Fueled by a passion for Asian-style tea, a Columbine area couple have created a striking café that reinvents the ancient leaf into something trendy and exotic but also affordable.
InTea, at 8174 S. Kipling Parkway in the Jefferson Marketplace, features an exhaustive array of handpicked, whole-leaf, artisan teas from all over the world. The décor is spa-like and earthy, with feng shui touches everywhere.
Not to be confused with the fuddy-duddy tearooms of yesteryear or pastry-saturated, British-style “high teas,” InTea is about Asian-style tea, and it has more in common with a wine bar than a restaurant, although pastries are available.
InTea prides itself on sophisticated, gourmet teas brewed hot or iced perfectly. Water temperature is the key to a perfect cup of tea, and brewing one minute too long can ruin the character.
There isn’t a tea bag in sight at the shop, because everything is the cream of the tea plant, not the plant stems and chaff that are generally combined in the typical mass-market tea product, said owner Carole Bright-Alvarez, a resident of Williamsburg II for 10 years.
In tea circles, a tea-bag tea is known disparagingly as “CTC” — for “chopped, torn and curled,” Bright-Alvarez said.
If you must have tea bags, InTea sells empty bags that you can fill with a tea of choice.
Customers are encouraged to open small tins of tea samples and take a whiff before buying. Names include Vanilla-Coconut, French Plum, Lovers Tea, Monks Blend, Moroccan Mint and Monkey King Jasmine. Gummy Bear Tea combines apple pieces, hibiscus, rose hips, lemon grass, lemon and orange peel with mini-gummy bears. Gen Mai Cha is a Japanese green tea with toasted rice and popcorn.
Rooibos is a South African caffeine-free redbush tea known for its vitamin and antioxidant content. The most expensive is Pu’Erh, a high- caffeine tea aged and fermented in caves of Yunnan province in China. It sells for $31.75 for 50 grams, or enough to make about 16 cups.
A cup of tea costs $3.50 hot or cold, and premium-grade teas are $5 a cup. Loose tea sells for between $5 and $8 for 50 grams. Refills are free.
“People are looking for ways to be proactive about their healthy, and tea is a fabulous way to do this,” Bright-Alvarez says. “We have a lot of people coming in who are trying to give up coffee.”
Bright-Alvarez conceived the idea for the store and runs the operation on a daily basis — her business card reads “owner and janitor.” Her husband, Ralph Alvarez, works for an advertising firm in Denver and helps with publicity and decor.
The couple did most of the remodeling work on the space, including laying slate floor tile, with help from friends. Ralph hand-made the 96 cube-shaped aspen-wood drawers that store the tea.
Bright-Alvarez spent two years doing research and sampling hundreds of teas. At last count, there were 98 kinds of teas in stock.
There are so many exotic teas to choose from it can be intimidating to the novice tea drinker. But the goal is to learn and have fun, Bright-Alvaraez said.
“Our signature is friendliness and education. We want every customer to learn something. It’s about interaction, education and drawing people in.”
If you are stumped, tell her your favorite flavors of fruit, wine and cheese, and Bright-Alvarez can suggest a good choice.
Trained as a high school economics teacher, Bright-Alvarez came up with the tea bar idea 10 years ago.
“My friends and I love tea,” she said. “We wanted a place like Starbucks, only all tea.”
When she and Ralph moved back to Colorado, “this was something we would talk about.” After tapping into their savings and getting a line of credit from Compass Bank, they opened InTea on May 30.
The location has a patio with a view of the foothills and is north of the Kohl’s store in the Jefferson Marketplace shopping center, with Rib City on the north and Kohl’s on the south.
Information on tea classes and private parties will be available in the store soon.
InTea is open Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.