Edit in Oct. 2015 to add that The Steepery, as well as the MN stores that are currently branded “The Tea Garden”, are all changing their names to “Sencha Tea Bar” at some point in 2015. At a visit to The Steepery a couple of weeks ago there were business cards at the check-out with the new name. I was assured that nothing else (e.g. their menu/tea offerings) will change, this is just a chance to unify the corporate name/logo across all stores, as well as re-decorate stores.
The Steepery is “the new tea place” on State St. and will probably get some traffic from the soon-to-close Dobra a couple of blocks away. Quite a different place though: this place has a modern and slightly Eastern feel, and serves iced and blended tea drinks with pearls/jelly as well as hot coffee/tea latte drinks and freshly brewed loose teas. See the menu at http://steepery.com/drink-menu for more info. Any drink can be extensively customized with one or more flavor additions (some 25 or so different flavors; even though a few are starred to indicate they can’t be added to iced drinks, they’ve always added them for me), tapioca pearls or jellies, blending of tea types, etc. Then they do that thing where they seal a layer of cellophane across the top of the cup for you, and you get to stab a honkin’ big straw into it!
In Madison they tend to have lychee, avocado, and jackfruit for their Whole Fruit Shakes (basically a smoothie); I’ve never tried one because I’m not hugely into smoothies, but I have learned to love lychee through their lychee jellies, so maybe I’ll try that one sometime. I don’t know whether the MN locations have other fruits.
My favorite drink at The Steepery: Chai Shake or Iced Chai with Vanilla and Coconut flavors and Lychee jellies. A close second (and a little earthier-tasting): Iced Black Tea Latte with Peach and Coconut flavors and tapioca pearls, or if I feel like more fruit, Passion Fruit jellies. The Thai Tea Latte and Jasmine Tea Latte are reliable too—worth a try if you’re not familiar with those tastes. Thai Tea is orange-ish colored and very sweet; Jasmine is a bit like green tea with a flowery overtone. I like them both but you may not.
If you’re a hot tea drinker, it’s worth perusing the looseleaf tea menu at http://steepery.com/wp-content/uploads/SteeperyTea-Garden-LL-menu.pdf in advance to see descriptions and help point you in the right direction. They don’t have as many teas as Dobra did in its heyday, but it’s close! I have never had hot looseleaf tea at the Steepery (I tend to have hot brewed tea at home, and fancy multi-ingredient tea or coffee drinks when I’m out and about) but I have seen students sitting in the store nursing a pot or tall cup of tea, and I’ve seen the staff take down multiple canisters to open so a customer can get a whiff. (For that matter, I am often tempted to take them down and smell them myself while I wait for my beverage, since they are on a rack that is open to the customer area as well as to the staff work area. But I’ve never been brave enough!)
Service is generally good. Staff is giggly youngish college students (as with many State St. businesses); you would think this would mean slow delivery of orders or frequent mistakes, but they hear and make even the most complex drinks without any confusion, hand over your drink in just a couple of minutes, and are polite and friendly. Once when I was there, I was given a large-size drink rather than a regular, and when I asked why, I was told that they were out of the cellophane film in the regular size, and so they were making all their drinks in large size for the regular price, so as not to give people un-filmed beverages!
BTW, this is a Belly business; get a card and use it if you plan on returning often. Perks include up-sizing to a large sized drink, a free drink, etc.
One more note: as with many State St. businesses, they reserve the right to curtail hours during Winter Break, Spring Break, and summertime. I don’t recall them changing things last summer, but during this recent Winter Break they closed early (9pm?). Call ahead if you are concerned and want to make sure they’ll be open when you plan on being there.
I’ve loved Dobra since it first opened, but sadly, it is closing this week. Never had a bad tea here. Four stars is because I never liked any of the chairs, and the alternative of taking off my shoes and crawling into one of the raised booths to sit on a cushion always made my back hurt. But Dobra was a gracious experiment and a reliable place to get the very best teas, meticulously prepared.
Put simply: I love Macha.
More detail: A friend of mine asked me to host her bachelorette party there, as she is not a drinker and doesn’t enjoy bars/bawdy games. Not only were the folks there wonderful to work with, they let us basically fill the house with our party attendees since the party was held when the teahouse would otherwise have been closed. AND the food was amazing: cookies with exotic spices, lavish cupcakes, little canapes that must have taken awhile to make, all presented on lovely platters and towers.
Not to mention the tea! When you host an event there, the package includes a certain number of pots of tea depending on how many people you have. The bride (who is a tea freak) loved being able to select the varieties of tea herself right before the party; there were few limits on what she could select, and this did not have to be done in advance. Talk about exercising your whims! They even let her refine her choices when the first selections were consumed or got cold: there was one she didn’t like, so she picked another to replace it.
The decor was lovely—candles, low benches and chairs, drapey window scarves, subtle lighting. They put the food/tea in one room, we had another for presents, and the largest one upstairs for party activities and hanging out. There is no cloakroom, but as this was November, they let us put coats/umbrellas in their small booth room since we were not going to be using it.
I came up with an activity that had teams, from which the bride would select one winning team. I couldn’t figure out what to bring for prizes until I realized—DUH: everyone is enjoying tea, why not help out the teahouse by buying small tea prizes, which would be picked up at the counter on the way out? The staff were great in helping out with this. My cost for this wasn’t too bad (I selected a dozen reasonably-priced teas that winning team members could pick from, 2 oz. each) and it encouraged people to take a look at the tea lists and purchase another tea while they were picking up their prize, maybe something they tried at the party! I understand the store made out fairly well that night. One non-tea-lover picked up her prize and gave it to another party attendee, who then ran squeeing downstairs to ask how long to steep it, what were some other choices in the same category, etc. and ended up spending quite a bit of money!
Best of all, I stopped by over a year later and the staff remembered me, even though Macha is out-of-my-way and and I hadn’t been there since the party! They asked how the bride & groom were doing, remembered that I liked white tea, and brought out some white tea choices for that morning. Thoroughly wonderful. Check out this terrific teahouse sometime. You won’t be sorry.