Food & Drink » Boozehound

It's a Tea Party: Three New Boise Tea Houses Open

Joyful Tea, Leaf Teahouse and Snake River Tea Co.


If you boil water, pop in a tea bag and add several spoonfuls of sugar, Terry Hathaway will tell you that you're doing it wrong. Hathaway, the co-owner of Joyful Tea, is a tall guy with a calm demeanor. He drinks up to five pots of tea per day and keeps his pot covered with a cozy made to look like a British flag.

Hathaway has been drinking and studying tea for almost 35 years. He knows the origin and process and has an anecdote for almost every jar of the 120 loose leaf teas he carries in his shop, located inside the Boise International Market (5823 W. Franklin Road). He says good tea doesn't need sugar, and it shouldn't be shoved in a teabag.

Hathaway and his wife, Karen, opened Joyful Tea three months ago. It's a small space and even with only a handful of customers picking jars off the wall to smell the contents, it can start to feel cramped. But it's room enough for the Hathaways.

"We're using tea to bring people back together," said Hathaway.

Joyful Tea hosts a variety of classes and gatherings in the small shop, which has a wall that boasts two dozen delicate china tea pots. The Hathaways invite patrons to pick one, sit down around a small table scattered with newspapers, and drink as much tea as they'd like for $5 per hour, per person.

Joyful Tea carries decafs, mates, herbals, rooibos, oolongs, yellow teas, green teas, black teas and four different kinds of chai, and each tea costs between $1.90 and $15.50 per ounce.

Despite the tight quarters, the Hathaways like being inside the Boise International Market. The couple recommends their Moroccan mint or ginger green tea to pair with BIM's restaurants, which include Kibrom's African and Eritrean Restaurant, and the Goodness Land, a Middle Eastern eatery.

Hathaway says tea shops are "popping up like mushrooms" in Boise, but it doesn't worry him.

"All of us are in this together," he said. "The more interest we can get in tea, the more we're all going to prosper. We all have our own schtick and we all thrive. Tea is cool."

Another new tea shop in town is Snake River Tea Co., which opened at 801 W. Main St, Suite 103, six weeks ago. It is a large space filled with stylish tables, chairs and couches, but the centerpiece of the shop is the Alpha Dominche Steampunk 4.1, a futuristic coffee and tea brewing machine.

"It's obviously not the traditional way tea is brewed," said co-owner Mike Neal.

The Steampunk 4.1 features a touchpad, a self-cleaning system and four cylinders that fill with water and boil the tea to a specific temperature. The machine costs the same as a new car and, according to Neal, there are only a few hundred in the world.

The tea brewed in the Steampunk 4.1 tastes different from bagged tea: richer, stronger flavors and a natural sweetness that doesn't call for honey or sugar.

"It's over the top when you're talking about equipment to brew tea for the investment, but it's our opportunity to talk to our customers because everybody is excited about it and interested in it," said Sue Neal, Mike's wife and business partner.

Snake River Tea Co. feels more like a coffee shop than a tea house. It even has an espresso machine, but the Neals use it to make tea lattes instead of coffee drinks. They say chai teas and black teas like Earl Grey work well with steamed milk.

According to the Neals, the most challenging part of their business is figuring out how to convince downtowners to skip their cup of coffee in favor of tea. To lure in new customers, Snake River Tea Co. offers samples of three unique teas and plans to offer tasting events.

A few blocks away, at 212 N. Ninth St., Susan Judge opened her tea shop in July 2014. Leaf Teahouse sells more than 80 loose leaf teas—a handful of which Judge blends herself—and also offers a small selection of vegan sandwiches, salads, soups and pastries.

While Joyful Tea has a British feel and Snake River is more modern, Leaf has an Asian vibe. Houseplants sit on countertops and in corners, and the shop is colored in shades of chocolate brown and tan.

Leaf Teahouse is more than just a quiet place to stop for tea in the afternoon, though. It's also a community gathering space.

"I looked for over a year at places to lease, and I could have gotten a cheaper place on Broadway or State Street, but I wanted space to have events for the downtown area," said Judge, tending to a pot of tea she blended herself—a rich, chocolatey black tea with tiny heart-shaped sprinkles among the leaves.

The second level of Leaf Teahouse opens up into a large room with a wall of windows, a lending bookshelf and a large skylight. Judge has hosted poetry readings and book clubs; and acoustic, jazz and blues ensembles, as well as the Boise Cello Collective.

Like Hathaway at Joyful Tea, Judge believes Boise will embrace all of the new tea shops that have popped up recently.

"We might all have a few teas that overlap—everybody's got English Breakfast and Earl Grey. You can buy tea anywhere," Judge said. "But what we each present is a totally different tea experience."