 gets you two open-faced sandwiches, a homemade pastry, tea cookie and a pot of iced or hot tea. Let’s start with the drool-worthy tea: Choose from panna cotta rhubarb rooibush, fruit paradise, lavender and more. The European-style sandwiches feel fun and yet grown-up, with options even fussy eaters would enjoy like Vitamin (apple salad, carrot salad, kiwi) or salami. Pastries run the gamut of almond croissants to hazelnut beignets and pear cake. Come with a friend and make a play date out of it, or talk to the manager to book the hippest kid’s tea party ever.
Play: Keep that precious parking spot and walk six minutes to Fulton River Park, an oasis of play in the middle of high-rises.
557 W. Diversey St.
other location: 1160 N. State St.
Sip: Three words that are sure to get dawdling kids out the door fast: gummy bear tea. This place has it, and despite being an award-winning German company with over 300 varieties to choose from, that’s all they’ll care to know about Tea Gschwendner. Once in the door, don’t overlook the Kid’s Fruit Tea and enticing herbal blends, too. While your sweet-toothed sidekick is busy tasting samples, chat with the tea sommelier that will make suggestions and happily explain potentially intimidating terms like rooibos, Ayurveda and pu-erh. Older kids will appreciate the free Book of Tea (with pictures), and everyone can order a drink to go. Since you’re already in an artisanal mood, pick up a handcrafted Mast Brothers chocolate bar on your way out, too.
Play: Pack the scooters and trikes in the morning, then head directly east after your tea fix to the lakefront. An afternoon of fresh air and long pathways will get them nice and ready for bedtime. Plus, there’s Diversey Mini Golf if you’re in the mood for putt-putt fun.
photo: Ten Ren Tea
Ten Ren Tea
2247 S. Wentworth St.
Sip: A visit to this Chinatown fixture is an experience in itself. Based in Taiwan with locations worldwide, Ten Ren cares less about trendy blends and more about timeless Chinese tea for its centuries-old gastronomic and medicinal uses. Prepare for a bit of a language barrier, but also for friendly faces who take their trade seriously. Don’t be shy in sharing what ails you; they’re known to put together special blends to help. Check out fan favorites, like Silver Needle white tea or Tung Ting oolong. Treat this as a cultural experience for your kids, who just might warm up to chrysanthemum herbal or plum tea. The no-nonsense owner in the back will tell you that green tea is perfectly safe for children, and it’s worth hearing him out. But what your kids will really want? The honeydew bubble tea or strawberry milk tea at the small but satisfying to-go counter. Pick up jasmine tea candy, preserved kumquats, or green tea-flavored tofu snacks to munch on the way home.
Play: Head about a half mile north to Ping Tom Memorial Park, where the sprawling green space, state-of-the-art playground, and pagoda pavilion are positively majestic. Plan ahead and travel to and from here by water taxi for a day’s worth of adventure.
The Coffee & Tea Exchange
3311 N. Broadway St.
Sip: Coffee beans in barrels and tea in brightly labeled jars on shelves: The earthy vibe of this Lakeview purveyor is undeniable. And what kid wouldn’t want to try flavors like Birthday Cake Rooibos or Magic of Roses? Ask for samples for your tiny taster and browse away. Don’t miss espresso drinks for yourself inspired by Game of Thrones, Hocus Pocus or True Blood. (Tip: ask for a bean-free version of these designer drinks — essentially steamers — for your kids. Why? Because no child should miss out on combos like chocolate caramel, toasted marshmallow and peanut butter, or cherry, cinnamon and vanilla.) If nothing else will please that pint-sized palate, an Italian soda with their choice of over 100 Torani syrups, or loads of caramels and candy, will.
Nada Tea & Coffee House
1552 W. Fullerton St.
Sip: If you’re a green tea fan, Nada Tea House is a must. It’s named after a district in Japan famed for its pure spring water, and the green tea is imported from Kyoto. Sip a freshly whisked cup of matcha (powdered) tea, or matcha-based mocha or latte. As for your kids? Have them sample matcha ice cream or yogurt, nosh on a chocolate scone, or dig in to MSG-free chicken udon or a donburi rice bowl. The clean, Zen-like ambience isn’t kid-centric the way a fast food play space is, but it’s a calming sensory break little ones will find soothing. If all else fails, bring your iPad and take advantage of the free WiFi. We won’t judge.
Play: Discover Schaefer Playlot Park, a humble hidden gem nestled just a block away, or walk five minutes north to Wrightwood Park for a bigger playground, sandbox and spray water area. In an artsy culture mood? Stroll the exhibits at the DePaul Art Museum, where admission is free.
photo: Jenn Durfey via Flickr
Todd & Holland Tea Merchants
7311 W. Madison St., Forest Park
Sip: This family-owned business has been a gem in the community for 20 years. Just walking in gives you a warm glow, with colorful teapots and dishtowels dotting the walls. Park your tot at the small table to play with the child-sized tea set, or ask for the store’s toy cars for them to play with while you browse the impressive selection. Rooibos Baked Apple, Honeybush Chocolate Torte, and Mango Sorbet are just a few of the caffeine-free choices for kids. Unlike most of the other tea shops, this one is a gift-giving destination, selling greeting cards, tote bags, Rare Bird fruit curd and packaged scone mixes. And those adorable Babar and Curious George tin tea sets? Irresistible.
Play: Speaking of monkeys, drive five minutes north to Austin Gardens, a nature oasis where your little animal can cut loose.
Old Orchard Shopping Center, Skokie
Sip: Adagio sells a robust collection of loose-leaf tea, and everything is prepackaged to make your visit easy. But first, make a beeline for the themed teabag tin collections, because they’re all kinds of awesome. Each of the three collections offers three different flavors: the Fairy Tale collection has herbal Sleeping Beauty, pumpkin spiced Cinderella, and apple-based Snow White. Story Time features Three Little Pigs, Alice in Wonderland, and Red Riding Hood; the Treehouse collection offers Rocket Fuel, Tea-Rex, and Monster Brew. Flavors are rich in ingredients kids can’t refuse like chocolate chips, coconut, dried cherries and more. What’s more, gorgeous modern art with fun pops of color grace each tin. Got a tween or teen with you? Move on to check out the fandom corner with flavors inspired by the likes of Sherlock, Dr. Who and Pokemon. Browse the website first, where fans leave tons of reviews and their own recipes for custom-made blends.
Play: The outdoor mall is practically a built-in playground, so have them run around, visit the koi pond, ride the trackless train, or sign up for a preview or drop-in class at Gymboree a few steps away.
What’s your favorite tea shop? Let us know in the Comments!
— Selena Kohng