Leaf TeahousePosted by Tim on Friday, 2 January 2015
I am here with Geoff Hill, the Assistant Manager of the Leaf Teahouse. Today we are talking about how the Leaf Teahouse came about, and some of the different teas, and really what your back-story is and how you came about to being here in downtown Boise.
Q. So Geoff, thank you for being here. Can you tell us a little about yourself and what brought you to Idaho and Boise?
A. I came to Idaho for the first time about six years ago to go to school at the College of Idaho, and graduated in 2012. The summer after I graduated, I got a job here in Boise with the Philharmonic, which allowed me to live in Boise proper and have been working that job ever since. Then in August of 2013, my mother moved here from Portland, Oregon. She really liked it here every time she came to visit me at school. And I think Portland was getting a bit too big for her. So she came here to be closer to me, to be in a place that she enjoyed, but also she had in the back of her mind this dream of opening a tea house here. She thought Boise was a great location for it. That finally started to happen about eight months after she moved here.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about the Leaf Teahouse?
A. Sure, Leaf Teahouse is, as of right now, downtown Boise’s only teahouse. We won't be able to say that much longer, though. But yeah, we do nothing but tea for beverages here. And we sometimes have people who come in and ask for coffee and unfortunately we have to say, “Sorry, we don’t have coffee.” We also have a pretty healthy lunch menu—that’s one thing I really like about this place. I tell people this is downtown Boise’s healthiest lunch. I think it is too! All of the food here is vegan and animal-product free, which helps with the claim that this is the healthiest lunch menu. I eat here at least once a day.
Q. So what do you have on the menu?
A. We have a variety of really good soups, salads and sandwiches; things that are not typical, really. I get a lot of people telling me that this is a pretty unique menu, but it seems like typical food to me. I guess just grew up with it. We have spicy soups, and bean noodle soups, and different kinds of vegan spreads. We also have a variety of salads with great dressings. I have a hard time making recommendations because I really do like it all. Then we also have our baked goods that we make everyday. We have a masterful baker downstairs who helps make that possible.
Q. Can you tell us about the vision and mission of the Teahouse?
A. Yeah, sure, it is Susan’s vision that this place can be a place where people can experience tea from all over the world in one place. Tea is such a universal phenomenon, people on every continent drink tea and they do so in different ways. Look at Asia, Africa, Europe, the United States, and even parts of Latin America – people in all of those places drink different teas and do so in different ways . So I think that it is really our goal to bring all of those different ways and varieties of tea to one place, as well as provide people with those teas for them to make at home. In terms of food, well – we never intended for this to be a restaurant, but it is starting to become one. People have started to come here because of the food, saying they love it. We have people from the vegan community saying they love it, so if that is what it becomes we are about, then that's what we are about.
Q. So we have mentioned tea quite a bit but can you tell me about the selection that you have?
A. We currently have 75 different kinds of teas from around the world. We have a good sampling of black, white, green, herbal; we have some very popular Roobios – a red tea grown primarily in South Africa. The kinds we have are flavored with oils, flowers, herbs and spices to draw out the different favors. We also have some yerba mates and a really nice line of teas from Nepal that I always recommend to people look for something high-quality. Oh, and I forgot to mention Oolongs-- my favorite teas to recommend people. The Oolongs are what I would recommend if someone came in and asked for a really good tea.
Q. So how did you come up with the name Leaf Teahouse?
A. It almost started off as a joke. My mom and I were brainstorming over the course of several weeks what the name will be and I noticed that not only in Boise, but at large there has been this trend of brief, succinct names for restaurants, and businesses in general. One word names like Fork, Dish, Liquid, Solid—all names of restaurants in Boise. So I started to think about what exactly what were were going to be serving: tea. All tea comes from a camellia sinensis leaf, and I said jokingly, why don’t we call it “leaf,” since that’s what we will be serving. And I thought, “we should make sure that it is a lowercase L because it is cooler that way; it’s chic.” Four months later we had the word “leaf” on our window, so it worked out.
Q. That’s a great story, I love that. So what do you think the Leaf Teahouse offers to Boise, especially the downtown Boise area?
A. I think we offer the ability to experience some part of another culture here. We have an upstairs called the “Tea Loft” which offers a space for concerts, events, authors, poets, meetings, etc. to exhibit their work and music. We have artwork on the walls right now by a local artist. So in addition to tea aspect of things, I really like the artistry – whether visual or musical – that we've begun to display here.
Q. I think another thing that you add to the community, which is pretty phenomenal is that you have been able to develop relationships with other small business owners in a way that not only helps your operation work better, but help theirs as well. So working with Olivin and using their oil for salad dressing, or working with Guru donuts and Zeppole Bakery, and sourcing your produce locally from True Roots Organic, are all very beneficial things that help to reinforce what you offer to the downtown Boise area.
