New Haven joined the tea-lover’s craze yesterday with the opening of Oolongs Tea Bar in Sherman’s Alley on Chapel Street.
The only tea house in the area, Oolongs offers over 70 varieties of loose leaf tea as well as prepared lunches and select baked goods, which incorporate tea into their recipes. The 14-seat, Asian-themed cafe aims to exude an air of tranquility with soft colors, Japanese lanterns and two stone water fountains.
Koffee Too? owner Tracy Jackson and outside partner Tammy Hackett co-manage and own the tea bar. Originally scheduled to open Sept. 1, Oolongs had its “soft-sale” opening yesterday and will hold a grand opening later this month. Hackett said it took longer than expected to figure out the details regarding tea recipes and vendors, but the final result was worth the wait.
“Tea bars, tea salons and tea cafes are hitting cities nationwide,” Hackett said. “We are trying to perfect the experience so that customers here can literally enjoy a perfect cup of tea.”
Mark Williams, who worked behind the counter throughout Oolongs’ opening day, said it was a positive first-day turnout with a big lunch crowd, an afternoon lull, and then a constant stream of customers throughout the evening.
“I think people see this as a great place to sit and talk with their friends while enjoying a delicious drink,” Williams said. “It’s a cool atmosphere.”
The idea behind the service at Oolongs is that patrons choose their own tea from the variety on display. Customers can smell all of the teas, and even sample a select few on a daily basis. The tea is then scooped into natural hemp tea bags and brewed on the spot. Bar seating offers customers a front-row view of the process.
Hackett said what distinguishes Oolongs from the myriad coffee shops in New Haven is that, most obviously, they will not be serving any coffee. Beyond this, the Chapel Street shop has a “t-spresso” machine that makes tea lattes as well tea sodas, two original Oolongs creations. Hackett said she thinks Oolongs’ variety of tastes and friendly atmosphere will appeal to the diverse community of New Haven.
“I think that Yale kids, workers at local businesses, the art community, and the Asian community will all be attracted to Oolongs,” Hackett said. “All ages drink tea now, it’s not just the old ladies in white gloves.”
Located away from street traffic in the alley behind Union League Cafe, Hackett said she expects the bulk of her business from passersby taking drinks to go. Director of University Properties David Newton said he thinks Sherman’s Alley is an ideal location for the shop. After much thought about what kind of shop would be the best addition to the retail in the area, he said he thought Jackson and Hackett came up with a great concept.
“Many people walking through Sherman’s Alley will stop in Oolongs on their way,” Newton said. “It’s a natural attraction that will probably keep people coming back.”
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