Independent tea shop, The Tea Girl, serves tea and a great atmosphere

The outside wall of The Tea Girl, an independent tea shop in Edmonton. Photo by Vivian Binnema

An outside wall of The Tea Girl, an independent tea shop in Edmonton. Photo by Vivian Binnema

The Tea Girl, located at 12411 Stony Plain Road, offers Edmontonians an independent tea shop, complete with more than 100 flavours of tea, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and a pleasant setting to enjoy a beverage with a friend. Although the shop has undergone changes to its name and ownership since opening in 1999, citizens of Edmonton have continued to go there for tea and conversation.

The Tea Girl’s history

Originally part of the Steeps brand, the shop was struggling when current owner Sarah acquired it in August 2010. “Basically, it was going to be shut down or nothing,” Sarah said. At the time, being part of the Steeps franchise meant little other than sharing a name with other tea shops. And the Steeps brand, like the shop Sarah had just acquired, was struggling: “that name wasn’t going anywhere, the company wasn’t going anywhere with it anymore; it was shutting down all its other locations.”

So Sarah decided to re-brand her tea shop as The Tea Girl. By doing so, she has been able to communicate to Edmonton that her tea shop is an independent shop, separate from other Steeps tea shops in the city as well as from the Steeped Tea brand. The new name also reflects Sarah’s ownership of her shop: “It was just time to establish it as my brand so that people understand who is behind it because before it was, you don’t have your face on your business, people don’t know who you are, ” Sarah said.

Being an independent tea shop in Edmonton has advantages. “Edmonton supports independent,” said Sarah. “And I think especially the neighbourhood here supports independent.” She added that being independent gives her a greater ability to support the community in ways she chooses, such as donating tea to organizations like Skills Society or participating in the Red Shoe Crawl. Sarah said she also feels more responsibility as the owner of an independent brand because she is the face of her brand, and for her, “the benefit always outweighs any risk.”

Owning an independent tea shop also allows Sarah to more freedom to experiment with her product offering and create new beverages without having customers wonder why she does things differently than other locations that share a name with her shop.

The Tea Girl’s products

Part of the tea wall at independent tea shop The Tea Girl. Photo by Vivian Binnema

Part of the tea wall at The Tea Girl. Photo by Vivian Binnema

With about 160 different types of tea, The Tea Girl has variety and quality. “Mostly we specialize in loose tea, but in the sense that we specialize in creating beverages out of that,” Sarah explained. “We create iced teas and lattes and everything.” Sarah enjoys coming up with new products and appreciates tea’s versatility, particularly in summer when she gets less business and has more time to experiment.

Sarah encourages her staff to keep trying new teas and to try mixing tea flavours together so they can become more knowledgeable about the products. For Sarah, learning about tea is one of the things she loves most about tea, and there is a lot to learn. “It’s definitely one of those things where you think you know something about it and then you dig a little bit deeper and you’re like ‘I have no idea,'” said Sarah, adding “It’s kind of an endless learning thing.”

The Tea Girl’s atmosphere

Both the chairs and the atmosphere at independent tea shop, The Tea Girl, are cozy. Photo by Vivian Binnema

Both the chairs and the atmosphere at The Tea Girl are cozy. Photo by Vivian Binnema

Although the quality of The Tea Girl’s product offering is important, it is only one part of what The Tea Girl has to offer. “The other thing we’re trying to do is create an experience [more] than necessarily a place where you just get your cup of tea,” Sarah said. “It’s a place that you go, meet that person or tell someone about, or take a break from your work and go.” For Sarah, there is a relational aspect to tea: “I like that people will get together over tea. It’s not independent by nature I think.” Although some of The Tea Girl’s customers come in for a drink and leave again or work by themselves, many others come to spend time in conversation with others or to work on something as a group.

The Tea Girl’s atmosphere has been one of its enduring qualities. Sarah re-branded to The Tea Girl about two years ago and has noticed some of her customers no longer remember what the shop used to be called. Many people find the place is essentially the same as it used to be in spite of the changes. “It’s funny because it changed so much over like 16 years but there’s always been a little bit of something that stays the same, probably just mostly the feeling of the place,” said Sarah.

For anyone interested in visiting The Tea Girl to enjoy tasty tea and a pleasant atmosphere, the shop is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, including most holidays. The Tea Girl is also on social media: @TheTeaGirlYEG on Twitter or The Tea Girl on Facebook.

About Vivian Binnema