Text by Suzanne Ball • Photography by John O’Hagan
I fell in love with tea in the coffee capital of the United States. Head over heels. When I moved to Seattle, there was coffee on every corner: independent coffeehouses, drive-up coffee huts, and of course, Starbucks. People carried their refillable cups everywhere. There was even a special lingo around ordering coffee.
I’d come from the Midwest and a family that kept the same box of generic tea bags for years. Mom made it when we weren’t feeling well. It became such a signal, that once she asked me if I wanted a cup of tea, and I thought, “Gosh, I must be sick!”
Later, in college, I was introduced to “exotic” herbal teas, such as chamomile and peppermint. Once I was surprised by one that tasted like black licorice. They were interesting to try, and I liked some, but I was fine without them. (It probably didn’t help that we soaked the tea bags in hot water from the tap.)
In Seattle, I jumped right into its famous coffee culture. For a while, that is. The drinks were delicious, but expensive. Plus, all that caffeine made me jittery. I was ready for something else.
One morning, I wandered through Pike Place Market, a famous Seattle landmark and the oldest continuously operating public market in the country. As I made my way among the fish, fruit, and flower vendors, I noticed a small corner shop advertising tea and spices. The sign said “MarketSpice, Established 1911.” It smelled inviting, so I went in.
At the back of the shop was a huge metal urn—like our church used to make gallons of coffee—with a sign: “Try our MarketSpice Tea.” Why not? At the first sip, I closed my eyes in full appreciation. It was, as the French say, a coup de foudre. The aroma was cinnamon…and something else. So was the taste—I couldn’t quite identify all the flavors. It was sweet, but not sugary. Spiced, but not overwhelming. For me, who’d moved alone to Seattle, it felt like I was finally “home.” I was hooked. I bought two boxes that day and practically danced out of the store.
MarketSpice Tea soothes and comforts. It tastes familiar and mysterious at the same time. I approached the pretty clerk behind the counter to learn more. She smiled and told me the unique blend was created by Ruby Rutelonis, the shop’s second owner, who dabbled with her pharmacist husband’s flavoring oils. She eventually created a spiced tea to drink all day that was both tasty and sugar-free. It’s black tea with cinnamon, spices, and orange oil.
I no longer live in Seattle, but MarketSpice remains my favorite tea. I order it online and enjoy it several times a week. It never fails to work its magic. I still close my eyes in full appreciation. You never know where true love will strike, especially when it concerns tea.
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