At the edge of Little Tokyo, where ramen shops fade to hipster breweries, is Chado Tea Room; a playful porcelain oasis for tea aficionados and newcomers alike. This DTLA cafe/restaurant, one of three Chado has opened in Los Angeles, is a hidden gem in the most literal sense — tucked away inside the Japanese American National Museum, its corner entryway is easy to miss. But those who do seek it out (or stumble across it) will be rewarded with a cozy temple to hot tea in all of its many, many varieties.
While you could theoretically drop in and out of Chado for a quick cuppa, we recommend setting aside time to enjoy the full experience. Here, the vibe is convivial and laid-back. As you step through the front door, a hand-painted Alice (of Wonderland fame) greets you from the wall behind the cash register. The other walls are covered in shelving, laden with teapots of every conceivable shape, size, and pattern, along with–of course–vast green-black cylinders of tea. From moment one, this is an eclectic, pleasantly low-key atmosphere to sip tea, eat cake, and gossip.
Chado becomes genuinely spectacular when you move outside into the courtyard garden it shares with the museum. This narrow, tranquil space is a gorgeous (and thankfully, shady) hideaway on a warm afternoon. When the weather is truly perfect, the garage door separating inside and out can be rolled up to form a single continuous space. Tea inside is nice, but tea with the soothing trickle of a fountain and a friendly breeze is even better.
Speaking of tea, Chado has some 300 varieties for guests to pick from. Their menu provides neat summaries of each, separated by category (White, Matcha, Herbal, etc.), so that even the most inexperienced tea drinkers can make their choice with confidence. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in LA with such a wide selection at such a reasonable price – especially when you’re in the mood for a full Afternoon Tea Service.
This is Chado’s true stand-out option. For less than $25 a person, your entire party will receive three-tier towers of British-esque treats. At the top are old-fashioned finger sandwiches, neatly stuffed with sliced cucumber or smoked salmon. In the middle is a fresh scone, served hot with jam and clotted cream. Down at the bottom are cookies – a crisp shortbread and brightly-colored macaron. None of these dishes may be earthshaking on their own, but taken together with a piping hot pot of tea, they make for an absolutely delightful (and affordable) brunch.
Purists may grouse at Chado’s informal approach to tea-drinking; don’t come here expecting elaborate serving rituals or Windsor frills. But for a casually elevated tea experience that everybody can enjoy, Chado Tea House is downtown’s best pick.