Indonique and “The Tea Effect”: Re-inventing a tea business

A Tea Reader, Living One Cup at a Time, by Katrina Avila Munichiello

A Tea Reader, Living One Cup at a Time, by Katrina Avila Munichiello

While in NYC over the holiday, I stumbled on Katrina Avila Munichiello’s A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time, a nifty compendium of tea writings some of which go back hundreds of years.  It’s an interesting little book that she organizes around Tea Reveries, Connections, Rituals, Careers, and Travels.  Regardless of whether or not you are a tea aficionado, you’ll recognize names like Rudyard Kipling and Louisa May Alcott but there were so many names I across the centuries that were new to me.  I’ve found this little volume to be educational, delightful, and revealing in ways that have surprised me.  Pieces and observations written 100-200 years ago are so current, the language and expressions often like what I read and write today.   Guess it is true that every generation discovers anew many of life’s pleasures.

One entry in particular touched me.  Written by George Constance, The Tea Effect discusses his Indonique Tea and Chai Cafe on Magazine Street in New Orleans, its relatively short life and its demise brought on by Hurricane Katrina.  The little cafe comes alive as he talks about its opening, first customers, and the positive impact the shop had on other local small businesses.  Offering both bulk high-end and teas to savor in the shop proved to be a winning combination with other small businesses wanting to feature Indonique’s teas in their restaurants, kiosks, and the like.  True to New Orleans reputation, the cafe’s clientele was diversified and entertaining.  Small businesses are such a treasure and as a lover of tea rooms and shops, it saddened me to read about the impact of Katrina and the decision to close and relocate to Connecticut where he and his wife have re-opened the business as an internet tea retail site.

Here’s the good news.  George Constance and his wife, Daya, are part of the new socially committed entrepreneurs.  Mr. Constance writes “We pledge 10% of every sale we make to the communities that pick our tea through Non-Governmental Organizations like Mercy Corps that can most effectively make change and provide oversight…our website is dedicating percentages to organizations that fight the trafficking of children….We’re rebuilding Indonique as a cause….”   And I, for one, wish them every success in their new re-invented venture.

Alice’s Tea Cup – a holiday visit

Over the holidays I got another chance to visit Alice’s Tea Cup (ATC) on 73rd and Columbus Ave in NYC.  ATC has been written up so much that it can be quite hard to get into with waits as long as 1-2 hours – especially during the holiday season.   Here’s a tip IMG_0594that one of the gals behind the counter gave me and it’s worth following.  Go for breakfast between 8 and 10 AM when you can usually be seated immediately.   Three of us arrived at 9 AM on a holiday weekend and after a very short wait were seated.  The Eggs Florentine were simply delicious – wonderfully poached on a bed of spinach accompanied with a small green salad with their house dressing (available to purchase).  I asked for my buttermilk scone on the side and was glad that I did as it allowed me to savor it slowing with no intruding flavors.

Mt. Everest Breakfast tea - so delightful.  Love the packaging with the handwritten instructions.

Mt. Everest Breakfast tea – so delightful. Love the packaging with the handwritten instructions.

I also tried and fell in love with their Mt. Everest Breakfast tea that is mildly smoked.  This is not a Lapsang Souchong or Russian Caravan but more like a heavy Darjeeling with a hint of smoke.  It was so delicious that I brought some back to California with me.  Love their packaging and hand written instructions on the label. Charming.

Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting.  This is from their Alice's Tea Cup cook book but the cake looks exactly like this.

Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting. This is from their Alice’s Tea Cup cook book but the cake looks exactly like this.  Exquisite.


And, once again,  I want to wax about their chocolate cake.  I bought a piece and ate it over several days. So many cakes are a disappointment that I seldom order a slice.  At ATC, their cakes are as beautiful to look at as they are to savor slowly.   Great to share or take home as I did.

