I figured, if tea really is in renaissance, and I have no reason to mistrust the tea news, then I should be able to see evidence of this in the big smoke of Wellington. Also my tea blog is serving as an excuse to take road-trips as I search for cafes that show an interest in tea.
To be honest my expectations were set at low when on Saturday morning we strolled through Courtenay Place, the nightclub end of town. We passed bars that sleep-in until midday; we passed Reading Theatre (pronounced ‘redding’ and condemned since the last earthquake); we passed industrious Asian stores, Indian restaurants and Turkish cafes; we even passed Arty Bee’s bookshop. We had no specific plan. Basically we sought a sign. The sign would say: Tea renaissance happening here. Or something like that.
Seek and yea shall find – we simply struck out on the pavement.
I looked for a likely café while Tea by Leaf’s photographer mucked about with shots of urban architecture. I read menus placed in café entrances and I peeped through windows to spy on customer’s drinking habits. I hoped to find a teapot on a table. Sigh. At least while in town I could pick up a packet of tea from Tea Leaf Tea’s (tleafT) retail store on the corner of Manners and Willis Street.
As we entered the store we left the bustle of Central Wellington behind. The contrast, given the stores location on one of the busiest corners in Wellington, is extreme. When we arrive there are two customers besides ourselves in-store and more arrive while we take a look around. Tea Leaf Tea’s store is relaxing. Perhaps it is the subdued lighting and uncluttered space. A selection of teapots, teacups, a few iced tea infusers and various tea paraphernalia are displayed but mostly the store remains focused on the leaf. Floor to ceiling shelves are stacked with Tea Leaf Tea’s trademark black and orange sachets. I am wallowing in tea. The sachets are re-sealable so you do not need to purchase another tea caddy each time you purchase a new tea. In store you can play with tea samples too. Then there is Izzy the tea store assistant.
Wow! Izzy impressed us. Although a busy student she had spent some of her precious time studying the product she sells. Izzy is enthusiastic about tea and only about 20 years old. (Young anyway) Actually, Izzy told us, she used to take her tea for granted before her job at the store. Now she is fascinated. There is no doubt about it: Izzy likes tea. She is a natural matchmaker too. She wanted to sell us a tea we would like and asked us pertinent questions. Tea Leaf Tea’s store sets a personal, soothing atmosphere where tea can be appreciated. There is no hurry.
When Izzy encouraged us to sample some of the product, I chose to sample Keemun tea and my husband wanted a loose leaf pu-erh. Soon two small beakers of tea awaited our approval. Izzy apologised because they had run out of Keemun – I was about to consume the last sample! Shame, because I would have purchased a sachet for it’s aroma alone. I tried the pu-erh too. Gingerly. I am not sure I like the sweet musky composted hay thing of pu-erh yet. Pu-erh seems complicated to me. Fortunately tea is a matter of personal taste and so even Izzy confessed to harbouring a mistrust of matcha – which I love.
Anyhow I am not here to critique the tea, I already know Tea Leaf Tea sells good quality leaf. Rather I am in search of a sign to indicate there is indeed something, anything, going on with tea in this city. I think I find an understated sign here at Tea Leaf Tea’s store. It is in Izzy’s enthusiasm and her knowledge of the product. It is in the questions customers are confident to ask. Encouraged and inspired by our tea-sampling I settle on a purchase – another pack of Dragon Well. After thanking Izzy and wishing her well in her studies we stepped back into the flow of pedestrians, letting ourselves be carried along Willis Street, as we continued on our way in search of further evidence of a tea revival.
We did not have to travel far.
Don’t miss Part 2 of In Search of a Sign …. coming soon.