Aug. 21, 2019
Except for a standard glass of water, most popular drinks—think tea, coffee, beer, wine and spirits—are all a bit bitter. Bitterness is what gives these beverages both an interesting and delicious flavor that keeps us sipping until the last drop.
Husband and wife team Qin Liu and Rong Pan opened the third location of their Chinese tea shop in Cherry Creek North in May.
Rong Pan and Qin Liu’s shared belief in striking that balance in flavor—and in life, as they recognize the restorative health benefits of a good cup of tea—led to the creation of Ku Cha House of Tea, originally founded in Boulder in 2005 and now with its third location on 3rd Avenue in Cherry Creek North.
In Chinese, "Ku" means bitter, and "Cha" means tea. Camellia Sinensis, Pan explains, is a traditional Chinese tea plant that produces leaves that always taste a little bitter, and this bitterness evolves into a pleasant sweetness as you sip.
With more than 170 loose leaf teas from around the world in the shop, the expertly trained Ku Cha House of Tea team is ready to guide any tea lover or novice to find their own perfect blend at the new Cherry Creek North location that opened in May.
“It’s been really fun to be here and we are getting to know the new environment,” Rong says. “A few people who have come by have visited our Boulder or Fort Collins stores, and they are very happy now that we have a store that’s closer to them.”
Pan and her husband are both from China and moved to Colorado over a decade ago to earn their master’s degrees in corporate finance from University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.
“The original business idea was from my business plan preparation class,” Pan says. “CU Boulder is pretty strong in entrepreneurship, and everybody in the class had to submit a one-page business idea and my idea was to open a tea house.”
Teas are all organized by type and in individual jars that allow for smelling and sampling before you buy.
But why tea? “In the class, you need to submit something to get credit!” she jokes. “But to us, tea is very natural. I grew up with tea. My home, Jiangsu Province, is one of the major tea growing provinces in China and tea was part of our everyday life.”
In Pan’s class, all the ideas went to a vote, and the top three went on to the business plan creation stage. Even though Pan’s didn’t get picked, the seed was planted. She and her husband decided to open their first tea shop in a 700-square-foot space on 9th Street and Walnut in Boulder. Since then, Ku Cha House of Tea has maintained a focus on single-origin Chinese teas, along with a variety of culturally significant teaware and tea services.
Customers can enjoy a fresh brewed tea sample as they browse all types of teas divided into different sections for green, white, black, oolong and caffeine-free varietals. The teas are stored in jars, welcoming shoppers to smell and examine the tea leaves before they buy. Each jar is labelled with both price per pound and per ounce (per pound is usually 10 percent cheaper), and a short description that includes information about the tea’s health benefits—you’ll find teas that promote everything from lowering cholesterol and improving digestion to reducing fatigue and weight loss.
Every Ku Cha employee goes through at least five two-hour tea training sessions before they even begin their first shift, where they learn how to use all six senses to experience the tea and how to differentiate between all the different flavors.
“Specialty loose leaf teas need an education. You need to let the customer know there’s something special about those teas, compared to the teas you can buy from the grocery store or online. It’s a whole experience.”
Ku Cha's employees are happy to guide everyone from a tea novice to expert through the process of finding the perfect blend.
And just like wine, knowing the origin of a tea is important. Pan works directly with farmers and suppliers to get the best teas, like the most expensive one she carries—a $30-per-ounce rock oolong which is sourced from the central part Wuyi Mountains of northern Fujian, China.
“That tea grows from the rock-withered soil. As a high mountain tea, it grows in a very cloudy area, where the climate is perfect for the rock oolongs. Because of that special area, you get special character from the tea.”
However, Ku Cha also carries many varietals in the $3-4 range, making it relatively affordable to find what you like, or even make your own at $4.45 per ounce at the shop’s blend-your-own tea station.
“Anybody can create their own unique blend,” she says. “You start by picking your base herb – we usually recommend measuring equal part by weight and refining it as you go.”
For $15 per year, members receive 10 percent off everything, including custom blend teas. Members are also invited to a quarterly members-only party, where they get to be the first to taste new teas and enjoy special entertainment like live music or a matcha ceremony performed by a Japanese tea master.
If you’re new to trying teas, Pan recommends starting with a Ku Cha custom blend. The two most popular blends are Boulder Boost, a spicy combination of rooibos, Tulsi, spices, and a boost of energy from black tea and guayusa; or FoCo Cocoa, a campfire-friendly blend that warms you up with chocolate, vanilla, and cinnamon.
And it’s probably a good idea to buy enough to share.
“Tea brings people together. It makes you feel relaxed and happy. In fact, just the other day we had two customers here and, well… I think they just hit it off and I’m pretty sure they set up a date. We were like, whoa—the tea chemistry!”
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