Tea time

Reno's tea scene is heating up

Jessica Devine and Becky Tachihara of the Hub have a cuppa.

Jessica Devine and Becky Tachihara of the Hub have a cuppa.

Photo/Josie Luciano

My dad is a coffee person. He drinks it every day, is thoroughly addicted, and has posted some truly odd Vimeo footage of himself roasting coffee beans in the garage with a toaster and a homemade cooler made out of a screen, a vacuum and a Home Depot bucket.

Once, on a visit home, I got roped into a coffee tasting. During the entire two-hour ordeal, members of my family were instructed to rank their coffee experience based on a set of flavor, temperature, and mouth-feel criteria. It was also the moment I realized the two reasons I am a tea drinker. Number one, my body cannot handle coffee (mini heart attacks and explosive diarrhea), and number two, I like my mood stabilizers like I like my romantic comedies, equally enjoyable with or without analysis.

Not that people don’t enjoy coffee without dissecting it, or that there aren’t tea snobs (tea snobbery predates coffee elitism by a good 3,700 years)—it’s just that coffee pushers seem to be a little pushier when it comes to their drink of choice. Maybe it’s the level of caffeine. Maybe it’s just my dad.

But now that Reno has a wide variety of tea establishments—five as of three weeks ago—I feel ready to push tea.

Local color

If you're the type of tea enthusiast who needs some communal context, then the Hub Tea Shop and Se7en Teahouse & Bar can give you that.

Although Hub’s tea wing has only been open for a few short weeks, the coffee side of the business is six years deep into building community. It’s a place you might go to see a familiar face, loiter in wifi, or listen to the barista talk about hints of blueberry in your espresso.

But for Hub tea drinkers, community also means knowing who came before you. Their menu reads like an homage to the history of the Riverside district, offering teas with names like Frances and Grace (an oolong named after a mother-daughter divorce boarding house), The Printer’s Devil (a chai that honors the original district developer, C.C. Powning, and his first job as a printer’s errand boy), and The Northerner (a white tea that shares its name with the first Italian American business in Reno).

Besides being historically sensitive, Hub is also interested in local sourcing and seasonal options, both for their drinks—tea, beer and wine—as well as for their small food plates, which are a recent collaboration with Reno Provisions chef Mark Estee.

“I’m really interested in incorporating local ingredients in the drinks because tea can’t grow in northern Nevada,” said Becky Tachihara, the “tea girl” at the Hub. “But we do have lots of beautiful, native vegetation and local agriculture, so we’re incorporating that into the menu wherever we can.” Currently in rotation: local honey and ginger in their Matcha tea and fresh veggies on the food side.

Several blocks away from the newest tea room in Reno is the oldest. Since 2006, Se7en Teahouse & Bar has been known for serving everything from green and jasmine teas to Earl Grey and herbal blends in their nice-looking glass teapots—a tradition that’s slowly being phased out in favor of cocktails, beer and wine. Despite the declining presence of tea, Se7en’s dual-identity as both a bar and a teahouse gives the business a built-in community that extends past the usual tea hours. And though it’s a little hit or miss when it comes to whether or not the bartender knows how to make tea for you, it’s definitely good when it happens.

High times

If what you’re looking for in your tea is an authentic British experience, then the Isles Tea Shop is it. High tea at the Isles is what you pictured grown-up tea parties to be like when you were a kid, minus the dolls as friends. Tea is served English style with cream and sugar, scones, fruit and finger sandwiches. And because the Isles represents all of the British Isles, high tea is served by a man in a kilt.

“It’s just a little bit out of the ordinary,” said manager and tea server Tom McCormick. “[High tea] just takes people into a different atmosphere I think.”

In addition to being a destination for anglophiles, the Isles is also a gathering place for actual Brits who miss home. Every month, a group that calls themselves the British Ex-Pats meets at the shop. They sit in high backed chairs, sip on Barry’s Irish Tea, and talk to one another in British accents. “It really is like stepping back into England or Ireland or Scotland,” said McCormick.

Another notable hotspot for travelers is Salty-Savory-Sweet. Though the shop does not serve tea in-house, it’s included on the list because their loose-leaf selection is global and rare. They have everything from unique green blends to hard-to-find fermented Pu’erh tea. The décor is minimal—wall-to-wall jars of teas and spices and salts set against white walls—allowing the other senses to take over. This means you have the option of smelling all 120 teas if you really feel like it.

In the mood

The draw of real—and aspirational—mood-making might be the biggest reason to get into tea. My favorite tea growing up, Sleepytime by Celestial Seasonings, told me exactly what to expect 30 minutes after having my kid-tea. Nowadays, companies like Traditional Medicinals and Yogi Tea are still skirting the FDA’s stringent truth-in-advertising guidelines by simply naming their teas after the intended benefits, stopping short of claiming any direct medicinal value. Herba Tussin, Everyday Detox, Breathe Easy, Woman’s Energy. You know what you’re going to get, or at least what you’d like to.

Too Soul Tea Co. takes a similar approach, appealing to its customers by touting the good vibes and therapeutic advantages of their unique tea blends. Some have suggestive names (Insomniac’s Dream and Soul Mend), while others rely on descriptions to get the message across. The Citrus Hibiscus is said to “punch out a cold or flu” while the 7 Seas herbal blend is advertised as “an ideal and tasty way to stimulate your immune system.”

“It’s very mood-oriented,” said Ethan Parker, co-owner of the family business. “Because there are so many flavors and variations of these blends, it just depends on how you feel. … Is it the holidays? Is it a hot day? Is it a cold day? Does your throat hurt? There’s great diversity in the choice which really makes for a bright sunshiny day.”

Personally, I’m a believer in every un-approved statement. When I’m tired, I drink green tea. When I’m sick, I sip on Throat Coat. And when I’m feeling irregular, Smooth Move is my preferred choice over coffee.