One of the best parts about living in Seattle is the opportunity to explore a variety of different foods and drinks due to the abundance of cultures found in the city. Recently, my quest to try new teas and coffees lead me to Tea Republik, which is located on the Ave (45th Street) in the heart of the U-District. Curious to find out the story behind the teahouse with the unique name, I chatted with the store’s owner, Anton Lim, to learn more.
According to Lim, ‘Republik means people in Bashasa [Lim’s native language], so Tea Republik means people of tea.’ Lim went on to explain that after coming to United States from South East Asia as a student in 1998, he was inspired to provide people who love the natural flavor of tea with something new — fusion tea. As Lim states, ‘Tea does not have to [always] be served traditionally because there is so much more potential for tea blending. In my opinion, each tea has its own natural flavor that can be enhanced and used [to] complement other flavors once you know how to blend them; it can make something unique and delicious.’ Thus, in January of 2012, Tea Republik was born.
Even the design of the store itself is distinctive. Stalks of bamboo line the walls, beautiful and brightly colored flower lanterns hang from the ceiling and there is a bamboo canopy over the cash register (causing it to resemble a Tiki hut). Lim explained that his goal was to create ‘an outdoor experience in an indoor space [so that customers will feel like they are in the outdoors] when sipping our teas.’
What is more impressive is the wall of glass jars filled with tea that line the hallway to the back of the store. Lim says that they have ‘more than 100 loose leaf teas [including] traditional teas, natural flavor teas, herbal teas and decaf teas such as fruit tea. We are not limited to green, black and oolong teas but also have some South African teas (Rooibos).’
Striking decorations aside, the true highlight of Tea Republik are their special teas. These are tea blends that have milk or creme added for volume, or are mixed with fresh fruit and juices. Lim says the most popular teas are the ‘Lavender Creme Earl Grey special tea, [which] has lavender herbal tea blended with Earl Grey black tea [and is sweetened] with soy or creme’ and the Tropical Rainforest, which is ‘a fruity iced lemon tea with lemon, key lime, passion fruit and apples slices.’
After hearing about their special teas, I had to try one. At the counter, I poured over their tea menu (which is actually more like a book) and ended up going with an iced Chocolate Chimp Chai (a chocolate and banana flavored chai). The drink had a strong chocolate flavor, followed by the spicy and creamy flavor of traditional Chai tea – a definite winner. While there, I also tried their ‘Healing Tea,’ which was served in a cute personal tea pot and came with a caddy for my spent tea bag. The server at the counter said this sweet tasting peppermint tea is great for upset stomachs, which was great news since peppermint tea has always been my go-to when I have a stomach ache.
If for some reason you can’t find a tea that appeals to you on the menu (which seems virtually impossible with the huge selection of traditional and blended teas they offer!) you are not entirely out of luck. The staff at Tea Republik strives to create new special teas every day and customers also have the ability to create their own tea blends. The teahouse also rewards loyal customers with knowledge of their secret menu (a la In and Out) that features an even larger selection of specialty teas. No wonder this shop has become so popular with students and locals alike.