A. Speaking specifically about Olivin and Zeppole, they know who I am and who I work from. I am not just a random person who came off the street. They always ask me how things are going. It is a much closer relationship not only between me and that business, but also between our business and their business.
Q. Yeah and they can expect that every month, or week, or day you will be coming in and supporting their business. So what is your connection with tea?
A. Being my mother’s son, I have been around tea really my entire life. One of my earliest memories of her really is of her is that she would always have a tea bag her cup every morning. And of course we now do loose-leaf tea here, so obviously she took a couple of steps forward in terms of quality of tea. But also I have always had an affinity for China and Japan, which are two of the world’s biggest tea-consuming nations. It is hard to talk about Chinese history, which I also studied, without talking about tea. I was a history major in college, and it's frankly hard to talk about world history without talking about tea.
Tea is one of those things I grew up with and I never really questioned it. Only recently have I discovered the varieties of tea. Like how many varieties of tea there actually are. Working here has helped me realize how many varieties of tea there are and how many teas we don’t have here. I hope that I can go on more trips abroad to bring back some tea itself or knowledge about tea back to the teahouse. That is also a running joke between my mom and me – the teahouse should send me to Fujian province and Yunnan province in China in order for me to learn more about tea its source and bring back more than we know what to do with. It would all be a business expense, of course.
Q. So how long have you been in business?
A. We have been open since the day before Independence Day, so since July 3rd. So about four and a half months?
Q. So, have you had a tea business before at any other locations? Not necessarily in Idaho, but anywhere else?
A. No, this is the first. Primarily for the past 20 or 30 years, my mother has been either self-employed or employed in the book industry. Tea had always been a non-work related passion for her; same for me. She totally just switched gears here in Boise.
Q. So what is it about tea that makes you so passionate?
A. You know it sounds really basic – but it is just good. You start out slow, like you are familiar with one of two kinds, like this is a black tea or orange spice tea, you don’t really know that much about it. Then you start to work or live in an environment where there is a lot of tea available and you start to discover how many varieties there are. I find now that I will get to work in the morning and I’ll think, “this is totally a black tea type of day. I am going to brew myself up an assam, or a vithankanda black tea.” It is just good, and I know there are plenty of people out there who disagree and would say, “I am not a big tea-drinker myself.” And part of my job involves at least trying to interest those people in a gateway tea of some kind you know? But yeah, I have to say that the... profusion of different kinds of tea is my primary reason for being passionate about tea anymore. When we get in shipments of new teas, it's like Christmas in miniature for me, because I get to try them all. I know there are many different varieties of coffee too, but you just don’t have the same flavor range that you get in tea.
Q. So switching gears a little bit. What do you think makes your business different from others in the area?
A. Primarily speaking our all vegan menu is the biggest differentiator. Not to mention the fact that there are at least a dozen coffee shops in the downtown Boise area and we don’t offer coffee at all. I have had a lot of people say, “Wow that is two tough sells, a vegan food menu and an all-tea beverage menu.” Yet somehow we are still here.
Tim. And growing. You didn’t start out with 75 different kinds of tea.
Geoff. Yeah, not at all. We started out with a little over 50, and we have been slowly building that up. But what we offer in terms of food and drink is our biggest differentiator.
Tim. It seems like our tea culture in the United States is changing and growing. People are starting to understand not only the health benefits of tea, but also how to enjoy it.
Geoff. And that is part of what we do here as well. We don’t sell them tea and push them out the door, but we help them learn how to brew it as well. We have all of the paraphernalia, if you will, for people to brew tea. My mom offers classes here on how to properly prepare different types of tea. She has a tea basics class, a matcha class, that sort of thing, and she offers them at least once a month or by special request. There is definitely an educational aspect to Leaf Teahouse.
Q. Where is your business located?
A. We are at 212 North 9th Street, in downtown Boise by Freak Alley.
Q. Do you have a website and are you on social media?
A. Yeah, leafteahouse.com, and yes we are on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But by far, our Facebook is our most popular source for accessing us.
Q. Do you have any upcoming events?
A. Yeah, this coming Thursday we will be having some live music by a musican David Cavenaugh. He is a country folk bluegrass singer and guitarist. I believe early next month will be one of our tea classess, during which Susan will teach people. I think it is a Green Tea class coming up. On First Thursday in Dec. we are going to have Artisans for Hope upstairs in the Tea Loft.
Q. So you are part of first Thursday? And do you offer special deals?
A. Yeah, I know every First Thursday has always been the busiest day of the month for us. So we always and do some kind of special event or special discount, at the very least we do free tastings of our new teas. We had Idaho Kombucha up here doing tastings of their products. And we have music up here and it fills the loft. We are also part of the Downtown Boise Association.
Q. Is there anything else that you would like to offer?
A. That pretty much covers it. Thank you for having me.
Q. Thank you for your time and thank you for sharing your story with us!