Tea by the numbers
On a not too busy corner not too far from the main drag in Reno sits a quaint, orange cottage with walls stacked with tea. Not just any tea, Too Soul Tea. If you’re a surfer or a snowboarder, then you’ll understand the origin of “Soul” in the name. That’s when referring to turning a “trick” on the waves or the slopes … having heart and soul. The name was the idea of Taylor Ehrhart, daughter of Ethan and Staci Parker. Taylor is a boarder, and she has loved tea and wanted to own a tea house since she was 3.
Legend has it that tea was discovered by the Chinese emperor Shan Nong in 2737 B.C. One day while he was in his garden a few tea leaves fell by chance into his boiling water, which then gave off a rich, alluring aroma. The Emperor, upon drinking this brew, discovered it to be refreshing and energizing. At the beginning of the 18th century, tea arrived in North America, quickly becoming a desirable drink here as well.
There are more than 100 teas – eight varieties - in stock and you can buy them in the tin, 3 to 4 ounces ($8-$17), or a pouch, 2 ounces ($4-$15). The 46 black teas get their characteristic flavor and color from a natural oxidation process, which follows initial drying and rolling of the leaves after they have been picked. The teahouse’s 18 green teas are sweet and contain many of the vitamins and antioxidant properties of the fresh green tea leaf, making them highly regarded as a healthy thirst quencher.
Oolong tea, of which they have two, is usually from China and Taiwan. It is a semi-fermented tea, a cross between green and black teas, which is widely prized for its digestive benefits. White tea is the world’s rarest tea as it can only be picked for a few weeks in any one year. Too Soul has two kinds of white tea. Their 17 herbal infusions are all blended using real herbs, flowers and seeds and contain no artificial flavorings or colorings. Hibiscus is an herbal tea. They have two types of hibiscus teas.
Their six rooibos, or Redbush teas, are grown in South Africa. Naturally caffeine free, it contains high levels of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as well as anti-aging properties. Chai is the word for tea in many parts of the world. They have six chais. In India, it is usually prepared as a spiced milk tea using rich black tea, milk, a combination of various spices, and a sweetener.
My first cup was a Passion Fruit Mango, $2.15, naturally sweet, bursting with tropical fruit flavors and a light, strawberry red color. Next, I tried something to help my sinuses, an herbal blend with peppermint and licorice root. The liquorice plant is a legume (related to beans and peas) that is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia. It is not botanically related to anise, star anise or fennel. This was light brown and had a tremendous aromatic effect. The peppermint was dominant, and the licorice root gave it a natural sweetness.
It’s a cozy setting, seating a dozen inside, nine in the vestibule, and 16 on the patio. There are plenty of accompaniments like bagels, muffins, cookies and scones, $2.50. Wraps and sandwiches are $3.99-$7.99. Quiche is $5.50. Vegan, gluten-free, and whole wheat treats are offered as well—all made fresh daily by local artisans.
The story of tea is truly intertwined with the story of mankind. I think it might have been a cup of tea that made Mona Lisa smile. I know it was a cup of tea that helped the British throughout World War II: “Keep calm and carry on.” It has been said that tea is a pride and a joy. It both defines and transcends. It dares into places where fear and pain rule and comes away with some little relief, some intangible comfort. It is a soliloquy and a chorus that truly touches the soul, too.