HOW DID YOU BECOME A TEAHOUSE MANAGER?
Verbick: Rachel opened this space as Hue Gallery in 2004. But Madison didn't have a teahouse, and she thought it could use one. And it was a way to keep the art gallery in business. In '07 I quit my job in the optical industry and came aboard full time. I think of myself as a teatender, a bartender of tea. I do research, and our tea brokers provide a tremendous amount of knowledge. Madison's behind the big cities when it comes to tea. We're planning some tea tastings. I want to introduce customers to the basics and work them up to more complex teas, top-tier oolongs and rare pu-erhs, which are aged like fine wines.
TELL ME ABOUT THESE JEWEL-BOX TEA ROOMS.
Fox: I have a day job as a graphic designer, but really, they happened spontaneously. I wanted an orange room, so I created one with a Moroccan theme. I did a pink room based on old Vogue magazines, girly but sophisticated. Men actually sit there all the time. The Zen room is very Japanese. We've never been to Japan, but we have a big international student base, and we learn a lot from our customers.
Verbick: Finally, we're planning a big Asian trip. Some people can travel and not retain anything, but we have a passion for tea and Asian style. When we get there, we'll be ready.
YOUR FAVORITE TEA?
Fox: We're purists. We both love macha, we drink it every day. We like to taste our tea. We don't do the fruity blends.
WHAT'S YOUR AFTERNOON TEA SERVICE?
Fox: It's just on weekends. There's a service that's just pastries and tea, and another that's deluxe - tea with a tray of pastries and another of savory tea sandwiches. There's a wasabi salmon sandwich, an Asian pear sandwich with honey and sage, a spiced Moroccan carrot salad.
But we do lunch and light afternoon fare every day. There's a turkey sandwich on the lunch menu, which is practical, but then there's the Chinese steamed buns. I could go to the Asian market and buy them frozen, but you'd never know what the filling was, so I learned to make them myself. They're so good with tea - the sweet potato bun with soy and fresh ginger is my mom's favorite. My grandma lived with us when I was growing up, so we ate steamed food all the time. I didn't like it as a kid, but now I love it. I put steamed bok choy in our rice bowls. I learned a lot from my grandma and my mom, including how to experiment with flavors. Sometimes it really works, like adding Thai basil to my cookies.
Verbick: We're foodists. We're picky. We created a menu we could eat every day. Rachel is a great intuitive cook, and I was in food before I was in optics. I started cooking at L'Etoile when Odessa [Piper] was still there, and later I was at Coyote Capers on Willy Street.
Fox: When we first opened people recognized him from his optician days. They'd ask him to adjust their glasses. We used to say "Buy a cup of tea and get a free eyeglass adjustment!"