By Angie Brown
Photography by Alan Keohane
Teatime is often cherished for the relaxation and rejuvenation it provides. “Solace and refuge are so much a part of tea culture,” says Jonathan Sims, owner and, with his parents, Carol and Bob Sims, cofounder of Tea Embassy in Austin, Texas. The tea shop, set in a house built in 1872, affords patrons a respite from their busy lives and a place to reflect and spend quality time with friends. Jonathan explains, “That’s what tea is all about—establishing and maintaining relationships.”
Carol created Tea Treasures, the forerunner to Tea Embassy, in 2001 as a hobby online business and an outlet for her love of tea. She penned a cookbook, Tea Treasures and More, which features everyday recipes, as well as helpful information on tea.
Fueled by an enthusiasm for both cooking and tea, Jonathan became interested in his mother’s company and in 2003 asked to be involved. He soon revamped her Web site and began helping her grow the business. A year later, they purchased a storefront in the historic district of downtown Austin, and Tea Embassy was born.
The Sims family is larger now than when the shop opened, as Jonathan met his wife, Amy, when she started working for Tea Embassy in 2007. Customers, especially those who have been with them from the beginning, enjoy seeing the couple’s children who often frequent the store.
The tea shop’s mission is to offer premium teas from around the world so that “all generations, genders, and cultures” can experience tea together, explains Carol. She says the theme of bringing together opposites is reflected in the décor. Every room in Tea Embassy has its own design, from leather chairs in the masculine tea bar to the antiques of the living room or the more majestic red room. “My dad calls it an urban refuge,” says Jonathan.
The Simses offer premium loose-leaf teas, teapots, teacups, tea sets, and other tea wares for sale. And there are always three teas on sample for patrons to taste. “Customers can try all three, depending on their mood,” explains Jonathan. “People can also order a cup of tea, sit with a friend, and hang out. And, of course, we sell everything in bulk.”
He and his staff talk with customers to find out what they want tea to do for them. With more than 200 premium teas on the menu, it can be hard to narrow down the selection. But they are experienced in helping find just the right tea for clients’ flavor preferences, whether it’s something comparable to coffee or a new variety. “Pretty much anyone, from the newbie to the connoisseur, can find something they are going to like,” Jonathan says of their menu.
While Tea Embassy does not offer food service, many patrons enjoy a favorite cup of tea in one of the restful rooms or on the front porch. The shop also holds classes and events, including a matcha class, tea tastings, and beginner tea seminars. And afternoon teas are often offered at Tea Embassy, accompanied by delightful menus from local catering businesses. The shop’s teas may also be purchased online.
The hard work and attention to detail of the Tea Embassy staff is paying off—the shop celebrated its seventh anniversary in 2011. “It’s great,” says Jonathan. “We’ve had customers who have been shopping with us [regularly], even some since my mom started out of her house 10 years ago. We’ve gained a lot of friends through the business. It’s been really fun.”
To view a slide show of images, click here.
Visit the shop at 900 Rio Grande Street, Austin, Texas, or online at teaembassy.com to learn more about its many tea offerings and to purchase Carol Sims’s book, Tea Treasures and More. To reach Tea Embassy by telephone, dial 512-330-9991. Keep up with Carol’s tea experiences at blog.teatreasures.com.