Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tea Infused with Personality in Phoenix

Tea establishments around the world are often known by the passion of their owners. Nowhere is this more evident than the Phoenix area where three tea shops feature owners who are ever-present, and eager to infuse great tea into the lives of their satisfied customers. 

Souvia

Kerstin Wingert, Owner of Souvia
Dry tea shops are popping up across America and one of the best is located in a strip mall on the outskirts of Phoenix. Souvia's owner is Kerstin Wingert, a true tea disciple. 

With husband Bret, the Wingerts, who honed their tea drinking skills while living as expatriates in Japan, turned their passion into a profession when they launched Souvia in 2004. The unique name loosely translates as "way of the soul."

Their concept is much like a wine store where customer interaction is essential as they demystify exotic teas, teach customers how to brew each tea, and match teas to special occasions or lifestyles. Being lifelong "students of tea," they became certified tea specialists through the Specialty Tea Institute. They are eager to share that knowledge, and both are often featured in magazines and on local television programs touting tea's attributes.

Souvia's selection of over 150 loose teas come from all over the world. The store also features a tea sampling area, giftware, and a few tables and chairs for customers to sample tea before they buy. A steady stream of devoted customers stream through the door throughout the day, an indication that the Wingert's passion is catching on in Phoenix.


Carefree's English Rose

Jo Gemmill, The English Rose
What better location for a tea room can there be than a town named "Carefree?" And to top it off, the owner of this town's leading tea establishment is an authentic "English rose," born in rural Hampshire England. 

Owner Jo Gemmill's grandfather was a Royal Guardsman at Buckingham Palace. You know, one of those red-coated guards with tall fuzzy hats who stand in a box all day to the delight of American tourists. PG Tips and clotted cream still flowed in her veins when she moved to Arizona. A tea room had always been her dream. In 2002, the obvious thing for Jo to do was open a tea room in a town called Carefree—and christen it The English Rose.

Major Tea Faux Pas - Touching Her Majesty
This is a tea room that is more English than England. It is an Anglophile's dream filled with shabby chic collectibles, romantic Victorian kitsch, and eclectic English antiques. It is not the place to be if you have a fear of tiaras and frilly hats. It is the place to be if you want to have fun! I couldn't resist the urge to have my picture taken beside a cardboard cutout of The Queen, something I was never able to do in all my travels to the UK!

The scones are huge and served with real Devonshire cream, the sandwiches are delicious, and the selection of tea is never ending. Jo even offers such essentials as Beans on Toast and a Ploughman's Lunch for those folks who can't wait for their next trip to the British Isles. 

In Arizona, this is the obvious place to enjoy a "carefree afternoon tea."   


Urban Tea  Loft

Glynis and Eric Legrand, Urban Tea Loft
America's tea culture sometimes takes on a more relaxed and unpretentious attitude these days. One of the leaders of that movement is the hip new Urban Tea Loft in downtown Chandler, just south of Phoenix. 

Think of this bright shiny tea Mecca as the "Cheers" of tea rooms. It's a tea cafe/tea bar where everybody knows your name.

Owners Glynis and Eric Legrand created The Urban Tea Loft in 2007.  "No lace, no doilies, no pinks," says Glynis. "We really wanted a place that was gender-neutral, where everyone would feel at home." 

Initially, the design included a retail tea shop primarily selling loose teas, tea accessories and related products and offering light fare such as soups, salads, sandwiches and desserts.  Plans soon grew to include a full bar, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They creatively incorporate tea into the cuisine by cooking with tea and tea oils, marinating some of their meats in tea, and using tea as a rub. 

The Legrands, certified by the Specialty Tea Institute, regularly host  tea tastings and have become known for their teatinis - martinis infused with tea.

When asked what prompted her passion for tea, Glynis proudly proclaimed "I’m a breast cancer survivor. I asked my oncologist what I could do to not have a recurrence, and he told me to drink more green tea." 

She has become a dedicated tea spirit on a mission.



Read more about the Phoenix tea scene.


Tea Maestro Bruce is the author of The Great Tea Rooms of America, now in its fourth edition.