It is a hot, humid afternoon, and you and your friends are walking around Shattuck aimlessly. Or maybe it’s a cold evening and either your GSI has just slashed your grade, or your lover, your heart. What you want now is some steaming matcha, as thick as they can make it, or taro milk tea with ice and bubbles and a giant colorful straw. This is where Asha Tea House comes in.
At Asha Tea House you can get your fix of sweet, aromatic and flavorful tea. Asha’s exclusively loose-leaf selection is based on variety, freshness and ethics. They serve traditional teas, like 12th century Taiwanese traditional, as well as the classic, much loved boba milk teas.
Asha Tea House, which opened July 13, 2012, is located in the rosy-peach marble building on Shattuck and University, between Chase Bank and Bobby G’s. Owner David Lau completely renovated the space from what was a rug depot into a sleek, elemental cafe. He also made a lot of the furniture, such as the cedar bar tops and linen pillows, by hand. On the pillars and walls are photographs of hillsides covered with tea and the small scale roasting plants in Alishan and Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan. Beside them is Lau, waving.
“Our furniture was made by hand just like the tea we buy,” he says over a cup of matcha. “The construction took months and was laborious, but in the end it was worth it. And it was fun.”
The interior of Asha is vibrant and unified, yet cozy — like being here at home. Lau informed us that during harvest season, traditional tea farmers work from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m. for the first two days. Handpicked, handcrafted tea is usually harvested twice a year in Taiwan. Lower elevation teas can have up to six. There, people drink tea like Americans do coffee.
“Every year growing up I visited my family in Taipei, a city much like Manhattan or San Francisco, though it took the constant back and forth of working in Taiwan and China to realize that Taiwan has an amazing countryside,” he says. “When I visited, I got to see the sheer amount of physical labor that go into making tea, which is something that people everywhere drink. It was amazing.”
All of the tea at Asha was harvested and roasted using traditional methods. The milk Asha uses is organic, the fruit, real and fresh.
“When someone drinks tea at Asha, I want the experience to be so engaging and fresh that they disconnect from their lives in order to reconnect with life. I want people to slow down and have a good time.”
The prices at Asha reflect two values: appreciation and access. Lau imagines that if the President of the United States wants tea, he should have a fresh cup at his command. If a working person wants a cup every morning and night, they should be able to drink the best quality available. If both the working person and the President want tea at the same time they have to wait in line together at Asha. And both can sit together at the bar.
“Tea is not a luxury,” says Lau. “It’s a passion.”
Swing by for the tea of the day: $2 for a 12oz, 50¢ more for 16oz. Slow down and share with your fellow bears a round of ceremonious Hashiri Shincha or a cup of mango milk tea with bubbles. Breathe and take it all in. The tea at hand came an ocean away and was produced by methods which have outlasted dynasties.
Asha Tea House is located at 2086 University Ave, Berkeley.
Contact Josh Escobar at [email protected]