Best Tea Service

The Casbah Tea House

628 1/2 N. Fourth Ave.

READERS' PICK: This exotic outpost is set back from the flotsam and jetsam of Fourth Avenue sidewalk traffic, and therefore easy to overlook if you don't pay attention. Once inside, however, you'll notice immediately this isn't your workaday café. Low-laying tables, fluffy pillows to sit on, and walls frescoed with Arabic flags and fabrics transform this tiny room into a gypsy-like den. A walled and covered patio sheds more natural light on the subject, and adds a burbling fountain and airy ambiance that's lovely in the cooler months. A variety of loose-leaf teas are ceremonially served, and Casbah's healthful and holistic menu provides the perfect complement of exotic finger foods. Step in and step out of time, day or night. Bellydancing and soulful acoustic music are the evening's featured entertainment.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP--TIE: Coffee Etc., three locations; and Coffee X Change, four locations.

MORE LOOSE CHANGE: For a taste of Old England, indulge in high tea at the historic Arizona Inn, 2200 E. Elm St., or Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive. High tea is offered in the library at the venerable midtown inn from 3:30 to 5 p.m. daily, holidays excepted, from November through March. Cost is $10 per person (including children), and includes a varied spread of finger sandwiches, pastries like crumpets and shortbread, light cream, candies and other desserts. Tea at Ventana Canyon is served in the high-ceilinged lobby, where the gentle cascade of music from a baby grand piano hangs in the air. Almost every table has a window view, so you can sip and relax as three courses are elegantly served by Ventana staff from a linen-draped cart. Cucumber sandwiches, delicate scones with berries and cream, and decadent chocolate bon-bons are among the offerings here ... and, of course, the tea. There's a whole menu of fruity herbal, black leaf and green tea blends to choose from, at both venues.

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