Teahouse Kuan Yin: Et Tu, Pastry?

This morning, on a whim, I am drinking tea at the Teahouse Kuan Yin in Wallingford. The great outdoors have turned into one giant slushie, and it seemed like tea might fit the bill as something to pair with the galoshes, heavy coat, and various other winter accessories. Urbanspoon said this teahouse was "Gluten-Free Friendly," so here I am.

As far as that's concerned, there don't appear to be any clear standards to distinguish which places do and do not qualify for the title. Presumably something that says "gluten-free" should be on the menu, but for somebody with a severe allergy that means little. In this instance, the Teahouse Kuan Yin serves gluten-free pastries from Great Harvest Bread Company. And while I know that Great Harvest probably goes out of their way to keep their gluten-free products completely separate from their other products, they do not, to my knowledge, have a dedicated facility. There is almost certainly particulate flour in the air, flour in the ovens, flour in the display cases, and so on. In addition to which, the gluten-free pastries at Teahouse Kuan Yin are not kept separate from the regular pastries.

Let's clarify that for many "Gluten-Free Friendly" establishments, this is the norm.

I'm being picky today, but think of it like this: Imagine you have a friend with a severe peanut allergy, and you take them out for Thai food. Say 90% of the dishes are made with ground peanuts, and the oil used for cooking is peanut oil. You specify, when you arrive, that your friend has a severe peanut allergy, and that there must be no peanuts in his meal. So the kitchen rinses and wipes out the wok, uses a different oil, and uses different utensils. There is probably still residual peanut oil in the wok. On top of which, imagine that somebody who has had their hands in the ground peanuts picks up herbs and throws them into your friend's meal without changing gloves first. Not good. To me, this is a similar situation to making "gluten-free" products in a well-glutened kitchen. There should be some other qualifying title. It's the gluten-free "friendly" equivalent of Brutus . . . you're just waiting for it to betray you, because you know eventually it will.

Death of Caesar, Vincenzo Camuccini
For those avoiding gluten in their diets, but who do not have celiac disease or only possess a very mild allergy, the Teahouse Kuan Yin is a completely viable option. I tested a couple pastries and will tell you not to bother with the ginger cookie, but the banana-walnut muffin is pretty tasty. The only other time I sampled a gluten-"free" pastry from Great Harvest, the results were questionable.

We'll have to see how this turns out. But meanwhile, I have solidified the fact that I am a coffee drinker. This whole tea thing is really pretty, and I love the accessories, ritual, and theory of it . . . but aside from a mug of herbal tea, enjoyed on the couch while watching movies when sick, I don't really get tea as a concept. I've ordered a really excellent Japanese green tea . . . and have to say that it tastes a little like fish and celery to me. But then, tea has a different tasting vocabulary than coffee, and I've yet to learn the appropriate application of terms like "vegetal."

All that said, the store is really cute, and if you are a tea drinker who doesn't have a gluten allergy, they have tons of great teas (not that I can tell) and tea accessories for sale here, so you should check it out.

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