Tearoom Review: Pod Stromem čajovým

Excellent tea, disappointing meals
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Pod stromem čajovým

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I have been enjoying my foray into the world of Czech tea houses and was pleased when Expats.cz suggested I try one very near to where I live in Prague 2: Pod Stromem čajovny (Under the Tree) on Mánesova. I had visions of spending many a happy evening curled up here drinking tea like a yogi, before toddling home and dreaming the dreams of someone full of tea-induced antioxidants. The website was modern and kept up-to-date, compared to many čajovny that don’t have one at all.

Hmmm, I thought as I stood outside. This is not quite what I had in mind. The outside of Pod Stromem is a bit of a disappointment:  dirty windows showing a sad collection of undusted crockery.  It looks unloved.
Not to be deterred, I walked down the steps (this čajovny is on the lower ground floor) and entered. First thought – nice and warm. The wood burning stove on the back wall is clearly doing the job. Second thought – a bit gloomy. Once seated, and once my eyes accustomed to the gloom, I took a look around. The whole place looks a bit like a students’ common room, but with extra rugs. There are lots of mismatched tables and low chairs. An attempt at oriental décor is made by the addition of the Chinese screen at the back and some Chinese lights. The walls are an unappealing salmon pink colour.

The tea menu is impressive – around 60 loose leaf teas including some interesting Formosa teas from Taiwan which I have not seen elsewhere.  Many of these are available to buy at reasonable prices (72 CZK for 50g of Pai Mu Tan – a refreshing white tea). A miniscule wine list is also available, as well as a smattering of non-tea soft drinks. Food offerings include snacks such as crystallised ginger (20 CZK), wasabi peas (29 CZK) and, peculiarly, chocolate and vanilla muffins (24 CZK).  More substantial dishes include couscous with vegetables or chicken.

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I chose Formosa Si Ji Chun (90 CZK), which was served in a tiny iron teapot, with a thermos to top myself up. It had a lovely, lightly flowery aroma and the leaves yielded several cups before becoming a bit tired.
I was rather peckish, so I also ordered the vegetable couscous (74 CZK). This is where the whole experience began to fall down.  Served as an “Arabian speciality” I had expected this to be a fragrant, warming dish that one might find in a Moroccan or Tunisian restaurant. What arrived was a disappointing salad bowl of unseasoned, overcooked, lukewarm couscous topped with fridge-cold tinned sweet corn, kidney beans and very icy cucumber. I was provided with just a teaspoon with which to eat it, which was fine as I really couldn’t stomach very much of it.

Midweek, the clientele appears to be mainly teenagers – high school children or students drinking tea and smoking hookahs and adding to the feel of Pod Stromem being like a teenagers’ club house.  I felt out of place on my first visit – a bit like I was the older sister sent to make sure no one got into trouble. In the evenings it attracts a slightly more mixed crowd and hosts fairly regular exhibitions and concerts.

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I was sad not to enjoy the experience here more. The shabby feel from outside extends inside and although the range of tea is extensive and the service obliging and non-intrusive, I felt over-aged compared to everyone else (potentially this is a place for your teenage children to frequent instead) and my meal was really poor.

Pod Stromem čajovým
Mánesova 38
Praha 2 – Vinohrady
Mon – Sun: 2:00 pm – 10:00 pm
www.cajovnapodstromem.cz

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