As coffee “culture” becomes an integral part of our society, and high-end independent coffee shops open all over the US, people have become more knowledgeable and curious about the beverages they consume, from how they’re brewed to where the ingredients originate from. American Tea Room seeks to bring that culture to tea shops, and create a unique tea tradition. With American Tea Room’s original Beverly Hills location undergoing renovations, and an airy new space recently opened in downtown Los Angeles’ Arts district and a new location that opened in December at Fashion Island in Orange County, this drink with a long and rich history is making a modern comeback.
David Barenholtz, owner of American Tea Room, first found inspiration for his company when he was visiting tea stores in Paris and London, and realized the tradition of tea drinking was something that was missing in the United States. “There is tea culture in so many other countries, and it’s something that’s isn’t present here,” Barenholtz explains. “I wanted to open up a tea shop and bring in high quality teas.”
Barenholtz, a former art gallery owner, had plenty of retail experience, but not much in the way of tea experience. He spent the next two years traveling to India, Japan, Europe and China, learning about different kinds of tea and its history. As a super-taster, Barenholtz has a highly refined sensory palette, which comes in handy when tasting and smelling tea. In 2003, he opened his first tea room in Beverly Hills, which was originally licensed with a European company, although Barenholtz was sourcing his own tea. After the 2008 recession, Barenholtz decided to try a different approach: “I wanted something more authentic, that was more reflective of the experience of my world, which was immersed in American food and wine culture.”
American Tea Room was rebranded in 2008, with over 200 type of teas, including custom blends imported from Asia and Europe. And the tea room is more than a retail space; they offer 30 different tea drinks inspired from Barenholtz’s travels, including unique blends like horchata tea or butter tea. In addition to beverages, the tea rooms also offer delicious tea-influenced bites from Valerie confections and tea-infused cocktails. On the retail side of things, the stores feature large touch screens that provide information about each tea blend and how to prepare it.
With 40 stores planned to open in the next five years, including cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, Barenholtz is betting on tea rooms becoming the next big thing. “There’s nothing else out there like it. I wanted to recreate the feeling of drinking tea in my living room. The spaces are designed so you can talk to your fellow customers, and strike up conversations.”