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TEA TIME CHATTER | Tea Bar by Keqi

We sat down with Keqi, the owner of Tea Bar, (in Chicago on Milwaukee Ave, just west of the 606 trail) during the grand opening celebration. We were invited to a private tasting, where we got to ask questions and get the story behind the bar and brand. I learned so many new things about tea. The tea addict in me realized, I hardly knew anything about something I thought I knew so well! 

Can you give us a brief history of tea? 

K. Tea was originally discovered and consumed for medicinal purposes in China around 2000 years ago. Over the years, it eventually evolved into a day to day beverage. When Europeans entered China, they brought it back to Europe and from there it spread to the rest of the world.  New York was once a leader in tea consumption, until the Boston Tea Party protest stopped Americans from drinking it and to this day, that level of consumption has never returned to American soil. We are hoping to change that. 

Why was bringing this tradition and history to Chicago so important to you? 

K. Tea is an ancient beverage with a rich history that was an important part of my upbringing. After graduating from the University of Texas, I accepted a job at an accounting firm here in Chicago. Soon I realized there was not any premium, authentic tea available in the city, so I had to make it happen. I left the world of accounting to open Tea Bar and introduce the world of authentic tea to the people of Chicago. 

Can you explain the processing of tea and the difference between white tea, oolong, green, matcha, and black tea? 

K. All tea comes from the same plant, camellia sinesis. There are six categories of tea: green, white, yellow, oolong, black and dark. The difference between the categories is mainly determined by two factors: 1. The part of the plant that is harvested (whether it is the stem, leaves, buds or a combination) and 2. The level of oxidation which is controlled using a variety of techniques such as rolling the leaves. Matcha is a type of green tea grown in the shade. Because it is ground into a fine powder, the health benefits are more concentrated than other teas. 

What is your favorite tea and what do you love about it? 

K. I love all of my teas so much that it is impossible to choose. But if I must, I would have to say Dragonwell! It is farmed in the town I come from and during harvest season, the streets are full of the rich aroma of the elegant green tea.

How did you go about selecting the premium tea you have served at Tea Bar? 

K. Growing up in the town of Hangzhou, famous for Dragonwell, I had relationships with many of the tea farmers. When I decided to bring tea to Chicago, I expanded on those relationships to meet other farmers. I now go directly to their farms to choose the highest quality tea I can and bring it back to Bucktown.

Can  you experience private tastings at Tea Bar? 

K. Yes, of course! Tastings are available by reservation only, and are $15 a person, featuring 3 teas that are custom selected based on guest preferences.

Are there medicinal properties and benefits to drinking tea? If so, can you give us some examples.  

K. Yes, definitely. Tea if full of antioxidants and amino acids. Studies have shown that it improves digestion, speeds metabolism and strengthens the immune system. Legends even speak of miraculous cures associated with tea, such as an oolong we have available in the store, called Big Red Robe. It is said the mother of an emperor was cured of her illness by a certain tea. That emperor sent great red robes to cover and protect the six bushes that the tea came from, naming the tea, Big Red Robe after the protective garments. 

What do you hope Chicago walks away with after visiting Tea Bar? 

K. A unique experience that opens their eyes to the world of tea. And of course one of our traditional tea sets to enjoy tea at home!

We left Tea bar with warm bellies, happy hearts, new knowledge, and a new favorite spot to hang out and drink delicious tea. I would definitely encourage you to book a private tasting with some close friends and learn about a rich history of culture and tradition. 


FoodSararose KrengerComment