Haute Tea

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Don't even think of tossing this tea into the harbor. Relax, sip, maybe even raise that pinkie finger in the air. At Le Palais des Thes in Beverly Hills -- an offshoot of the France-based tea emporium -- co-owners Randy Arnold and David Barenholtz stock 250 teas, including more than a dozen green and organic varieties for health-conscious Southern Californians. Although the shop has plenty of affordable brews, it has been known to package teas for celebrities including Kate Bosworth and Selma Blair. A Saudi princess even paid a visit. Can't tell the difference from Lipton? The shop will let you sniff tea canisters to your heart's content. Tastings are also offered to novices.

The finest of the green teas, Yame Gyokuro is harvested just a couple of weeks a year from the Yame region of Japan. Known as liquid jade for its brilliant green hue, it's grown in the shade and packed with antioxidants. $160 for four ounces.

To impress your guests, drop a hand-sewn ball of Grand Jasmin Mu Dan into a pot of near-boiling water and watch it bloom. The green tea's leaves, scented with jasmine, open to reveal a pink amaranth flower. $53 for four ounces.

Keep your tea fresher longer with this artisan caddy, carved by craftsman Takao Asada from keyaki, a Japanese elm. A delicate, wooden leaf ingeniously serves as a tea scoop. $195

For the best tea, brew in a Japanese cast iron teapot. They radiate heat the best, and retain it the longest. Forrest Whitaker bought this teapot, handcrafted and signed by the artist, as a gift for Nelson Mandela. $750

Most tea has a limited shelf life, but 1992 vintage Pu Er is a black Chinese tea that has been aged like a fine wine in oak barrels in caves, giving it a mellow, rich body. "It's a treat after a meal, almost like a fine cognac," and aids in digestion, Barenholtz said. $80 for four ounces.

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