Tea is having a popularity surge in southwest Ohio

Tea no doubt has a presence in southwest Ohio, from traditional tea parlors and shops to cold bubble tea. While coffee shops are embedded in our culture, it can be argued by tea experts that their favorite beverage is having a big moment.

Jim Rubenstein, co-owner of MOON Co-op grocery near the Miami University campus in Oxford, has developed an affinity for tea. He picked up the then-British habit when he lived in England in his early twenties — and now starts his day with a couple of mugs of black tea with milk.

ExplorePoppets carries 17 loose leaf premium teas

Rubenstein says the tea preference in the Oxford area is for cold bubble, or boba, tea drinks rather than traditional hot tea. Boba tea originated from Taiwan, and today, shops including Drop In Tea (which also has a Cincinnati location) and Aqua Tea are becoming more popular, especially among college students. Offering milk tea and fruit tea in a variety of options, the tea is paired small spheres made of tapioca starch.

To Rubenstein, the classic tea shop experience could be what is drawing people to tea rather than the drink itself.

“I don’t know if we’ll see more tea shops per se,” said Rubenstein. “But folks are always looking for something different to do for events.”

Tea parlors such as Remember When Tea Room in Waynesville offer an immersive tea experience. Remember When has ultimate, light and petite tea menus where appetizers, sandwiches and desserts are paired with specialty teas. The teas on the upcoming March menus are Unhappy Birthday, Celebration and Strawberry Shortcake. Groups may make reservations for the tea parlor experience or attend their monthly themed events.

Tea rooms are nothing new in the Greater Cincinnati area. “Lost Tea Rooms of Downtown Cincinnati,” authored by Cynthia Kuhn Beischel, recalls a time when tea counters were found all over the city in the 1950s and 1960s. Tea-lover and owner of Kinship tea shop in Hamilton, Cassie Ruhlman, says tea is an important part of our history.

“Our region has a great respect for tea, and a lot of that comes from the German immigrants and their love of tea they brought with them,” said Ruhlman. “We have great bones, we just have to rediscover it.”

Ruhlman has seen firsthand the rise in popularity of tea in Butler County during her 10 years of working in the industry. Over the past year, she has been able to expand Kinship into a retail store. In her eyes, the uniqueness of tea shops is what is drawing people to them. “Tea shops are different than your typical coffee shop or cafe,” said Ruhlman. “People are coming in for relaxation.”

She has seen customers of all ages and backgrounds develop a love and knowledge of tea in recent years — noting that it’s not just for older people.”That’s the fun thing about tea. It doesn’t just have to be your grandmother having a cup of earl grey,” said Ruhlman.

The future of the tea industry is just now beginning with local farmers growing Ohio tea. While the leaves are imported, the ingredients can be grown locally, and this is something Ruhlman is hoping will start to happen more frequently.

“Tea doesn’t have to be imported from another part of the world, it can actually be something that is local,” said Ruhlman. “It can be Ohio tea, and I think that encourages people to get involved with it.”

Kinship combines locally grown products with tea leaves to create unique blends at their shop. At MOON Co-op you can see something similar, as they replicate high tea by using ingredients from local growers in addition to imported tea leaves. The future of Butler County tea might be growing in our own backyards.

In Dayton, Poppets Coffee & Tea is a local roastery and tea shop that recently opened in 2nd Street Market. Michael Thomas, who owns the business with his wife, Karen, said they have 17 loose leaf premium teas, 18 gourmet flavor coffees that are also available in decaf, 21 specialty blends and single origin coffees and 10 varieties of compostable k-cup pods.

The vision for their business started in March 2020 when Karen lost her job of 12 years as a project manager for a print house due to the coronavirus pandemic. At that time, they were planning on opening a beer garden and winery but due to COVID-19 shutdowns they decided to go the coffee and tea route.

Credit: Submitted Photo

Credit: Submitted Photo

“Doing research we found coffee and tea sales went up for home consumption,” Michael said.

“We wanted our business to be a fun and approachable avenue to coffee and tea,” Karen said. “It seems like in this industry there could be a lot of pretentiousness that comes along with it. We wanted to get rid of that and make it a fun, comfortable place you can get your coffees and teas, ask questions and learn.”

Staff Writer Natalie Jones contributed to this report.

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