The most surprising fact about Lisa McDonald’s new Ann St. shop Eat More Tea: “We don’t sell tea!” she says.
Well, not the liquid kind. McDonald sees Eat More Tea, which opened in late June, as a natural extension of her ten-year-old TeaHaus around the corner on Fourth Ave. Originally a small, upper-end tea shop, it expanded into the spot next door in 2010 and added a kitchen and dining room. Soon McDonald was offering full tea services and meals, including a number of dishes made with the same teas they were being served alongside. Tea soups, tea salad dressings, tea pastries, and tea-rubbed roasts were all on the menu. “I’ve been cooking with tea since forever … even when I was a little kid,” says McDonald. “I look at the tea wall [whose shelves hold more than 100 varieties] no differently than I would look at a spice rack.”
Eat More Tea takes that one step farther. It offers a selection of handmade gelatos, a changing roster of pastries (including McDonald’s popular French macarons), caramels, and custom cakes, all made using TeaHaus tea for flavor. “People who don’t like tea aren’t gonna really notice that there’s tea in there, but people who love tea will be happy that there is,” says McDonald. “It’s a really good way of keeping a lot of flavor without resorting to flavor compounds.”
McDonald says that her tea-infused cooking was popular, but the pastry side often got overlooked or crowded out in TeaHaus’s small kitchen. Her two specialized pastry chefs would have to clear the kitchen every day for the lunch rush. “I had started slowly looking for an off-site kitchen and storage/office space,” she says, when landlord Peter Bilakos told her that Bodies in Balance fitness studio was leaving the spot around the corner (it’s now on W. Stadium).
McDonald jumped at the chance: “It was like perfection, because our back doors are five paces away from each other.” She immediately saw retail potential in the space as well.
McDonald originally hoped to open in May 2016. She attributes the lost year to a continuous streak of bad luck: “some city issues, some building issues, some Department of Agriculture issues. Nothing that we could control.” After a while the delay became both a joke and a sore spot between McDonald and her customers. “They would come in and sheepishly ask ‘Have you heard anything yet?’… I have a necklace that was engraved for me that says ‘It is what it is,’ because that was what my answer would be. They would be like, ‘Oh my gosh, it must be frustrating,’ and I’m like. ‘It is what it is,'” she laughs. “There’s no point in getting mad. I was lucky that we had enough business to sustain the staff”–though a third pastry chef she’d hoped to hire eventually had to take work elsewhere.
With more room and an expanded palette of foods, they’re exploring new frontiers in tea-based cookery, including a mint chocolate chip gelato made with half-and-half steeped in green tea coated in peppermint oil, caramels infused with everything from chai to matcha, and a dozen tea-based spice blends, including one based on smoky Lapsang Souchong.
Eat More Tea isn’t its own company, just a DBA (alternative business name), but McDonald says there are benefits from the separate branding. For one, she’s decorated the new space more whimsically in an effort to appeal to the Hands-On Museum Crowd across the street. Bright teal walls, a pearl bead curtain, and light fixtures she hand-adorned to look like teacups give it a much more playful feeling than the dark and serious TeaHaus. She also hopes that rival tea shops, which might have been reluctant to carry her caramels and spice rubs under the TeaHaus name, will be more comfortable selling them under the Eat More Tea banner.
Eat More Tea, 211 E. Ann, 882-2787. Tues.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. Closed Mon. eatmoretea.com