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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    All the tea in Tucson

    Cecilia+Alvarez+%2F+The+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0ABarrista%2C+Rob+Villa%2C+mixes+customers+orders+Scented+Leaf+on+Jan.+21%2C+2015.+Villa+has+been+mixing+teas+at+Scented+Leaf+for+nine+months.+
    Brandi Walker
    Cecilia Alvarez / The Daily Wildcat Barrista, Rob Villa, mixes customers orders Scented Leaf on Jan. 21, 2015. Villa has been mixing teas at Scented Leaf for nine months.

    On any given day during the school year, the Scented Leaf Tea House and Lounge is always filled with students sitting at tables studying, chatting or just relaxing. The store is filled with over 30 kinds of tea, and there are always 12 teas on tap — usually the most popular. But this University Boulevard hot spot was not always a tea house ­— it was once a perfume boutique. 

    Five years ago, Shane Barela, the owner of the tea house, opened up a boutique called University Perfumes, next to The Auld Dubliner on University Boulevard. After being open for some time, Barela was still not attracting as many customers as he had anticipated. 

    “Tucson wasn’t ready for a boutique perfume store,” Barela said. “Everyone still bought perfume from department stores, and it didn’t look like it was changing anytime soon.” 

    During the first year of business, Barela came across the book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. Before reading the novel, he said he had already been thinking about doing something different with his life, because the perfume business was not going as he had planned. After finishing the book, he said he knew it was time to move on and start a new chapter in his life. 

    Later that same year, Barela and his then-girlfriend went on a pre-honeymoon to Spain. While wandering down the main drive where all the tourists were, Barela said he had a gut feeling that he should turn down onto a small side street that looked as if it held nothing interesting. Following his feeling, he began walking down the road and saw a small store with loose leaf tea on display.

    As they approached the stand, he said they were blown away by both the smell and the look of the tea leaves. After conversing with the owner of the store about the benefits of having real, loose leaf tea compared to the Western bagged tea, Barela said he knew what he needed to do. He turned to his fiancée and told her that they were going to begin selling tea in the perfume shop.

    “It was a mother nature story,” Barela said about the connection between perfume and tea. “They both start from the ground and come up.” 

    They started by selling only five or six teas and gave out samples to passerby. Over time, the tea trend began to take hold, and the popularity of the store grew immensely. One day, Barela was taking a walk with his son down University Boulevard and came across a cupcake store that had just become vacant and was near the front of Main Gate Square. He decided to talk to his landlord about moving his business to the new location and pitched his idea of creating a tea house. The landlord said he loved the idea and helped him move over into the new store, where it is currently located today. 

    When he first opened the Scented Leaf, Barela said he was not very good at making tea and “had to learn the hard way.” 

    Over time, he said the tea house evolved into a place for students and other community members to come and enjoy a drink that is healthier than coffee. Barela admits the clientele is not what he imagined it would be; at first, he believed his main customers would be an older crowd who weren’t very open to trying new things. Instead, Barela said he saw a younger and more mindful group of people, which he originally had imagined.

    Annie Nguyen, a nutritional sciences freshman, said she frequents the Scented Leaf at least once a month and goes there when she needs her caffeine fix. 

    “I think it’s a great idea to study there, because it’s pretty quiet most of the time,” Nguyen said. “It’s a great place to meet for group projects because there are long tables and snacks in case anyone gets hungry. It’s also a great place to go on the weekends or on a weekday afternoon when you have some free time because there are always tables open outside, so you’re able to sit outside and chat while drinking tea.”

    Nguyen recommends taking advantage of the three refill deal and to try the pumpkin chai or papaya green tea.

    “Because I love tea, I decided to go in and try it out,” Nguyen said. “Once I tried it, I was hooked.” 

    Barela said The Scented Leaf is his heart and soul, and that he enjoys working at the tea house and interacting with the unique personalities that enter the shop. The Scented Leaf Tea House and Lounge really has come a long way from the small perfume boutique it was five years ago.

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    Follow Chelsea Cook on Twitter.

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