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Turning a serious eye to tea

The Rare Tea Cellar's Rodrick Markus has been stocking Chicago's fine-dining shelves with high-end tea for years. But it's only recently that the restaurant world has caught on and started asking for his guidance.

Markus and beer director Michael McAvena just launched a seasonal tea menu at The Publican–where a current highlight is a 2001 vintage pu-erh that can't be found anywhere else in the country.

The Purple Pig's and Kith and Kin's tea programs are in the works, and Gilt Bar will carry Rare Tea Cellar teas when it opens in February. NAHA fleshed out its list last month, adding reserve (think tea's grand cru) and vintage selections.

But Markus isn't just sourcing his exotic leaves to the front of the house.

The Signature Room's chef, Patrick Sheerin, steeps jasmine tea into a savory rice pudding and cures char with a rub of lapsang souchong–a Chinese black tea dried over pine fires. And Sheerin is behind the lounge's Apple Harvest ($13) cocktail, made with bourbon and apple cider steeped with the smoky tea.

Look for tea-beer cocktails to launch at The Publican before the month is out (a winter release made with gingerbread rooibos is currently in the testing phase).

Build your own stash via the new website Markus is launching in the near future; until then, email him with requests.