Tea Rooms – Two to Celebrate and Enjoy

Visiting tea shops is one of my great pleasures – whether alone or with friends.  I try to find at least one in every town I visit and more in cities.  Early on, I wasn’t very picky but now, quite frankly, I want my time and my money to be spent in a terrific experience. Whether it’s basic or elegant there are a few things that are important to me.

The shop needs to be comfortable – the chairs, tables, and overall space all have to feel good.  I’m not interested in sitting with my friends for one to two hours and not being comfortable. I’ve been in ‘adorable’ places with wonderful antique furniture but have found myself feeling cramped and squished in, the tables too rickety. It’s fine, and even quite charming, to be shabby chic but if my table is not stable or my chair makes me feel like I’m not sure it will hold up, oh my, suddenly even a great cup of tea is not so great.

Please provide a good selection of tea, not just one, two, or three, but a good number to choose from. I may not be in the mood for English Breakfast or the establishment’s special blend.  A good selection of both caffeinated and decaffeinated is a must these days. And the tea needs to be hot, really hot, not just very warm.  Tea cozies are welcome if it’s a shared pot and we will be lingering over our food.

Speaking of food, it’s more fun if the food is interesting and even adventuresome. I love English afternoon style tea with tea sandwiches (please not all white bread), scones, and small tidbit desserts but to me, it’s even more delightful to find something different to savor with my hot tea. Alice’s Tea Cup in NYC does a wonderful job of serving hearty sandwiches and soups as well as the traditional 3-tier services.  I visit the one on West 73rd Street when in town.  It has a wonderful rambling feel with folks stopping in for lunch, snacks, traditional English tea, etc.  If you want a hearty dessert to share or to hoard, their cakes are beyond wonderful.  Yes it is a trendy place but the overall quality is well worth it.  For those of us who cannot get enough of a good thing, their cookbook is a delight – a great gift for a tea loving friend.

Harney & Sons has two wonderful tea rooms, one in Soho and one in Millerton, NY, about a 2 hour drive north of New York City.  While I love the Soho venue, the Millerton shop is so warm, intimate, and delightful.  I had the great pleasure of having tea and lunch with a childhood friend, my brother, and his wife at the Millerton tea room earlier this year.  It was my childhood friend’s Mom who introduced my family to Jackson of Piccadilly Earl Grey tea that started my long love affair with tea, making this an even more appropriate place to meet.  We talked for several hours, savoring the tea, the food, and the company.

The food at this shop is wonderful, I particularly like the smoked salmon with capers and cucumbers on baguette.  But more than that, it has everything I like, a tea shop to sample and buy tea, a tea bar to sit and savor, wonderful tea products and tea accoutrements to browse and buy, fabulous food, and a warm inviting staff.

Both of these shops represent the best characteristics of a good tea room for my taste – warm, comfortable, interesting food, great tea, good shopping and the freedom to relax and savor the moment.


The Joy of a Tea Garden

One of my more recent pleasures has been the creation of a tea garden in part of my backyard.  The header photo on my blog page is of part of that garden. It started when I decided to redo a part of my backyard by re-purposing leftover paving stones of varying sizes and shapes and other outdoor gardening items accumulated over 25 years.  I quickly had the beginnings of a unique space where I could retreat to enjoy a cup or tea or to sit with my friends over tea, sherry, or wine.  Combined with my growing love of succulents, I found the project to be fun and rewarding.

I also love looking for books about tea – any aspect of tea.  Coincidentally, I stumbled on a wonderful book, Tea Gardens: Places to Make and Take Tea.  Ms. Lovejoy is a landscape designer from the Northwest who has written several books as well as many articles on landscaping, gardens, plants, sustainable landscaping, etc.  This short book (115 pages) is a wealth of information about creating outdoor spaces in which to take and enjoy tea – either alone or with friends.  After an introduction entitled “TeaTime”, about the history and pleasure of enjoying tea, she devotes a chapter each to English, Japanese, Herbal, Cottage, and Container tea gardens.  She explores the cultural traditions, design elements and common plants found in each. As a non-gardening expert, I would have liked more pictures of the individual plants.  But the book might have lost a bit of its charm by expanding it so I’m quite content with it as is.  Being eclectic by nature and style, I loved learning about the various design elements and got several feature ideas to add to my garden, including my Japanese stone lantern.

