Bon Appetit Magazine called "tea the new coffee" in their list of food trends for 2013, so I guess it should come as no surprise that tea is establishing itself in Kansas City, as well. For those of you who have always enjoyed tea, according to the U.S. Tea Association there are about 160 million of you who drink tea on any given day; you will have to forgive the rest of us, as we play catch up.
See, we, as Americans, have a confusing relationship with tea. Served hot, tea is viewed as the drink of other people from other lands. It is an Asian tradition steeped in history and ceremony or it's that hour in the day when the British reserve time for just a spot of it. Served chilled, iced tea is a whole other story in this country. It is what many Americans drink with lunch or dinner. Sweet tea is what people all across the south like to drink instead of soda. We live in a country where an "Arnold Palmer" is a widely accepted mocktail made with iced tea and lemonade. Heck, today is even national "Iced Tea Day." In America, we clearly like our tea ice cold and refreshing.
Now, close your eyes, and think about tea. What are the images that pop into your head? I think of: Boston Tea Party, Lipton tea bags, the Nestea plunge, gypsies with jangling bracelets and head scarves reading our future in the leaves, jars of brown water sitting on my parent's cement patio in the sun, Zen yoga masters, Japanese tea ceremonies, grandma's pinkie finger out and finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off. See, my tea-related thoughts are all over the place. I think tea needs a champion, and a new brand identity.
Tea does have more of a calm and soothing reputation than it's more frantic and hopped up cousin, coffee. People who drink tea seem to radiate an internal peace that the rest of us can only hope to achieve. Nobody, comes stumbling into a coffee shop saying they can't think straight until they have their first cup of tea in the morning. Do they? I have never seen it. Never. Not once.
It would seem that the real issue is that we are largely ignorant about tea. We do not drink what we don't understand. What's the difference between green, white and black tea? Where does the best tea come from? Is all tea caffeinated or not? What is the proper way to make tea? How hot should the water be? How long do you steep the tea in the water? What kind of glass should it be served in? The list goes on . . .and on.
As part of my Foodie Friday segment on KCTV5 "It's Your Morning Show," I pulled out and highlighted some of the places in town that are really serious about tea. Those of us that are new to tea are looking for a place to experience tea, find guidance about how to make tea and perhaps even begin to understand for ourselves magical, mystical, and some believe, healing properties, of tea.
Get your pinkies out, friends, as we dive into some local tea-based businesses and experiences you can enjoy in Kansas City.
8025 State Line Rd
Kansas City, MO 64114
Welcome to your new tea hangout! No coffee allowed. t. Loft recently opened right next door to the QuikTrip located at 80th and State Line in a charming little strip shopping center. Owner, Jill Minton had dreamed of opening up a place in her own neighborhood that would be dedicated to serving the finest teas, fresh squeezed fruit and vegetable juices and what she calls "clean eats" but the rest of us know as "gluten free" foods.
Jill is usually behind the counter with a big smile ready to whip you up a fabulous Coconut Almond Milk iced tea, made from almond milk she makes from scratch each day. Other tea drinks that have been big sellers for her are Blueberry Lemon Fusion Tea, made with fresh blueberries, lemon juice and pomegranate green tea and the Ivory White Matcha tea made with Japanese Matcha, a fine green powdery tea which has super antioxidant properties several times greater than regular tea. Heal what ails you with this stuff.
t. Loft itself feels like you have just stepped out of a Pottery Barn catalog, with incredibly inviting and soothing shades of light blue and grey mixed with warm woods and charming metal washtub light fixtures. It feels elegant and classy and with free WIFI there really is no reason you couldn't make this your "other place", with Moroccan Mint tea and a cranberry almond protein ball for breakfast and a Super Food salad for lunch, made with spinach, kale, feta cheese and fresh pomegranate seeds.
Jill's husband, seen here with Jill preparing my order, is the one who did all of the construction on the place, which used to be an old chiropractic office. He did an amazing job making this place look and feel . . sassy, shiny and new. Notice what is on the shelf above them? Tea. Jars and jars of tea. Jill tells me she does not blend her own, but uses a fantastic supplier out of California that makes organic, high quality loose leaf teas. The thing I truly loved about Jill and her approach to her tea shop was the friendly, no dogma, way she speaks about gluten free foods and fresh juices and teas. She is not trying to preach to anyone, she is just sharing how her family "eats to live." You don't have to "BE" anything to come and enjoy what Jill and her family are offering up at t. Loft.
329 East 55th Street
Kansas City, MO 64113
Located in the tony Crestwood Shops, the Tea Market, is your one stop shop for loose leaf tea and many tea-related accessories. Owner, Stacie Robertson, has a deep appreciation and education around of all areas of tea and tea making, and she wants to share her knowledge of tea with you. She opened her tea shop in 2002 with the goal of becoming THE place to learn about tea in Kansas City, and has succeeded madly. Stacie proudly hosts a number of classes and events all centered on educating people about all facets of tea making and drinking. People rave about her teashop and her depth of tea knowledge and her gentle bedside manner when taking you through the process of how to make a great cup of tea. This video of Stacie in her shop speaks volumes about her professional approach and passion. Go!
