Photo by Christi Covington
When Jonathon Sims and his mother chose the location for their business, they wanted to find somewhere outside of a strip mall. So in 2004, they opened Tea Embassy at the corner of Rio Grande and Ninth streets in the historic Campbell-Miller house.
“One thing that we love to share in our store is hospitality, to do something that brings people together,” he said.
Before coming to the Campbell-Miller house, Sims had first helped his mother develop her online business, Tea Treasures, which featured her cookbook, “Tea Treasures and More.” They expanded the business to a storefront when the online business began to take up too much space in the house. Then Sims’ mother gave him full control of the business more than three years ago.
He has several rooms available for rent for events, along with a small selection of teaware. However, the most popular item at Tea Embassy is loose-leaf tea, and Sims offers more than 200 varieties.
One feature of his location that he says customers particularly appreciate is the large amount of parking available just behind the store, an unusual feature in downtown Austin.
Sims discovered his own love of tea in high school as the third generation in his family to choose the beverage over coffee. He remembers his dad would go to the Asian market in Austin to look for tea because it was difficult to find. Now he said he sees many more tea enthusiasts than before.
“I think the public nationally and in Austin is allowing tea to grow in popularity,” he said. “There are a lot of tea drinkers. Tea drinkers kind of find each other, and it is a very narrow niche market.”
As for Sims, he is raising his own generation of tea connoisseurs. He serves his children tea, often sweetened with honey and iced, in place of juice. He heralds tea’s nutritional value and its high levels of antioxidants. Sims usually drinks tea straight to taste the pureness of the flavor.
“It’s kind of like wine. The best way to learn about tea isn’t to just read about it, but from tasting it,” he said.
He has sipped every one of the hundreds of different brews in his shop, and his favorite flavor is the Monkey-Picked Oolong, which is between a green and a black tea. He describes it as naturally sweet, but not overly strong. According to legend, Buddhist monks used trained monkeys to pick the best tea leaves possible where humans could not reach. In China if you ask for monkey-picked tea, it means you are asking for the best they have to offer.
Tea Embassy , 900 Rio Grande St., 330-9991, www.teaembassy.com