I can’t deny it. I am a coffee-aholic through and through. In fact, I’m still amazed at the size of the headache that took the liberty of settling itself in my head and hung out for a damn day and a half last week after I missed out on coffee one morning. Yikes is right. So when I travel, I naturally like to seek out and/or stumble upon the local spots for home-brewed joe. But just as intriguing (and still caffeinated!) is when I discover an independent tea shop in a new city. I used to love the now defunct Aion tea on Division Street in Wicker Park, with its dark wood shelves, great tea selection and tiny café tables, and Gong Fu Tea in Des Moines (of all places) reminded me a bit of it. I was in Iowa for a Soy council trip for work, and was told by some of the locals in my group to check out the small tea shop in an area called East Village. A free afternoon had everyone clamoring to take a break from the tofu to check the place out.
Once inside, we marveled at the design, which was pristine, yet warm and welcoming with pistachio green walls, dark wood shelves and a hidden back area with low tables conducive to tea-sipping. But the centerpiece of the place is a stunning floor-to-ceiling wall of silver urns brimming with loose-leaf white, yellow, black, green, oolong, puerh and more from China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Southern India, and other places the owners regularly frequent on tea-buying trips. Sold in 2, 4 and 8 Oz sizes, the selection of almost 150 teas was overwhelming, but the patient and knowledgeable staff put up with our endless questions and sample requests (which they happily provide). I wondered about the $18-an-ounce yame gyokuro Japanese green, whose buds are sheltered from the sun by straw shades, and opted instead for the Ancient Happiness sencha green, the Absolute almond black made with the almond nut oil and dried almonds, and the after-dinner friendly Chocolate Mint; China black with dark chocolate flavoring and fresh peppermint. I got more bags for friends, and have been drinking the stuff all week (plus they ship), so I may just kick (or at least cut down on) my coffee habit yet. 414 E. Sixth Street, Des Moines, 515.288.3388