On top of Queen Anne, South African cuisine


Cederberg Tea House offers a South African sponge cake called Malva pudding. Cunningham/THE FALCON

The innovative and charming cafe on the top of Queen Anne brews smooth and tangy shots — not from coffee grounds, but from tea.

Cederberg Tea House, named after the only region in the world where rooibos tea is grown, grinds the leaves of the plant to the consistency of espresso grounds, pulls them like coffee shots and pours them over milk, hot water or even apple juice for a sunset-tinged set of libations.

The deep red shots sink in seeping layers through a warm cappuccino or cold latte with the tentacle-like stretch of roots. Native to South Africa, both the rooibos plant and co-owners of Cederberg Tea House have uprooted and found a new home here in Seattle.

The venture began when Natasha Robson-Lovato wanted to include afternoon tea, a staple of British-influenced South African culture, in her wedding ceremony. Surprised to discover a hole in Seattle’s catering market, Robson-Lovato and her mother tackled the reception themselves.

The duo, realizing the depth of their investment after purchasing plate ware and other equipment, turned the one-time investment into a catering company of their own. The constant travel quickly got old, and when a storefront opened at 1417 Queen Anne Ave. N., the two jumped at the chance.

Opening last June, Cederberg kicked off the summer months in true South African style, introducing Queen Anne to a new hemisphere of smoky and exotic flavors. Succulent sausage rolls wrap spicy pork and beef laced with onions in a flaky warm pastry crust crumbles into buttery morsels at the touch.

Ever mindful of traditional tea culture, Cederberg also serves dainty tea sandwiches (chicken cranberry or egg mayonnaise) to accompany a cuppa.

More filling lunch options include toasted sandwiches available on gluten free or whole wheat bread — ham, cheese, and tomato, or bacon and banana, to name a few.

The real heart of South African cuisine lies in an insatiable sweet tooth. A classic South African sponge cake, Malva Pudding, is richly dense and saturated in caramel.  Robson-Lovato describes the three-inch Melktert as a cross between crème brulee and a snickerdoodle, quaintly dusted with cinnamon and a fitting complement to a red doppio or americano.

Highly-concentrated rooibos, which contains roughly five times the antioxidants of green tea, is nonetheless completely caffeine free. Even if the red-leaved tea isn’t your personal preference, Robson-Lovato suggests a test-run of their distinctive blend. Most rooibos blends include ground bark of the tree, a cheaper alternative which Cederberg omits for a purer, more musky flavor.

The cafe also offers coffee espresso, though their singularly personable staff makes a foray into new territory easily navigable and well worth the passport stamp.

While Cederberg’s atmosphere is less than evocative of an African wilderness, Robson-Lovato’s menu, all made daily from scratch, and lingering Afrikaan lilt conjure a homely hospitality reflected in an almost revolving door of patrons. Some have already become regulars nipping in for their daily red; others sit and linger over conversation, a warm honey-topped latte and a flaky blackberry pie, folded and crusted like a calzone.

In true African style, it is sitting and relaxing that are encouraged here; time passes without notice amid savory pastries and the red swirl of glass mugs and Mason jars.

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