Open today: New tea house Verdant takes a leaf from microbrewery culture
Verdant teas, along with ice cream and chocolate from the resident sweets-makers.
At first, David and Lily Duckler just needed a commercial kitchen for their rapidly expanding online tea business, a place where they could store their stock and brew their chai. But in April, they signed a lease at 2111 E. Franklin Ave. -- the old Seward Co-op space -- and their plans started ballooning.
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Neighborhood institution Birchwood Cafe had been renting the kitchen there for overflow, and when another space fell through, asked Duckler if it could stay on. Soon the two businesses started collaborating on a new menu. Then Lily met Ashlee Olds of Sweet Science Ice Cream, and they realized that the new location could be the storefront Olds had been seeking. Before long, the Ducklers offered another slice of the kitchen to the young chocolatiers behind Real Deal Chocolate, and installed yoga flooring in a corner of the front room so that their friends Chris and Michelle Pietrzak-Wegner could teach sunrise meditation and qigong there.
Which is how now, within six months, Verdant has gone from having two employees to 12. And how, on July 1, Verdant Tea is opening up not just as a kitchen, but instead, as a tea house, tasting room, and restaurant.
Inside the new space.
courtesy Verdant Tea
"Imagine, this isn't part of the business plan at all," David explains on a recent afternoon, as he brews a cup of tea. "And then May 5, we tell everybody, 'We're going to be opening a tea house.' And now, it's going to be a place to come in and do a tasting flight of four different ice creams paired with four different teas, and follow it up with some chocolate and Birchwood-crafted chilled pea and mint soup with pistachio and tea-infused grapeseed oil drizzled on top."
With Verdant Tea, the Ducklers are asking people to think about tea the way a coffee snob might think about her morning cup, or a beer fan about the latest microbrew. For one thing, the couple points out, tea isn't strictly either Lipton basic or something fussy and exotic. For another thing, tea doesn't grow in bags.
Verdant sources its tea the way restaurants like the Birchwood source many of their ingredients: from farmers they know.
The new tea house features five photos on its back wall -- just behind the yoga floor -- each picturing one of the five Chinese tea farmers who, together, supply all of Verdant's crop.
"They're all small farms, and they plant all their tea, pick all their tea, process all their tea," explains Lily. Chinese tea farmers have two options, she continues: make a basic commodity product and sell it at bulk pricing, or buy a small plot of land in one of the best growing regions, pick it themselves, and charge a higher price. This, the Ducklers say, is the kind of tea they sell, and they're one of the first to bring it to the United States -- a process that required cutting through a lot of regulatory red tape, hiring two of their own full-time export brokers in China, and air-shipping the tea so that it's in their hands about a week after it's off the plant.
When David founded Verdant, in 2011, he only sold the tea online. But he missed, he says, the shared community that got him hooked on tea in the first place. That, plus the need for kitchen space, led to the new Verdant storefront, and from there, partnerships have formed easily.
"All we've had to do is say yes," Lily says.
A result of one of those partnerships is the new menu. Designed with Marshall Paulsen, head chef at the Birchwood, it consists mostly of vegetarian small plates, and each item is designed to bring out something in the tea.
"The idea is to make the menu accessible to someone who wants to have as intense of a tasting experience as they want," Lily explains. "You can taste four of five different teas back-to-back to get to know a season or a processing style or a region, or do that same thing with food, with chocolate, with ice cream."
The tasting flights the Ducklers are planning bring to mind those offered at the local breweries popping up across town. David acknowledges the parallels, ticking off the new space's cocktail shakers, bartenders, and chai microbrewery. But the social environment, he says, will be different.
"I envision it as really becoming a destination for people to have a different sort of taste experience," David says. "One that's not centered around alcohol."
2111 E. Franklin Ave.
8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily
Morning meditation and qigong starting at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday
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