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I've been watching the transformation of the former Ladybug Ladybug on 24th Street as it evolved into DAVIDsTEA, a Montreal-based tea outfitter bringing their teas to neighborhood spots to a few US cities. They opened just last week, and today I had an opportunity to pay a visit and meet with co-founder David Segal himself.
The space is bright and cheery, flanked on one side by a bar where customers can sidle up to sniff and sample the 150-plus tins of teas on the wall. As I entered, the place was hopping.
I have to admit that I was skeptical. Passing by on previous days, staffers were hawking samples of some of their quirky blends involving chocolate, nuts or what have you. I'm something of a purist. I like tea, as in tea tea. The idea of tea called Cherry Cola or Banana Dream Pie did not appeal. Of course, many things I would consider tea tea are flavored teas — Early Grey springs to mind — but somehow these seemed to cross a line.
But as we chatted and he pulled down a dozen or so tins for me to smell, I was pleased to note that they do have tea tea. Inquiring about my tastes, he pulled down two unadulterated greens, a Chinese Dragonwell and a Japanese Gyokuro Yamashiro, and a black tea from Nepal, with slightly smoky notes, and offered me a cup of whatever I'd like. dpaul brought back some gyokuro from a business trip to Japan last year, and I find myself going back to it again and again, so I chose that. Apparently I have good taste, as the gyokuro is the most expensive tea in the shop. I can pick 'em!
But even if they aren't my, um, cup of tea, I was curious about some of the flavored teas. And so I sniffed a variety of blends like fruity Alpine Punch, an apparently very popular Chocolate Chili Chai, and super-nutty Brazillionaire with, yes, Brazilian nuts.
This much is clear: They're having fun with it. And by producing these quirky blends, and there are plenty of them rotating seasonally, they're making tea accessible and interesting to a much broader audience. The customer who ends up going for a bag of Ice Cream Cake, made with carob, white chocolate and actual bits of ice cream (I guess, freeze dried?), might be the same customer that drops seven bucks on a Venti Salted Caramel Mocha at Starbucks. But maybe, just maybe, it'll make them try something else the next time. Like tea tea. Which, luckily, they also have.
Where DAVIDsTEA really shines is in the gift market. For example, they've got these 24 Days of Tea advent calendar packages, with a tin of a different tea each day. So, you know, cute, right? Plus various and sundry other gifty collections, packaged like boxes of premium chocolates. And then there's the Cocktail Collection, with ingredients and recipes to make five tea-based cocktails. Hello, hostess gift! Sure beats a bottle of wine.
I also appreciate that DAVIDsTEA, despite being an import, has immediately established itself as a community player. Staff are hired locally, and they've donated to the cause of converting the parking lot across the street to a community park, as opposed to just another block of condos.
David graciously sent me off with a bag of the Nepal black to try. Perhaps one day I'll make my way up to tasting some of the more creative blends. I may never acquire the taste for Birthday Cake Rooibos, but I'm willing to give it a go.