To say Capital Teas’ proprietors, Peter and Manelle Martino, know tea might be a bit of an understatement. Fifth-generation tea merchant Manelle’s great-great-grandfather Francis Van Reyk was a Dutch tea planter who immigrated in the 1890s to present-day Sri Lanka, where he managed the Diyagama Estate, from which the Martinos now source their Great Grandfather’s tea. Manelle’s family has been in the tea trade ever since, a tradition she has carried to her own specialty tea business, which has several boutique locations throughout the D.C. and Maryland area. Additionally, Peter has become a popular speaker at World Tea Expos, where he frequently educates and inspires the tea world.
In addition to tea from Sri Lanka, the business carries more than 200 loose teas and herbal infusions from 18 countries including India, China, Japan, Malawi, and Kenya. A sniffing wall dispenses wafts of black, oolong, and mate teas, and knowledgeable employees drift around the store’s tasting stations to explain each flavor’s nuances and read the tea leaves in tasting cups.
Capital Teas also pairs customers with accompaniments such as teapots, brewers, tea-infused chocolate, and artisanal honey. In-store patrons may sample free tea samples—which are brewed fresh daily—, while online purchasers receive a free sample with every order.
Sowing the seeds of garden-fresh deli fare, Nature's Table Cafe has sprouted 75 locations in 10 states since its founding in 1977. Health-conscious menus bloom with vegetarian and gluten-free dishes alongside classic sandwiches filled with roast beef and grilled chicken breast. Cheesy paninis melt under the heat and meaningful glances emanating from a hot press, while more modest wraps conceal Mexican-, Mediterranean-, American-, and Thai-style fillings. Suffused with the essence of jasmine, rice bowls offer bellies a refreshing salad alternative, though Nature's Table Cafe's salad selection draws in loyal taste buds with fresh veggies and surprising combinations of grilled chicken, fruit, and chèvre cheese. Catering services unfailingly fill bellies at office parties, family get-togethers, and black-tie duck soirees.:
Though people no longer have to cross continental boundaries to sample exotic flavors, the average spice rack still tends to lack diversity. At the Spice & Tea Exchange of Annapolis, a staff of flavor-seeking specialists stocks gourmet seasonings and spices, cooking herbs, sugars, and sea salts to expand their customers' cooking horizons. In addition to fresh herbs and flavorings, the team designs signature seasoning powders that infuse dishes with medleys of chili, savory hints of cheese, or the essence of smoke. They also carry an assortment of gourmet teas, which are good to keep around the house in case a local king decides to stop by.
Food and wine make for a great tag-team duo, assuaging stress while filling the belly with scrumptious sustenance. At GRAPE + BEAN, patrons can sample wines, small plates, and large plates to satisfy the pickiest of sippers and tasters. A knowledgeable staff helps customers pick out palate-soothing drinks and eats amid an inviting atmosphere that features original brick walls, exposed beams, and rustic wood finishes. Sample tasty bites off the lunch, brunch, or dinner menus, which offer selections such as the rosemary ham with melted aged gruyere ($11), truffled egg toast ($12.50), and duck confit with white-bean casserole ($22). Or, opt for smaller plates, such as artichoke with pecorino, fresh mint, and basil ($9) and organic heirloom tomato with serrano ham ($9).
Growing up, Chakra Café’s owner Monisha lived two different lives. At school, she was known by her given name and spent lunch hours twirling spaghetti on a fork. But at home, Monisha’s Bengali parents only referred to her by her nickname, Hashi–or laughter–and mealtimes meant scooping up lamb curry with a piece of luchi. The duality of Monisha’s two worlds–and the food she was exposed to–left a lasting impression and is the driving force behind the Café’s menu.
Inside Chakra Café’s kitchen, chefs marry Indian flavors with culinary traditions from around the world, using recipes adapted from Monisha’s mother, according to a Patch.com article. Traditional Bengali dishes such as begun bhartha–roasted eggplant flavored with green mango–are served solo or stuffed inside quesadillas with smoked fontina cheese, roasted pine nuts, and raitha yogurt sauce. Other Indian staples are also Americanized, from the tandoori chicken that tops flatbread pizzas to spaghetti paired with lamb meatballs and a whisper of ghee. Each item on the menu is clearly marked as halal, vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free, making it easy to decipher the dishes without meat and the ones that require each bite to be chewed 32 times.
Named for the patron saint of sailors and '80s power ballads, St. Elmo's Coffee Pub has served as a java junction for Alexandrians since opening in 1996. In addition to more than 20 types of coffees ($1.50–$1.90), many organic, culled from the collection of local roaster The Daily Roast, St. Elmo's also offers espresso drinks ($1.50-$4.10), tea ($1.35–$3.50), baked goods from local bunsmiths ($0.70–$5.95), and a variety of sandwiches delivered daily from Caboose Cafe & Bakery and Bread & Chocolate. As payment for a lost chessboxing wager, Bread & Chocolate also provides St. Elmo's with salads and additional hot items, including the all-natural Quiche sisters—Lorraine, Spinach, and Mushroom ($3.95).
At HeeBeen Asian Bistro, visitors delight in a culinary exploration that’s aided by a wide buffet counter topped with myriad dishes that invite sampling. Trays of Korean barbecue meats lay next to hot entrees of ramen, teriyaki, tempura, and oysters rockefeller. After trips to the sushi section, patrons’ chopsticks grip morsels of unagi nigiri, slices of sashimi, or pieces of a smoked sake crunch roll. While enjoying their spread, patrons sit beneath ceiling-mounted cubes lit from within, comforted by sleek woods that dominate the dining room. And behind one of the buffets, a glass case shows off small pieces of art beneath clusters of small fairy lights.