Nailed firmly to almost turquoise walls are box-shelves made of unfinished wood that hold pots, moleskin journals and books ranging from Sartre to “House of Leaves.” A tranquil mood is set by slow music playing overhead, where far from bright lights shine from up above. The place: the Loose Leaf Tea Loft.
The Loft is set up by Michelle Wu and Conor Pewarski, Harvard and Yale graduates who, on a brave whim, decided to set up the tea joint in Irving Park after a post-graduation return to Chicago. “We decided to open a tea shop in July 2008, drove all our things in a U-Haul from Boston to Chicago, found a few spaces on Craigslist, and fell in love with this corner immediately,” Wu says. “Then, with help from family and friends, we repainted the entire space and collected wine crates for the wall display. We tasted hundreds of teas to pick our thirty-six for the menu. We filed for restaurant licenses and business permits from the city.”
After about three and a half months from conception to their actual opening, Wu and Pewarski have established a space with a relaxing atmosphere with character to boot. “Our general mission is to promote health and happiness through balance and community,” Pewarski says. “Tea is the perfect way to do that, because a key ingredient is time—time for the leaves to steep, time for conversation. We also wanted to create an intimate space that the community feels free to use for their own artistic, social and intellectual gatherings—poetry readings, musical performances, open mic nights, writing workshops, game nights. We love it when someone comes to us with an idea for an event that they’d like to host at the shop.”
With hopes of attracting delightful crowds, Wu and Pewarski have added to the Loft all the necessary tools for a nurturing atmosphere. “Hoping to create an atmosphere of reading, writing and conversation, we decided to sell notebooks along with tea and put all our favorite books up on the wall for decoration and use. That gave us the name of the shop: Loose Leaf Tea Loft, for loose leaf tea and loose leaf paper. Then with our favorite books in the wine crates, it just made sense to connect the teas with our sources of inspiration,” Wu says. And the teas’ names are no joke, either. “Each tea is named after a different literary character that has some trait or connection with the tea, and almost all the characters come from a book in the shop. For instance, Jack Kerouac’s character in ‘On the Road’ gave us our Sal’s Paradise tea, sharp ginger with tangy orange freshness. Miss Scarlett’s Sweetest is a white tea with playful peaches and spunky tangerine, reminiscent of Georgia and southern society in ‘Gone with the Wind.’ And of course, our Barack’s AudaciTea promises to ‘change the way you think of oolong with the flavor of hopeful hazelnut.’” (Micah McCrary)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Loose Leaf Tea Loft is closed as of July 2009, and will soon reopen as Latte on Lincoln.
Loose Leaf Tea Loft, 4229 N. Lincoln, looseleaftealoft.com