There was a summer that I became serious about the idea of opening a tea room. I had just left my first corporate jobby job and was finishing my Master’s degree. In between working on my thesis and working on my thesis, I began researching local tea rooms with serious focus. I would take covert photos of how the tea / goodies were presented and take copious notes rating the tea, the food, the service, what I liked and disliked about the ambience, etc.
After a couple of months of this process, I realized that despite my numerous observations and experience as a customer, I had no experience or knowledge ‘behind the apron.’ Having the title of ‘student’ allowed me to consider taking on a part-time job and get that much needed experience. And so the job search began. After several rejections, and after having a lovely chat with the owner of a tea lounge one day as I was ‘researching,’ I (in a fit of slight desparation) wrote a heart-felt email to that tea lounge owner expressing my desire to work in a tea house, why it was important to me, what I hoped to accomplish, what I felt I could bring to the table, and more. It was a lengthy communication. Lo and behold, she took me seriously and I soon found myself on the schedule of the Lavender Lounge Tea Company in San Clemente, CA. What I loved about Desiree, the owner, and the lounge she had created was her complete and total tea nerdiness, which met and even exceeded my own. She had single-handedly created multitudes of specialty blends. They were loose leaf blends: black blends, greens, whites, rooibos, and even some herbal blends. Nearly everything was blended, packaged, shipped or served from this tiny space in the second floor of an historic building. Here was my chance to learn from a pro!
While my stint in the lounge was cut short (my pie-in-the-sky consulting biz suddenly had 3 major clients), I came to acquire a tremendous respect for the patience, multi-tasking and ultimate customer service skills necessary to be a successful tea shop owner. More on that in another post… Also, deep admiration for the creative and incredibly delicious tea blends Desiree continued to produce. Some of my favorites:
1. San Clemen Tea – The Lavendar Lounge’s signature blend. A black tea/peach/apricot blend with surprising, yet subtle, notes of caramel and cinnamon. The fruit flavor is distinct but not overly fruity, which makes the blend delightful whether hot or over ice.
2. French Blend – While ’tis true I love all things French, this blend stands on its own merit. A black tea blend, this could aptly be named ‘Earl Grey goes to Paris.’ Tones of bergamot, jasmine and vanilla are enhanced even more if cream is added.
3. Jaded Julip – I’ve tried numerous times to appreciate green tea, and this is one blend that makes it easy. Granted, the black tea base helps the process, but the surprise of Matcha (liquid jade) and peppermint could induce New York’s most cynical stock broker to take pause and serve friends this refreshing cuppa on a verandah beneath magnolia trees in a heartbeat.
Give my regards to Desiree and her fabulous tea trade at the Lavendar Lounge Tea Company!
I feel the need to explain myself a bit. The fact that I have been to tea conventions (yes, that’s conventions with an “s” – plural), is a bit unusual, I’ll admit. Somehow, and I can’t remember how, I came across a promotion for something called “Take Me 2 Tea Expo” that would be held in Las Vegas in the Spring of 2003. Somehow, I managed to convince Gene I needed to go. Why? I didn’t know.
What I expected was a small affair of maybe 200 or 300 people. After all, I had been to conferences and expos before for the apartment industry, for the American Society for Quality. I mean, how many people could possibly be that enthused about tea, of all things? Let me just say that these experiences did not prepare me for what I was to encounter at this new little event now known as the annual World Tea Expo.
Hundreds, nay, thousands of people from every dark or bright corner of the tea world were gathered in an enormous convention center. I witnessed the expected vendors in suits, as well as exhibitors and attendees alike in period costume, or carrying teapot purses, or professorial gentlemen with the requisite cardigan sweater and spectacles, southern belles, ‘alternative’ young professionals with color-streaked hair, fashion-forward attire and snooty attitudes, as well as salt-of-the-earth tea room owners or enthusiasts who could have been anyone’s aunts, uncles, grandmas or grandpas. Such a hodge-podge of people I have never witnessed under any one roof for any one purpose as I experienced here. It was glorious!
And the sessions! The exhibit hall! I learned everything from how to open and finance a tea shop, how to market your product or shop, how to choose your stock, how herbal teas are blended, and so much more! The exhibitors were just as informative and interesting. I learned just as much wandering around looking at all things “tea” as I did sitting in on the sessions.
This was one of those moments when the words, “My cup runneth over” applied beautifully.
The “California Herbals” name of my fictitious tea company would be just one of my many tea shop fantasies. I’ve got an entire product line in the nooks and crannies of my mind for this venture, by the way. But this is where interest may have turned the corner of obsession.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to go for the past couple of years. Pregnancy and the birth of Edie focused my attention elsewhere. But this year, as we’re planning a mini-vacation, it just so happens that we may be in Vegas on the exact dates of this year’s Tea Expo! Coincedence? Actually, yes. Will I attend? What do you think?