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The Mad Hat Tea Company

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Holy coffee shops batgirl!  If I see another Starbucks or Tully’s, I’m promptly moving back to Ohio.  But people around the world are ditching their morning cup of joe for its herbal alternative.  Although I’m not a big fan of hot beverages, unless it’s chocolate, I admit that the health benefits of tea have me hooked.  Tea has been proven to prevent cancer and heart disease, and certain kinds can even help you lose weight.  Now you can ditch that wood chip diet.  Score!

After the Boston Tea Party, the drink became unpatriotic, but today it is the second most commonly consumed beverage, after water.  And although it’s rare to find a slice of England in Microsoft country, we at the Weekly Volcano have done just that.

Until recently, the few tea houses in Tacoma have lacked in the creativity department.  The Hawthorne Tea Room on North 30th in Old Town will be closed for more than a month, due to new ownership.  And the Healing Garden on Tacoma Avenue is literally never open.  How they stay in business is beyond me. 

The Mad Hat Tea Company, however, has one-upped them all.  Crumpets and crustless sandwiches?  Screw that! Celebrating their grand opening Monday, the new downtown tea house offers an innovative approach to serving tea.  Once a doughnut shop and personal fitness center, the Commerce locale has hardwood floors and lots of open space.  Owner Tobin Ropes decided to ditch the run-of-the-mill antique décor and go with an Asian-esque theme, complete with wooden coasters and white ceramic stirring spoons. 

The airy, modern spot is way cleaner and cooler than your last blind date.  And as I moseyed in, a certain Mr. Cash was singing throughout, a definite plus.  The only seating, though, is a pair of black leather sofas and chairs, and a four top table in a far corner, which may present a problem later on.

Tobin, a native of Holland, is a veteran in the wine business.  And while he has an experienced palate, he still considers himself a neophyte in tea.  The concept came to him while driving one day, about a year ago.  “I had an epiphany,” he says.  “It just came to me.” 

After attending a tea expo in Las Vegas, he decided to open a modern day tea house where the customer comes first.  At his new spot, tea can be customized to each person’s palate.  Instead of just watching someone make your drink, you can actually help.  There’s a special counter where customers can make their own tea.  Or if you’re not so hands-on, you can just watch.  Either way, Ropes is completely catering to the people of Tacoma, and will also fulfill requests for certain teas.  His wife, Maureen, a certified nutritionist, will even be on hand to help figure out what works best for each customer’s lifestyle.

An old library card holder stores tons of tea samples, and a tiger oak vintage filing cabinet houses the rest.  The Mad Hat Tea Company will have more than 300 different botanical teas from all over the world, including Australia, South Africa and Kenya.  Tobin is even planning a buying trip to India and China in a few months, where much of his inspiration comes from. 

He’s using white ceramic cups with no handles, just like the Chinese.  “The cup will tell you when it’s ready,” says Ropes.  “With no handles, you can feel how hot it is.”  He also installed a water filtration system, which produces water with the perfect mineral content for steeping tea. 

The Mad Hat will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and possibly later on weekends.  Every morning, six different teas will be available in easy-access containers for peeps on the go.  And if you don’t crave that daybreak pick-me-up, I learned that tea can actually be decaffeinated if it’s steeped for 30 seconds. 

Tobin also promises tons of iced tea during the sweltering summer months, but none of that Lipton nonsense.  Authenticity and purity are numero uno.  Extremely young at heart, the gracious owner will offer significant discounts to UW students or any young people.

Tea will cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3 a cup.  So you can spend little money and still get amazing quality.  For Tobin, tea bags are a definite no no, but loose tea will also be available by the pound, decorated with 19th century animal prints.  A small retail area in back will sell tea, carafes, tea pots, and other small items from around the globe. 

Just beyond that is a nonprofit meeting space/art gallery.  Large parties or companies can meet at the large table free of charge.  Tacomans can also book this room for tea tastings, which will be held a couple nights a week.  Tobin painted a partial golden brick wall in honor of Buddha, and the same color frames the doorway outside.  Chinese and other various affordable artworks will be available from $35 to $100. 

Although no food will be served at the Mad Hat Tea Company, Ropes plans to open the Mad Hat Café (vegetarian) in Proctor in about a year.  His goal is to make this the best tea experience in the United States.  Sounds like high hopes, but folks everywhere are becoming conscious of the benefits of tea. 

So, wise up Tacoma.  Rally your crew and head to the Mad Hat on Monday.  The pad is effortlessly stylish.  Plus, it’s better than pounding that fifth solo before you head to Jazzbones for Rockaroke.  After all, this is Tea-Town

[Mad Hat Tea Company, 1130 Commerce St., downtown Tacoma, 253.310.6167]

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