CEDAR FALLS — After a busy morning whittling down the Christmas gift list in festively decorated stores along the Parkade, it’s nice to find somewhere to sit and breathe a sigh of relief.
And at what better place than the Tea Cellar in the lower level of Basket of Daisies? It’s the perfect place to put down the shopping bags and relax over a good, strong cuppa.
There isn’t a quilted teapot cozy or chintz-covered club chair in sight, but this modern tea shop at 208 Main St., is still charming and warm. The air is filled with mingled fragrances of teas from around the world and the aroma of baked goods— scones, muffins, cinnamon rolls, cookies and pastries— showcased beneath crystal domes.
For the diehard shopper, there are loose teas, teapots, tea cups and other tea-making essentials displayed for sale.
“We’re not a tearoom in the traditional sense. I like to think of it as an underground tea experience, a luxurious experience where the focus is on the tea,” says owner Justeen Hill. “My heritage is German and even as a young child I took part in tea time, always black tea with cream and sugar.”
Doors opened in October, and tables have been filled ever since with friends who gather to chat and sip at their leisure, college students seeking respite from course loads and final exams, and anyone else who appreciates the ritual of morning or afternoon tea.
The Tea Cellar offers, as English author P.G. Wodehouse once wrote, “the general atmosphere of leisured coziness.”
Visitors stop at the main counter and select their tea from a growing list of nearly 40 loose teas. It could be a full-bodied oolong, familiar-on-the-palate black tea, a delicate white or good-for-you-green tea. For the adventurous soul, there’s earthy Pu-erh, comforting spicy chai latte or one of the fruit or herbal offerings.
A chubby teapot filled with heated water, a pretty tea cup, infuser, teaspoon, napkin, timer to judge the perfect steep, and sometimes a treat-filled plate, are arranged on a wooden tray for the customer to carry to a table. Cream and unprocessed raw sugar also are easily at hand.
“I want my customers to feel comfortable, to sit down and enjoy the experience, to put down their cell phones and tablets (although there is free Wi-Fi) and not rush through with a lot of distractions,” says Hill.
She admits it was difficult giving up a successful sales and marketing career with the Grassley group to pursue her dream, but she hasn’t looked back. “I figured I was five or 10 years from retirement, and I didn’t want to live a life of regret.”
Hill’s passion for tea was inspired by her oldest daughter, Olivia, 23. While attending Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, Olivia would bring home new teas for tasting, and on trips to Chicago, mom and younger daughters Alexis and Lizzy would join Olivia in visiting the Windy City’s tea rooms and shops.
For the longest time, she let the vision of opening a shop steep in her mind while quietly researching and building a business plan. “I was deciding in my heart what I wanted to pursue before I presented it to my husband. I’m a dreamer, and I needed to convince myself first.”
When she finally sprang the idea, husband Dave was completely on board. While looking for a location, Basket of Daisies’ owner Carlene Danielsen asked if Hill would consider opening the Tea Cellar in her store’s lower level.
Hill’s family pitched in to transform Basket of Daisies’ former flower-arranging room into an attractive tea shop, complete with exposed stone wall and cobalt blue accents. A daughter or two often can be found working behind the counter alongside their mom.
“This has been a dream come true. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s exactly how I envisioned it. So far, it’s been wonderful,” Hill adds.