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TEA TIME: Tama Café’s new menu steeped with colorful beverages and crafty sandwiches

Tama Tea has been pumping out specialty beverages for a few years now, but as of late, they’ve rebranded as Tama Café with a new breakfast and lunch menu.

Move over mocha frappuccino. We’re talking tea today.

Although folks have been sipping on the sweet libations for centuries, the growing popularity of tea houses continues to surge. No longer do we just raise our pinkies at high tea with cucumber sandwiches. Specialty brewed loose-leaf teas are consumed throughout the day and, most importantly, they don’t just come in black, white and green anymore.

Tama Tea has been pumping out specialty beverages for a few years now, but as of late, they’ve rebranded as Tama Café. The welcoming little shop recently rolled out brand-new breakfast and lunch menus they’re calling “guilt-free, made-to-order, quick and for everyone,” and Wilmington is responding with “hell, yes.” With Chef Lawrence Perkins at the helm, Tama no longer feels like a retail shop to pop in for tea to-go. It’s somewhere to snag a healthy meal, set up a laptop and stay awhile.

I visited Tama several times in the past and, though I enjoyed its beachy ambiance and fruity concoctions, the absence of a larger menu definitely didn’t inspire me to make it a consistent hangout. My regular stomping grounds offered breakfast all day, healthy wraps and green smoothie options. When I saw Tama had taken things to the next level, I came in prepared to make myself (and my stomach) right at home.

One main draw before I even stepped in the door? Tama’s Instagram page. The feed is bursting with color and makes me want to quit my job, drive to the beach, and drink something called a “Matcha Pina.” Tama’s menu expands far beyond white and green teas, so if things feel unfamiliar, don’t be shy to ask before placing an order. With a bit of preference guidance, the knowledgeable staff can lead folks to the right cup.

For texture, the Boba Tea, with its chewy tapioca pearls (cooked in-house), is now available and just might be my new BFF. The vibrant Matcha Pina—a spectacularly bright blend of pineapple juice, creamy coconut milk, and matcha—will whisk sippers straight to a tropical paradise (not like we don’t already live in one).

I didn’t originally opt for the Matcha Matcha Latte, but an extra was accidentally made behind the counter and thus delivered to our table. A+ customer service! The uber-caffeinated ceremonial-grade Japanese matcha was swimming on top of frothy milk. On the tongue was a green tea flavor with a natural sweetness and an almost vegetable-like lingering aftertaste, softened by velvety milk. It’s a great gateway matcha drink for newbies.

If it’s coffee beans or bust, there’s plenty of cold brew and cortadas to go ‘round. However, seeing as they are available on every corner, I suggest jumping headfirst into tea-land at Tama. My husband ordered the “Peach Palmer”: a housemade mix of lemonade brisk Indian black tea with a splash of sweet peach juice. Every sip was vibrant, refreshing and sweet. I was slightly jealous. But I opted for the “Jasmine Lemonade”—and it was right up my alley. Slightly bitter from the fresh lemonade and brightly floral from the jasmine green tea, the golden nectar was lovely and light.

Let’s talk breakfast: All. Day. Need a BEC at 4 p.m.? No prob. The vegetarian options were tempting, with words like “house-made sunflower spread” giving me all the happy tingles. There were even some vegan selections with egg substitutes. With Tama’s menu being fairly minimal, the thoughtfulness of appealing to all dietary needs was a rock-star chef move in my book. My husband was super tempted by the banana cakes, which the cashier described as warm oatmeal cookies, but we went the savory route instead with that BEC (plus A). The “Pomona Sandwich” was a simple, layered combination of freshly mashed avocado, a hard-cooked fried egg, bacon, and sharp provolone. I would have preferred a runny egg, but it’s likely the meals are made ahead and heated to order, so I can’t complain. Some food came out before the drinks, so be mindful the speed of service can vary depending on how backed up the baristas are.

Next up to split: the Horizon Sandwich. Piled on toasted multigrain, it’s deliciously messy with thinly sliced apples, bacon and gooey pimiento cheese. The online menu stated sourdough, but I was happy to have a slice (or two) of health with this hearty lunch. The cheese had a peppery kick, which led me to believe it’s another homemade item. Kudos, chef. That goes a long way.

My favorite of the bunch: Himalayan Chicken Sandwich. The vehicle for the flavor bomb came in its same ciabatta roll, the same as our breakfast sandwich. I’m not sure where Tama is sourcing the bread, but the crusty Italian roll was crispy (without tearing up the roof of my mouth) and fluffy enough to sink my teeth through.

Other components were fire-roasted chicken, basil pesto, pickled red onions and lime crema. The garlicky green spread and crema fused to make a dreamy pesto mayonnaise, and the pickled red onions added a necessary zip. They could have been sliced a bit thinner and possibly pickled longer. I even spotted a stray pine nut or two as one more indication of a freshly made condiment. The seasoned chicken was in decent sized chunks, but I did catch a piece that appeared to be a white-and-dark-meat combo, which made me wonder if it was a pre-packaged ingredient.

The only miss for me was the “Zero-Day Detox Smoothie.” The counter lady described it as being lighter and fruitier, yet it fell flat with flavor. Between the courteous staff, laidback atmosphere (did I mention hammock chairs and a Think-Tank space to get away from any noise) and nutritious handhelds—I’ll be back, baby.

DETAILS:
Tama Cafe
The Forum, 1127 Military Cutoff Rd. (910) 765-9001
Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.
www.facebook.com/pg/tamateailm

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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