For Himalayan Chai, tea is in 24 generations of the family

Warm and vibrant colors, coupled with the smell of flowers and tea, fill Himalayan Chai, a cozy new teashop at the tip of the Wedge neighborhood. The shop opened its doors June 30 at 713 W. Franklin Ave., and began serving a wide range of tea and pastries. But what customers might not realize when they visit the shop is the hundreds of years of family history behind the business.

Owner Saujanya Shrestha, 27, said he represents the 24th generation in the tea business for his Nepalese family. His father, the store's tea exporter, has been growing tea in a co-op in Phidim, Nepal for over 40 years, sending the tea to the United States, Australia and all over Europe.

"This is our family business for a long time," he said.

Shrestha moved from Nepal to Dallas in 1993 to attend college, but found on a visit that he liked Minneapolis better and moved here a year and a half ago.

The store's only employee is Shrestha's brother, Swadesh Shrestha, whose wife, Rajee Aryal, designed the shop's interior and painted several pictures that hang throughout.

The owner said the teahouse's ambiance is unique, featuring background music from artists all over the globe while serving 20 kinds of tea. Shrestha said all of the tea served and sold is from Nepal.

"We want to give work back to Nepal," he said.

Shrestha said it is also important to grow and serve his business's tea naturally. "Everything is done by hand," he said. "It's picked by hand and even the wooden chest is hand-printed."

How their tea is grown

Saujanya Shrestha said how tea is grown greatly affects the tea's quality. He said his tea is superior to mass-manufactured tea because it is grown in Nepal at an elevation of 6,700 feet or higher. Shrestha said tea grown at a higher elevation will not get bitter when brewed, like many store-bought brands. "In a higher altitude it takes many years to grow, but it will give you very fruitful tea leaves," he said.

Swadesh Shrestha said the misty, mountainous conditions are ideal for growing tea, and the slope of the terrain is also important. "Tea plants need a place where water doesn't stay, where it slops, because they need water,"

Because the tea is grown naturally, Saujanya Shrestha said it's also served naturally, so there is no decaffeinated tea available. "Tea grows caffeinated, so we don't want to put any chemicals in it," he said.

The tea is served and sold by the box in a natural, loose form called "orthodox," so there are no tea bags. "Tea bags are the lowest grade of tea you can find in the market," he said. "These are the higher grade," he explained, saying loose tea can be put into strainers or "tea balls" and work just as efficiently as bags.

Different kinds of tea

There are many different kinds of tea available at Himalayan Chai. Swadesh Shrestha said most avid tea drinkers prefer black tea, but so far the green tea has been their best seller. He said their black tea also tends to be more popular in Europe.

One particular type of Indian herbal tea sold at the store, called Ayurveda, is known in Nepal for its health benefits. This tea has been a specialty of the Shrestha family throughout its 24 generations. Saujanya Shrestha said he currently imports the tea, which is made by his 98-year-old great-grand-uncle in Nepal. "He's a well-known Ayurveda doctor in Nepal," he said. "It has all the herbs you'd find in the jungle."

He said there are three types of the Ayurveda teas, with different physiological qualities. The Kaph tea has the power of form, the Vata tea encourages kinetic energy, while the Pitta tea focuses energy in the digestion of food and intellect.

How to brew the perfect cup

Microwaving water and a tea bag does not produce a premium cup of tea, according to Saujanya Shrestha. He said brewing steps vary for different kinds of tea. "It's very simple to make a perfect cup of tea," he said.

He said that the first step with black tea is boiling fresh water to pour over measured tea. He said tea is measured by one teaspoon of tea per cup of water, and the tea can either be filtered out before drinking or put into a tea ball or strainer. The tea is left to brew for five minutes with the lid on, then ready to enjoy.

"Companies say to let it brew for two to three minutes," he said, "But we recommend to brew for five minutes, because you'll get everything out of the tea leaves," he said.

Green tea is made in a similar way, but Shrestha said green tea is very sensitive. He said the first step is to bring water to a boil, then let it cool for a few minutes. After cooling, continue the process the same way as for the black tea. He said the remainder of both teas can be served cold as a great iced tea.

In addition to serving tea, Himalayan Chai also sells 17 tea varieties in recycled wooden boxes, also from Nepal. The boxes can be returned to the shop to be recycled.

Saujanya Shrestha said he's been selling tea at local co-ops and markets, but Himalayan Chai is his first actual business.

Shrestha said he has many plans in the works for his new business, such as featuring live music performances on Fridays. And he said despite the tucked-away location, so far business has been good. "People like the place and really love the tea too," he said.