I have to apologize for the influx of Lincoln Square posts recently. The neighborhood is filled with some really good gems, which explains why, despite the stroller influx, it still holds a warm place in my heart. Today’s installment is where I find myself shopping for loose-leaf tea. Yes, there are some pretty extensive boutique tea shops in the Chicagoland area, but when I want tea, I head on over to Julius Meinl in Lincoln Square. In February I stopped by before my Chef Martin sausage making class and was disappointed to see them closed at 6pm. Hopefully those were just winter hours and they’ll be open later now that spring is here.
What makes Meinl so special? Well, being half Austrian is one reason, and another parlays off of studying abroad in Vienna during college. The Julius Meinl am Graben is a foodie’s paradise alongside places like Zum Schwarzen Kameel and Trzesniewski. They are all in walking distance from the place I will forever stay at: Pension Nosek. Whoops, sorry for the travelosity digression. Long story short, when Meinl came to Chicago in 2002 I became a loyal, but infrequent, customer. I’m not a huge coffee person, so when I stop in it’s often for a special occasion.
My drink of choice at Meinl is a melange; a Viennese coffee drink which is something between a cappuccino and a latte. They sprinkle some cocoa on top as a final touch. It’s not the same experience when ordering it to go. When I do order one, I try to sit down at a table for the full Viennese experience which includes a glass of water and ginger cookie on top of a silver tray. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time to sit down this visit.
Meinl offers a nice variety of coffees, teas and jams. I don’t buy the coffee, only because I can’t replicate the melange experience at home. What I do stock up on are the teas, which come in a variety of flavors, running in a $3-$6 price point. My two favorites are the Silver Cloud white tea and the Vanilla Rooibos. The rooibos has a decadent dessert-like flavor and is naturally zero calories – just perfect.
You’re probably wondering, so what, it’s tea, I can get that anywhere, right? Well, not quite. While I didn’t have time to sit and enjoy a melange, I did take a peek at what makes Meinl a favorite for my father and so many others: the dessert case. Meinl does one of the best jobs for creating authentic Viennese pastries in Chicago. Growing up, my family helped to keep the Vienna Pastry Shop on Addison and Long in business. When they closed down years ago, we struggled to find something comparable. People tried to turn us on to Oak Mill Bakery, but it wasn’t the same. While very pricey, the Meinl Patisserie makes wonderful pastries, perfect for pairing with a melange, cappuccino, pot of tea or even a regular ole coffee. If you are looking to feed a larger group, Cafe Vienna in Lincoln Park also makes great Viennese-style pastries at a lower price point. I’ve only had Cafe Vienna’s pastries; I have yet to try their melange. If money is not an object, you can enjoy Meinl’s pastries in full size cake sizes, too.
If you don’t have a huge sweet tooth, their granola is also a good option. It’s available in bags and in to-go parfaits for breakfast.
I highly recommend buying your tea, coffee, jam or granola as an entire Julius Meinl experience. Whether that is simply a melange or pot of tea on its own, paired with a delicious pastry, or part of a full meal during brunch or lunch (their menu is spectacular), you’ll be pleasantly surprised. And hopefully you’ll see why I buy all my loose-leaf teas here. In addition to Lincoln Square, they have one at location at Southport and Addison; it’s their original coffeehouse. A downtown location perfect for tourists should be opening soon at 211 E. Ontario. I know I’ll be recommending my out-of-town guests to stop in as they’re hanging out on the Magnificent Mile. Hmm, that’s a short walk from Eataly. I wonder if Meinl plans to take it up a notch and have more food for sale like their Vienna flagship Meinl Am Graben? I can’t wait to find out!
Julius Meinl on Lincoln. 4363 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60618. 773-868-1876. Open 7 days, but call for hours.