Tea is a beverage that has been enjoyed in one form or another for thousands of years. Ever since the first leaves were mixed with boiling water in ancient China, tea has become popular around the world, not only in neighboring lands, but also in the European nations that colonized much of Asia. With millennia of tradition behind the drink, it might be tempting to view tea as beholden to immutable tradition. Tea’s heritage is important, but the beverage continues to evolve with new flavors, techniques, and blends served at modern shops like Mesa’s Tea Avenue.
Tea Avenue shares space in Mekong Plaza with its close cousin Roll Avenue, a specialty ice cream shop offering dessert and snack options that complement the east Asian food served in restaurants throughout the shopping center. In the shop, located about a quarter mile from the Sycamore/Main light rail station in Mesa’s Asian Business District, the two businesses share seating in an L-shaped dining room currently operating with reduced occupancy. There is, however, some distinction in terms of separate counters and menus for each of the two “avenues.”
While it’s possible to sip a cup of plain, unadorned tea at the Avenue, the emphasis here is on more elaborate preparations with sweetener, flavoring, milk, and even cheese added to them. For the most part, these beverages are liquid desserts or convenient refreshment rather than part of a contemplative ritual. The essential tea selection includes an “original black,” Assam, Jasmine, Oolong, and Earl Grey varieties offered on their own or blended with honey or milk. More elaborate preparations can include caramel, lavender, or a glaze fashioned from brown sugar.
More recent innovations in the tea world include cheese cream teas, an inversion of word order in which a foam made with milk and cream cheese floats above a layer of tea. In the case of the Oreo matcha cheese cream tea, an additional stratum of crumbled chocolate cookie dusted the top of the drink, melding unexpectedly well with the green tea flavor beneath it. Fruit teas are flavored with citrus notes such as orange, grapefruit, or lime. There are also tropical tastes like mango, passion fruit, pineapple, and lychee which can generally be made with varying levels of sweetness.
It’s not all about tea here, though. There are milk drinks flavored with colorful additions along the lines of red velvet and smoothies augmented with fruits like mango and Yakult, a Japanese fermented milk drink with probiotic properties similar to yogurt. A Supernova Lemonade is refreshingly tart with slices of fresh lemon and a burst of vibrant purple color. Although the designed-for-Instagram tea shop is a pleasant place to stay, this drink cries out to be taken to the nearby Mekong Plaza food court to be enjoyed alongside a bowl of Chinese noodles or Vietnamese soup.
The drinks here can be filling and calorie-laden to the point of serving as meals in themselves, but there is one solid food choice: macarons with a spectrum of flavors, sold individually or, more economically, in assortments. Of course, it’s equally easy to walk to the other end of the shop to order ice cream or even a bubble waffle from Roll Avenue’s section of the counter. This shop doesn’t try to recreate an English afternoon tea or even a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. The drinks are modern, often unabashedly sweet, but completely at home in the corridors of Mekong Plaza.
66 S. Dobson Rd. #145, Mesa AZ 85202