The road to opening a tea shop in Ashcroft started with coffee, says Nadine Davenport.
“I always wanted a coffee shop,” she explains. “Then I fell in love with tea as I developed a business plan. It fit in with wellness, because much as I love coffee, tea is much healthier.” That led to UniTea’s slogan: “Creating a healthy community a cup at a time.”
The shop opened on Railway Avenue on May 24, 2014 and Davenport says that, two years on, she’s doing pretty much what she thought she’d be doing when she laid out her business plan. She adds that being knowledgeable about tea is still an ongoing daily process. “Sometimes my customers will educate me.”
She attended a tea festival in Vancouver before opening the shop, and was amazed at how many different types of tea there were. “I was a hippie chick growing up, so there was always herbal tea in the cupboard.
“But what we buy in a grocery store is often just dust, and full of pesticides. I didn’t know about the difference in quality between that and a lot of the organic teas we can find now.”
Almost all of the teas she offers are totally organic and fair trade, and sourced from places such as The Tea Farm in Duncan, B.C. “They blend from teas sourced worldwide, and know the stories behind all the teas.”
She also gets tea from Brendan Waye, one of the top tea sommeliers in Canada. “He came up and consulted with me, and worked with staff.”
The idea of the tea bar, one of UniTea’s most prominent features, was Waye’s, and he came up with the steeping and display unit that Davenport individually prepares and brews each cup of tea at.
“It shows people how the tea is made, and rather than have my back turned to people they can watch me make it. It’s more entertaining for people.”
She planned a food component from the start, although without a kitchen she depends on foods that can be prepared with a grill, as well as homemade soups, and an assortment of sandwiches and baked goods. “I have to be as crafty as possible,” she laughs. “And I’m really happy with what the menu is.”
She will soon be applying for a liquor licence, which has always been part of the plan. “I’ve done some special event licences, especially for my Tipsy Tea events. But this will be a new revenue stream; and I need to stay competitive with other factors that are planned or have been announced.”
She hopes to start off with dinners on Thursday and Saturday evenings, so that she does not compete with the Legion’s Friday dinner.
“I’m really excited about the prospect. People say they want somewhere intimate they can take their aunt, their grandmother, or guests. It extends what I can do here.”
UniTea is also a venue where Davenport can share her love of music, and she plans to start organizing concerts again in October, bringing in a wide range of artists and styles for intimate concerts. “I always had the idea of marrying my love of tea with music.” She also wants to resume the games and video nights she has held in the past.
In the meantime, however, she is keeping busy with both the shop and her portable tea bar, which has become a fixture at summer events throughout the region. Her next stop with the bar will be at Desert Daze in Spences Bridge on August 12–13.
Davenport admits that she sometimes gets frustrated when, despite her efforts over the last two years, she runs across local residents who don’t know UniTea is there. “I’m trying to create an awareness campaign. And I have my community of people who come here, as well as a lot of tourists.
“There seems to be a lot of interest, and I have a regular clientele that seems to love coming here. I called it ‘UniTea’ for a reason, because I want to be inclusive. Most people seem to get what I’m doing.”