Featuring scores of exotic teas from all over the world, the new Dobra Tea house in downtown Ashland seeks to provide a haven from the busy stress of life, a place where you can sip teas that are served in the utensils and manner of their place of origin.
The tea house, which opened Aug. 2, is on Granite Street at North Main, sharing the building and porch with Big Boy Hero. It features four types of seating — rattan tables, a bar, a no-shoes, pillowed platform, and a u-shaped bench area that invites people to chat.
“You get a bunch of people drinking these teas,” says owner Travis Peterson, “and it impacts their emotions, mind and body and they want to open up and talk. Then you have the decor here, which goes back into antiquity a long time.”
It has wifi and recognizes tea-lovers need to sit for long periods “in a community space, kind of like a public square,” imbibing several cups and re-infusing the brew with more hot water, allowing it to change taste and effect as time goes by.
“Balance is sought here. It’s an easy, zen space,” says Peterson. “Back there, behind the tea station, it’s hard work and sometimes hard to keep it together, what with so many teas and traditions. Everything in the outer world is stressful, but just for a moment, here, you can re-set the busy-ness of your world before going back to it. We all have our meditations and this is one.”
The shop is one of many Dobra tea houses in Europe and the U.S. They were founded and are supplied by Dobra Tea, which began in Czechoslovakia just before the fall of communism. The shops are independent but are held to standards of design and quality by the Society of Tea Devoteas, founder of Dobra.
Society leaders and shop owners may travel to tea-growing countries, getting to know growers and learning the customs of source countries, he says. They oversee the remodeling, even the construction of counters and tea bins, he says, so that all Dobra shops have the same feel and service. There are seven in the U.S.
The Society’s members in the Czech Republic got their passion for tea during the communist decades, as tea imports were allowed only for high officials — common folks had to smuggled it in from East Germany in socks, he notes.
“It’s absolutely phenomenal,” says Shaja Jaeger, visiting Ashland from Australia. “It’s the best quality tea, an exquisite experience, a very different energy — very enlivening and rich. I appreciate it being served in different ways. It enhances and complements the flavor.”
Sitting with a group of moms with babies, customer Lisa Hamilton of Ashland says, “It’s fabulous, very comfortable, with so many options for teas. It’s unique. They have decaf chai, which you can’t get anywhere. It’s great, delicious.”
While coffee houses seem to proliferate, Peterson notes the tea offerings, even in Starbucks, are expanding and drawing in new fans.
“Tea affects the concentration in different ways than coffee,” he notes. “You see people relax and open up and enjoy themselves. The space here is dedicated to that.”
Peterson’s wife Nicole, a partner and the house baker, says the shop is a natural fit for Ashland. One of the most popular herbal brews is Shakespeare Tea, whose ingredients — lavender, sweet savory, marjoram, mint and marigold — are prescribed in “A Winter’s Tale.”
They also serve two kinds of chai. Traditional “street chai” is found in India, with black tea, sugar, milk and cardamom. Chai marsala is black tea infused with marsala spice, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, clove and orange peel.
Peterson likes to quote a Japanese poem that says the first cup wets the lips, the second cup makes you perspire, the third and fourth cups clear the cobwebs from the mind, and so on till you get to the seventh cup, which brings actual enlightenment.
The shop will be hosting some live music, in keeping with the cultural traditions of tea-sourcing nations. This Sunday, it will try hosting a long-running folk music and dance community, which is usually at Black Sheep.