Kristy was working the counter when I popped in to take photos at urban teahouse. I admitted to not knowing much about loose leaf tea, and she became eager to walk me through the process. As we were chatting, she would excuse herself to help a customer, greeting most of them by name. Kristy kept apologizing for the interruptions; I appreciated this glimpse into the community in existence at urban teahouse.
As Kristy was working to put together a brew, I started chatting with one of her longtime patrons. One question led to another and I wound up enthralled by this woman’s story of her father-in-law’s adventures road-tripping through Europe and meeting his future wife by happenstance in French classes. It was a love story the likes of which we mistakenly believe only happens in novels or on the big screen. Sitting still and listening to a stranger gave me a new appreciation for the time it takes for tea to brew. As my newfound friend took her tea and walked out the door, Kristy said, “That is why I do this—tea gives people the opportunity to connect.”
Name: Kristy Jennings
Name of your establishment: urban teahouse
Where can we come say hi? 519 NW 23rd St, Suite 107, OKC 73103
When did you start urban teahouse?
This fall, my business will be eight years old.
Tell us a little about your journey to starting the teahouse:
I was in healthcare and mental health for seventeen years, with a degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling. I did mental health assessments in the emergency room, evaluating and admitting people to nursing homes and memory care units. I spent two years in serious spiritual introspection and dug into a practical book to figure out what I would enjoy doing whether I got paid or not. I have since modified that to also be paid for being an asset in our community.
Tea is such a communal beverage, and my mission was and is to create a sense of community. Tea brings people together in this manner. It is ancient and has a rich heritage. The process of making tea, the methodical ritual, is also just lovely and grounding to us as humans. I enjoy living a pretty healthy lifestyle and tea aligns with that. I knew I needed to create a business that was based on a product I was proud to represent. I often say my team and I are like bartenders, hearing people's stories that they may not share elsewhere, only we are pushing caffeine instead of alcohol.
How many flavors of tea do you have?
How do you choose your tea flavors?
During my research phase, I tasted the same type of teas side by side for a year and a half, considering not only what constituted a tea that’s great-tasting and respectful to tea’s heritage, but also what would work for a comprehensive tea menu here in the middle of the country. We add new teas pretty slowly and thoughtfully.
For someone just starting out drinking tea, what would you suggest we try?
Gojiberry Pomegranate is pretty easy to love, as is our Vanilla Black tea. Or one of our chai teas—we have five different chai blends and most people have had a chai. Ours are made authentically in small batches by an Indian family.
What is your most popular tea?
Well, it is easier to talk about our top ten or our top twenty, but of our one hundred teas, some of the most popular are Green Coconut, Sweet Almond, Moroccan Mint, Lavender Earl Grey, Peach Blossom, Thai Mint Fusion, and Passionfruit Strawberry.
If we want to be adventurous, what should we try?
Try a traditional green tea from Japan or a traditional oolong from Taiwan! Or a smoked tea Lapsang Souchong. We love to walk people through this journey!
Where do you source your tea?
We have close relationships with the six or seven suppliers we work with, who sell just to the trade. Tea comes from Japan, China, India, South Africa (rooibos), Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and Brazil (yerba maté).
Why loose leaf?
Loose leaf is a far higher quality tea than bagged. It is much closer to the plant from which it comes, so you get a more true taste and appreciation for its origin.
I noticed your shop is very local minded. Will you share with us what ways you try to encourage the local Oklahoma City community?
We feature different local artists every six weeks. We are also really big fans of local collaborations, like creating a cocktail with a local bar that uses our teas. We started creating a special tea blend, called our Philanthro-tea, and we donate a significant portion of each drink we sell of that to a charity for an entire year.
What is your favorite part about running urban teahouse?
The in-depth relationships we have with our regulars are our lifeblood. The second most favorite part for me personally is the relationships I have with fellow small business owners. Both sets of those relationships are what makes any risks to the business so well worth it.
What can we look forward to seeing from urban teahouse in the future?
We are adding e-commerce to our website so you can shop online anytime and have your tea shipped anywhere!