2450 Grand Boulevard, Suite 313 (3rd Floor inside of Crown Center)
Kansas City, MO 64108
Kansas City is lucky enough to have a tea merchant and tea grower in Zehua Shang. As the owner of Shang Tea, Zehua sells his tea from his peaceful storefront located on the 3rd floor inside of Crown Center and online. He welcomes people into his shop to taste his family legacy for themselves. As Zehua prepares a cup of tea for you he spins mesmerizing tales of the organic high quality white tea, which comes from his 20 acre family tea farm is located half a world away in the mountain-filled region of the Fujian Province in China.
It was for love and money that Zehua decided to start his tea business in Kansas City. His lovely wife was from Kansas City and wanted to raise her family here, and it was going to be less expensive to hang a shingle here rather than Chicago, New York or San Francisco. It made the decision to stay in KC fairly easy, and Zehua has no regrets, and after tasting his tea . . .neither will you.
Owner, Tyler Beckett is a Crosby MBA graduate and tea drinker. He has started several businesses, the most recent of which is Hugo Tea Company in Kansas City. He is starting small with big dreams to bring high quality organic tea to the fine people of Kansas City, and hopefully, someday, beyond. I first got introduced to Tyler via a video presentation that he did about his company to the Kauffman Labs, for the 1 Million Cups project. After that we chatted over email and social media channels, he was clearly an entrepreneur with a business that was growing fast, maybe too fast. When he started his business last fall, he made about 1,000 cans of five different tea blends. By the beginning of 2013, he was sold out, and trying to play production catch-up as word of his delicious tea spread.
I ordered a can of his most popular tea from his website in early January, called Mornings Journey. It was made with three different kinds of black organic tea that he hand blends in his production facility in the Crossroads. As an agnostic tea drinker, myself, I thought it was absolutely delicious. Clean flavors with malt and chocolate notes. I could see how you would want to start your day with this tea. As Tyler discussed his next steps, which was to get into local coffee shops and local grocery store shelves, I could tell this was a man with a singular focus on blending fine teas and developing relationships with tea farmers across the globe. I think he will make it in this town, and beyond.
As of today, Tyler has taken his online tea shop down, as he is redesigning a new website and continues to focus his efforts on supplying his tea to the local retailers who now carry him. You can find Hugo Tea at: Hen House stores, Nature's Own on Main Street, Green Acres Market in Briarcliff, Mildred's Coffeehouse and soon at the Filling Station.
Lucky Baby Tea is the idea of Kansas City native D. Shattuck, a "passionately community-minded tea pourer and space maker." D. began practicing gongfu cha during a formative trip to San Francisco, when she visited a tea house that according to her, "saved her sanity." D. loved the humble hospitality of the gongfu cha tea ceremony. That's when she began pouring tea at events and gatherings in and around San Francisco. She decided to come home to Kansas City in 2010, with longtime friend and collaborator, word artist Jordan Hocker. The pair created the CommuniTea gathering in Kansas City, which began at Stone Spirit Lodge in Westport. The weekly happenings grew, and in 2011, D. opened the Tea Nook in her home in historic Hyde Park.
Now, D. is looking for funds to build a mobile tea cart, called the Lucky Baby Tea Co. that can be brought to public and private events all over the Kansas City area. The goal is to promote community by hosting Zen-like tea parties. Only 12 days left for their fundraising efforts, and they have a ways to go. But, I like the "pop-up" nature of this, and the idea of communing with others over tea. THIS could be a cool thing to see happen in Kansas City. You can contact D. through Lucky Baby Tea's Facebook page or website if you want to schedule a tea ceremony with her. See her fundraising video below.
Japanese Tea Room and Garden at Loose Park
5200 Pennsylvania Avenue
Kansas City, MO 64112
Dedicated in July 2006, the Japanese Tea Room and Garden located inside of Loose Park might be one of the best-kept tea secrets in the city. It was created to have a point of cultural exchange between the Sister Cities of Kurashaki, Japan and Kansas City, Missouri.
The Tea Room is available to rent 7 days a week from 9 am - 5 pm. It is set in a traditional Japanese garden featuring a small ornamental fountain, large boulders, many shrubs and groundcovers with a pathway leading to the Tea Room. The small garden is a place for quiet meditation. The Japanese Tea Room is a space designed for holding Japanese tea ceremonies. It is a ceremonial space available only for this traditional tea activity and not for other types of gatherings. They are quite clear about this in the list of rules and regulations for renting the space. No funny business here, only tea.
Anyone wishing to experience an authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony in the Tea Room has to use a Tea Master to perform the ceremony. If you do not know a local Tea Master, one can be recommended for you by the the city. Tea Master fees are charged by the hour and are separate from the Tea Room rental.
The Tea Room is built to hold 4 people. The Tea Master and 3 others. (So, it is tiny, friends.)
To reserve the Tea Room, simply call the City of Kansas City, MO at 816-784-5300 to make a reservation, much like you would reserve a park shelter. The Tea Room costs $35 for a 3 hour window during park hours. After 5 pm, the Tea Room can be rented for $30 an hour.
Kansas City continues to amaze and impress me with its breadth and depth on so many food and drink related activities. I am so proud to call this city my home. Now, if you will excuse me, it's time for a cup of tea.