downtown gets a tea infusion with opening of Infinitea Teahouse
Karline Koehler, photos by Drew Kaiser |
Infinitea Teahouse in downtown Eau Claire has 130 different kinds of tea. Really, 130. This is easily the biggest stroke of luck for Chippewa Valley tea drinkers since, oh, ever as far as I know. There are 34 varieties black tea alone. 24 greens, 10 oolongs, and a bunch of non-tea infusions from yerba mate to licorice root to hibiscus.
Co-oweners Jeff Mares and Andrew Seveland, both 24, are betting on the enthusiastic response of local tea drinkers (like yours truly) in a Scandinavian, coffee-drinking region where eateries generally set out a basket of Tazo and call it good. They sold their first pot of tea on Aug. 22 at 112 E. Grand Ave., a former yoga studio that they’ve been renovating since June. And they say looseleaf tea fans have been steadily discovering the shop.
“The thing that we’ve found is that it’s such a conversation piece,” Seveland says. “We’ve had an awesome time talking to people about their experiences.” The light, simple teahouse serves up tea in 4-oz. espresso cups so drinkers can savor their tea a little bit at a time, and keep it hot in the 20-oz. cast iron teapot that will hold in the eat for a good hour. Mares says groups of people often buy pots of tea on the round system, to share with their friends and try a bunch of different varieties.
The duo are both world travelers who have drawn inspiration from teahouses in Europe and Seattle. They’re both big coffee fans and originally wanted to open a coffee shop, but when they counted 18 companies selling coffee in Eau Claire, they knew they’d have to differentiate themselves a bit. Mares says he couldn’t do market research beforehand to investigate whether a teahouse would work here, but he takes a teahouse in Appleton and Eau Claire’s hugely visible push for local and organic food as indicators that it will. “There’s so many people in the area, if we fail, it’s kind of our fault,” Seveland says.
They say they expect the business to grow and evolve as it develops a fan base who will learn along with them. Right now, the menu has a lot of flavored teas – peach blossom and the like. “It’s a way for people to get into tea,” Mares says. “I think in a year, the business will be totally different.”
Infinitea isn’t the only downtown addition to a looseleaf tea scene that a few months ago was pretty much dominated by Racy’s and the Coffee Grounds. Wildwood Crafts and Treasures, 401 S. Barstow St., has started holding tea classes of the elegant, Victorian variety and carrying looseleaf tea, bone china teacups, and other tea equipment. Cadeaux, 312 S. Barstow St., carries fancy pre-packaged tea for gifts, including “blooming tea” that unravels into a flower-like arrangement in hot water. All these businesses say they’re happy to have each other nearby because they’re not so much competition as niches that complement each other. Seveland and Mares say they find the sudden infusion of tea downtown as an encouraging sign that there’s local interest. “It’s really nice to be able to work with the area and find your niche,” Seveland says.
Events on the horizon for Infinitea include a Chris Koza show on Sept. 26, a high school art competition in December, a photography exhibit by V1’s own Drew Kaiser in October, and potential tea tastings/classes. And then what? The world travelers say only time will tell. “It’s more fun than scary so far,” Seveland says.
Infinitea Teahouse, 112 E. Grand Ave. Open 8am-8pm, Monday-Saturday. 514-1975. www.infiniteateahouse.com.
Additional tea-riffic photos by OJ Hornung.