For the winter edition of Edible Idaho I discovered a tea shop I’ve passed a hundred times for the first time. Photos by Guy Hand.
Some might think that tea comes in one variety – black. A bag extracted from a crispy white envelope and suspended in boiling water by a cotton string with a paper tag attached.
One step into Snake River Tea will blow that theory. Their tea listing reads more like a wine menu with descriptions like “…grassy flavor with an earthy yet lemony aroma” and “…hint of cocoa, sweet chocolate and coffee beans.”
Work your way to the back of the shop and survey the brushed metal tins magnetically adhered to the wall, separated in categories like black and green; white and mate. The glass windows and flavor tags on each give a hint to the contents inside. Remove a tin, twist open the lid and fill your nose, and your head, with the rich aromas.
With 120 tea options, they’ve undoubtedly seen more than one person’s eyes glaze over but don’t worry. The staff is well trained to spot the signs and help customers navigate the options.
Mike and Sue Neal opened Snake River Tea in December of 2014. Despite moving back to Boise from a city known for its coffee, Sue had her sights set on tea. “I think people are trying to live a healthier lifestyle and tea fits right in there”, she says. Neal’s daughter, Ally Ryan, got on board and together they started attending trade shows and classes focused on teas. Ryan, the general manager, is also the mixologist of the shop, creating popular blends like the herbal Spa Day, Roasted Honey Maté and their House Blend Chai.
The teas are all bulk and can be purchased in any quantity to make at home. Some of the most popular flavors are bagged in two- and four-ounce packages ready to grab and go. Even with all these choices the number one seller is still English Breakfast, but Ryan is quick to add, “People in Boise love their coconut – Coconut Chai, Coconut Oolong, Coconut Maté”.
Teas are swapped out seasonally. Look for Holiday Gingerbread, Winter White Chocolate Mint, Peppermint Frost and Christmas Brew throughout the colder months.
Any of the teas can be made into a latte using a converted espresso machine but it’s their Steampunk tea brewing system that’s really noteworthy. Four tall glass crucibles line the counter, controlled by an iPad that precisely controls the water temperature and the brewing time for each of the teas. Besides being mesmerizing, waiting for the tea to brew gives customers time to enjoy the three rotating samples served each day. “Tea takes time.” Sue says, “We want people to be able to slow down and take a couple minutes just for themselves.”
There’s books and games amidst a comfortable collection of tables and chairs; couches and coffee tables. Breakfast and lunch panini and locally-made pastries are served. Cheery pops of bright yellow and lime green paint are soaked in natural light. All these things, along with the utmost attention to brewing a cup of tea, supports the phrase that greet customers – “Drink tea, enjoy life.”