Nguyen: 'We want to show that it's possible to have a hangout spot without coffee.'
Today is opening day for Steepery Tea Bar, a new mini-chain out of Minneapolis. The new storefront at 430 State Street is the company's first outside of Minnesota.
"Students and young professionals" are the audience the Steepery hopes to attract says Nick Nguyen, the company's CEO, and son and brother of the duo who opened the original Minnesota outlet. It is the Thursday before opening and a handful of workers are putting finishing touches on the prep area. ""We like Madison's strong, vibrant community surrounding the arts and food," says Nguyen of the decision to choose Madison as its first Wisconsin location.
Steepery embraces tea in many forms. Yes, you can order a pot of loose-leaf tea, but the menu veers more toward pop invention with teas as a drink base, with tea lattes, bubble teas, smoothies, coolers and shakes. Nguyen says that there will be 50-some varieties of loose leaf teas and herbal teas (tisanes) available, but with the addition of fruit flavors, tapioca pearls, and so forth, there are 40,000 some drink combos that can be created. Take that, Earl Grey.
Nguyen terms them "dessert drinks." If choosing a base tea, he loves jasmine; for flavored drinks, raspberry and lemon with a green tea; and maybe half standard tapioca pearls, half tri-color jellies. That gives some idea of what an order at the Steepery might sound like.
Tea was always part of growing up in his family, says Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent.
A cup of tea to go is $2.30; a pot, $3.25. Dessert drinks run mostly between $3-$4.
Steepery is located less than a block away from Dobra Tea, which takes more of a purist's approach to tea: there, the emphasis is on the origin and flavor of the tea leaves and proper steeping of them; no cups, no cups to go. Pots only. It's a "quiet, more meditative" space at Dobra, says Nguyen. The Steepery aims for more of a lively coffee shop atmosphere, except without coffee, says Nguyen. "Coffee shops do some tea, but we want to show that it's possible to have a hangout spot without coffee."
There's certainly more competition in the immediate vicinity: Jamba Juice is right across the street, and signs up in the windows right next door advertising a new spot called "Dragon i" (in the former Chin's Asia Fresh space) show photos of a variety of bubble teas.
To accompany the tea drink menu, the Steepery will also sell goodies from Cupcakes A Go-Go; Nguyen is also searching for a local vendor for pre-made sandwiches and salads. "We won't do any food prep on site."
"We really want [the shop] to reflect the community that it serves," says Nguyen.