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Tea tastings and socializing rendezvous are a winter treat

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From the Argo Tea Cafés downtown Chicago and some suburbs to the salon of The Green Teaist on Bank Lane in north suburban Lake Forest, its arguably hard to shop without passing a café or store that specialize in quality, loose-leaf teas. But now that icy winds have descended on the Midwest, instead of passing a tea place, stop in to warm up with a blend of an exotic tea and spices. Or make tea a special social occasion. Here are a few suggestions to taste teas or turn an afternoon break into a lingering, civilized social occasion.

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Tea Tasting: All that Metra commuters and West Loop residents need do to learn more about tea is drop in at Bello in the French Market from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays and 10a.m. to noon Saturdays in January for complimentary tea tastings. Bello will also be holding tea ceremony classes for $6 per person from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. However, classes are limited to three people so reserve a spot.

Tea Occasion: Downton Abbey viewers and English tourists know that tea isn’t just an anytime drink choice. They know it is also a leisurely afternoon event. To do tea the British way, consider “Tiffin at The Langham.” Although new on Chicago's hotel scene, the posh Langham traces its tea offering back to its roots. The Langham Hotel's tea tradition began with its London presentation in1865.

When on vacation: Several hotels and tourist attractions do afternoon tea. To combine the two when in southern California, check out the Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles. Opened in 1923 as the then largest hotel west of Chicago, the Millennium Biltmore is a cultural landmark whose Moorish-Italian style continues to elicit oohs and ahs and sets the scene for movies and TV series. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences held their Oscar award ceremonies here in the 1930s. Tea is in the Rendezvous Court which was the hotel’s original lobby.

A fun read before doing your own tea: Mystery writer Laura Childs has Tea Shop series combines a good storyline with tea expertise and recipes.

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