This is such an informative little book that I have ordered several copies for various friends who also enjoy the art and pleasure of tea.  Here’s a fun quote I found about sundials:  “Since Elizabethan days, the herb garden sundial has invariably been underplanted with thyme, to perpetuate the classic herbal pun”.   Who knew?  I certainly did not.  As we say, I’m on the hunt!

She wraps her book up with a chapter on ways to use your tea garden – including brewing tea in the garden.  The book closes with a chapter on making your own herbal tea from your herb garden – a small but delightful group of recipes for a variety of teas from stimulating to tummy taming and Mock Earl Grey.  This little book opened a big world for me and I’m grateful for my accidental discovery.


T-Bag Designs from South Africa

Innovative use of used tea bags in craft and art design

One of my girlfriends is in South Africa visiting her family and sent me this cool link to Original Tea Bag Designs in Hout Bay, South Africa.  This innovative craft and design company creates some amazing items – stationary, tableware, fabric and gifts.  I especially like the 4 Bag T-Pot Stand.

So here’s why this is so cool. These folks take used tea bags and use them as the base for all of their designs.  They have built this business giving local people a opportunity to start and build their own business and clientele – folks who need opportunity and a chance to make a better life for themselves.  Combine that with the ingenious idea of taking used tea bags, emptying them and then re-purposing them into useful and beautiful items for sale.  Sustainable, reusable, artistic, and a financial success.  It’s a wonderful story.

A group of us are planning to visit South Africa in 2014 and this shop is on our list.  In the meantime, I will just have to purchase a couple items.  BTW, if you use tea bags, please consider saving them, breaking them down, and sending them over.  Instructions.

Let’s help them out and spread the word.


Welcome to Tea4Friends


I simply love tea – everything about tea.  A baby boomer, I grew up with Lipton tea bags – didn’t almost everyone in the US after WWII?  I didn’t know there was such a thing as loose tea until a friend of my mother’s, Martha Page, introduced us to Jackson of Piccadilly Earl Grey.  And that was it.

Our after dinner routine at home was a pot of Earl Grey and Nabisco gingersnaps. (Sadly, my mom threw all of her tea tins away and although I have many wonderful tea tins, the square blue Jackson of Piccadilly tin from the 50s and early 60s continues to elude me.)  We drank our tea in white Bavarian china tea cups and saucers, a gift from our German friends. They were very plain but very elegant and that simple pleasure shared with my mom and dad started my love of tea and my love of china and beautiful dishes.

My first tea set, Japanese with bamboo handles and traditional handle-less cups, was an essential part of my college experience.  Many an all-nighter was spent with pots of whatever tea called to me to help me study.  Teas of choice for me then were Darjeeling, Lapsang Souchong, and still that pesky Earl Grey. After college, in NYC, I discovered many more teas and enjoyed them, but moved to coffee.  My college tea set disappeared somewhere in my mom’s house, never to be found again.

A few years lager in California, a girlfriend had a lovely tea party in her rose garden in Palo Alto.  It was elegant, fun, and delicious – a chance to sip, talk and share – a very special afternoon. This was some time before the current tea craze.  That lovely party triggered something in me. I became interested first in tea pots and tea accoutrements, in recipes, and table settings. That wonderful garden party started a new journey for me – one that pushed me to discover new teas, travel, books, history, gardens, entertainment, table settings, recipes, and all the other wonderful windows and doors that enjoying tea has opened for me.

Today, tea is one of the great pleasures of my life.  Having tea alone in my garden or with my friends lifts my spirits, bringing me both joy and comfort.   I also love to write and to travel and have wanted to share my thoughts, discoveries, and the many pleasures that come my way over a cup of tea.  I hope you’ll join me and I also hope you’ll share some of your own tea joys and pleasures along the way.   And now – off to celebrate the joys of tea!