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Arts & Culture

Ceremony Tea to replace Tealuxe

Tea shop plans to open in October, serve loose-leaf tea, pastries, mocktails

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Ceremony Tea’s Thayer Street shop will be the company’s first retail operation, selling drinks between $3 and $5 in addition to tea ceremonies.

Ocean State resident and business owner Michelle Cheng plans to open Ceremony Tea in the place of Tealuxe on Thayer Street this October.

Her loose-leaf tea company, Leafy Green, has been servicing Brown’s School of Engineering and Blue Room cafes since April 2018, and Cheng is eager to open the company’s first retail operation with drinks from $3-5 and tea ceremony services from $5-20.

Property owner Mark Goldberg said he expects Ceremony to experience the same success Tealuxe had in its 20-year run, citing a student-driven demand for food and drink stores. Goldberg also took on Ceremony to support local businesses. “I could take that whole thing, knock it down and build a CVS. …  But I don’t need to. The thing is to build small businesses, and hopefully they’ll be successful,” he said. Tealuxe closed without warning on May 24 due to financial strain resulting from years of “very, very dead summers,” according to one store employee, as The Herald previously reported.

Local businesses can matter to students too. Louise Tisch ’2 0, a fan of the now-defunct Tealuxe, said, “It would be nice to have a less corporate coffee or tea situation on Thayer Street. … I would love to see Providence-based businesses succeeding because it seems like there’s a lot happening there, and it’s always exciting.”

Leafy Green sources tea directly from farms in Japan, Taiwan and China and was started at the nonprofit culinary incubator program Hope and Main, based out of Warren, Rhode Island. The incubator is designed to get small businesses off the ground with minimal risk by providing access to buyers, social media platforms and storage facilities among other services. 

Ceremony hopes to partner with another graduate of the incubator program, SinoBox, a Franco-Sino fusion pastry company based in Warren, Rhode Island. The pastry operation is part of Chinese Palate LLC, which is run by entrepreneur George Gao. His wife, Joanne Mou, is the head chef of SinoBox and a graduate from Johnson and Wales University.

Like Ceremony, SinoBox looks to incorporate modern trends into Chinese pastries while respecting their authenticity, Gao told The Herald. He expects to serve pineapple cakes, mochi and daifuku at Ceremony’s opening and will design a new menu of confections each quarter.

Along with pastries and conventional tea drinks, the store will serve original tea-based mocktails, with ingredients sourced from Sprout Organic Farms, a micro-farm in North Providence, Rhode Island.

Sprout grows microgreens, which are plants harvested when not fully grown, according to CEO Aaron Damus. In an electrically lit warehouse filled with vertically stacked racks, Sprout has been growing plants like marigold, lemon, anise, hyssop and some forty other types of harvestables for about a year.

“The flavors tend to be more concentrated the younger the plants are,” Damus said. Baby greens have a stronger flavor and nutrient profile, he added. Sprout’s products are used all over New England — from Nitro Cart’s breakfast sandwiches to James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Messina’s Japanese restaurant Uni.

Cheng needs potent herbs for her tea mocktails, which she envisions University students relaxing over the night before a test.

“If you don’t want to drink, but you want to experience that atmosphere and ‘grab a drink’ and catch up with friends not in a coffee environment, you can come to our shop,” Cheng said. The desire for a non-alcoholic venue to relax with friends reflects a need Cheng felt in her college days, and the space provides a way to unwind at night without repercussions the next day.

The store’s menu will vary between day and night. Daytime has more to-go options, including Matcha Sparklers — hand-whisked matcha poured over sparkling water — matcha lattes and other conventional tea options.

At night, Ceremony will mix mocktails like Kyoto, a plum-sauce base with sakura (although, like the tree’s blossoms, the drink will only be available in the spring), as well as Lapsang Souchong, a smoked black tea from China with a little bit of bitters and pear nectar. Cheng described a yet-to-be named drink with matcha, yuzu and agave, topped with a soy-milk foam and served in a martini glass.

But the store’s name comes from its signature offerings: modernized tea ceremonies. In one such ceremony, based off the elegant Japanese tea tradition, the store will serve Asahi Matcha, a single-estate, single-origin unblended matcha from a farm in Japan.

“Our farmer only allows us to buy two kilograms a year. They’re just like, ‘This is all we can provide for you, even if we have more. Sorry, maybe one day I’ll visit you in the U.S. to make sure you’re preparing it to the standard, then maybe I’ll sell you more,’” Cheng said. She hopes to give customers a purer tea experience, offering usucha and koicha, letting drinkers taste the hints of sweetness and sesame present in the tea.

The store will also have a gyokuro tasting set, which is a three-course tea set. In the first set, the leaf is brewed in hot water. In the second, the leaf is chilled and sipped from a wine glass. Finally, in the third, it is mixed with genmai, puffed rice and soy sauce.

“The Chinese ceremony is a little more decadent,” Cheng said, describing a seven-stage oolong tasting course.

“We want to introduce tea-drinking to this culture — bring the traditional aspect here but mixing aspects of what we consider to be a little bit more forward thinking,” Cheng said.

“When we first came up with (the) Nitro (cold brew) tea, my own mom was pretty against the concept. (For) one, they don’t believe tea should be drunk cold, and two, to add nitrogen into it? She doesn’t understand the purpose. I try to explain to my colleagues or even my parents that we have to grow with the times. If we don’t introduce new ways of consuming this ancient, delicious beverage, the younger generation may not be interested.”

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