Fight the cold with local tea-riffic hot spots

Spring Break may be over, but the air is still bone-chillingly cold. What better way to fight the lingering frost than with a big mug of tea? Tea is steaming hot, full of disease-fighting antioxidants and comes in a wide variety of flavors, from your average black, green, Earl Grey or herbal tea to the more exotic Indian chai, African rooibos, Yerba Mate or Lapsang Souchang.

If you have an ordinary teapot or electric kettle and a mug, you’re halfway there. But where can you find the perfect bag of tea for you? (Hint: It’s not at Starbucks.) Within a couple miles of the College are several excellent options for tea connoisseurs and casual imbibers alike.

The closest is Big Bear Natural Foods, an organic grocery store on Arctic Parkway, just off Olden Avenue. Big Bear has an entire aisle stocked with herbal, organic, therapeutic or medicinal teas. You can also find a variety of imports, from Indian chai blends to bags of Japanese “Haiku Sencha” green tea. The selection of Alvita medicinal teas is exceptional: everything from stomach-soothing Peppermint or Ginger Root to relaxing Valerian Root. There’s even a “Brain Blend” tea that might come in handy for finals. Prices at Big Bear are low for bagged teas, $3 to $5 per box and slightly more expensive for loose-leaf or organic teas.

If you’re a tea-drinker with a sweet tooth, you should head to Pennington Quality Market, which is about 10 minutes away at the intersection of Pennington Road and West Delaware Avenue. The independent, family-owned grocery store stocks teas such as Sweet Sakura Tea, flavored with cherry blossoms and Ineeka brand Darjeeling tea, imported from the Himalayas. The Celestial Seasonings collection at the Market is reasonably priced around $4 per box and includes such decadent varieties as “Almond Sunset,” “Raspberry Bliss” and the bewildering “Vanilla Ginger Green Tea Chai.” And finally there are the Stash teas, in enticing flavors like “Chocolate Hazelnut,” “Lemon Ginger” and “Mango Passionfruit.”

And for the connoisseur, there’s Princeton, which boasts two top-notch tea suppliers: Holsome Teas & Herbs and Small World Café. Frankly, Holsome is a bit intimidating in that its massive wall of imported and local teas, tea accessories and natural supplements omits any mention of price. But heading over the counter on the right, you’ll find the store’s speciality: organic loose-leaf teas from local providers. Try a quarter-pound ($5 to $8) or go for the whole pound (approximately $20) of one of their floral, fruity, green, black, oolong, Earl Grey or Ceylon teas.

But, if you want a steaming pot of amazing tea handed right to you, head immediately to Small World Café, which stocks both organic loose-leaf teas ($2.35) and bagged teas ($1.50) and has pleasant sitting area that’s ideal for homework or catching up with a friend. They even blend their own “Tough Chai” tea ($2.35 to $3.95) on the premises with fresh ginger and spices.

Or feel free to try them all and keep the cold weather at bay.