Tea: Beyond brown

Tea is taking a cue from coffee these days, developing specialty drinks to match the big-business coffee world of espressos, lattes and cappuccinos.

That's why the New York City teahouse, Subtle Tea, made news recently with its invention of Teaspressos.

Teaspresso starts with strong, black tea leaves from the Hunan province in China, says Subtle Tea's co-owner Todd Cella. They brew twice the usual amount of tea in five ounces of hot water and steep it almost twice as long. "The end result has twice the amount of caffeine that a typical coffee espresso would have," notes Cella. Teaspressos sell for $2.50.

Subtle Tea also adds steamed milk to concoct frothy Tea Cappuccinos and Tea Lattes, each priced at $3.70. Despite the novelty, says Cella, most customers opt for a regular brew, choosing from among nearly 40 different varieties of tea. Subtle Tea customers can also buy loose leaf tea to take home and brew.

The Los Angeles-based Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain has a line of tea lattes. Varieties include a Double Vanilla Latte, made with vanilla-flavored Ceylon tea and steamed nonfat milk; an English Breakfast Latte, made with that strong black tea and the Tropical Passion Latte, steamed non-fat milk and foam atop Tropical Passion Tea. For its part, category leader Starbucks offers tea variations in its Tazo Tea line. Baristas in Starbucks stores will happily froth up Green Tea Lattes and Chai Tea Lattes.