A Tea Shop with a Filipino Flair

Community News & Features Mar 9, 2018 at 4:28 pm

FB_IMG_1520209426966[1]Tsaa (Filipino word for tea)

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

Hot, iced or served with tapioca beads, there’s a great many ways to enjoy tea. However, Tsaa Tea Shop takes it up several notches with an impressive selection of flavors and blends that can be customized to your taste. Located along a busy stretch on Danforth Avenue, this family-owned tea shop is a homey respite for anyone who’s passionate about tea. Partner and co-founder Luellie Ramos, 36, talks about her passion for tea and introducing customers to her Filipino roots through food.

How did the idea for a tea shop come about?

My parents wanted to open up a shop but at the time we weren’t sure what we wanted to do. We’ve always loved tea – we constantly drink it at home. One time, I went to a tea seminar and I learned so much about tea and I fell in love with it. I started doing more research on tea and we finally opened the teashop at the Danforth on July 2010.

How did you decide on the name?

Tsaa is the Filipino word for tea and we’re proud of our culture so we wanted to showcase that.

From left: Millie, Yunice and Jonathan Ramos at the Taste of Danforth Festival

From left: Millie, Yunice and Jonathan Ramos at the Taste of Danforth Festival

Do you carry tea from the Philippines?

That’s something we’re looking into in the future. In the Philippines, we have [a tea called] salabat and that’s something we promote at the shop. We recommend it when a customer comes in and they tell us they’re not feeling well, especially if they have a cold or cough from the seasonal changes. It’s getting good reviews and they always come back and say, “Oh, it’s really good!” It helps them breathe better and eases sore throat and coughing. It’s a nice blend of different things – you can customize it with lemongrass and herbs but the primary ingredient is ginger.

What was it like opening a tea shop?

When we started, we were one of the first tea shops to actually open with this concept. I didn’t see any other places with a similar concept so I was surprised. It was something unique. Eight years later, [similar places] started opening up and tea became a big hype, as well. We’re lucky that, because we’re still around, I’ve seen a lot of other places popping up and it’s becoming a trend, which is nice since people are becoming more aware of tea.

Who runs the day-to-day operations?

It’s a family-run business so everyone supports and helps each other. My mom [Luz], dad [Jovi], and sister [Yunice] are there, while I’m more of a background person. I do blending, as well, where we experiment with taste by blending different herbs.

A crepe topped with ube ice cream   (Credit_ @torontofood)

A crepe topped with ube ice cream
(Credit_ @torontofood)

What kind of tea do you carry?

We have different types from white to black to green tea, and tisane, which is just another word for herbal tea. One of our most popular teas right now is the turmeric ginger because it changes every season. In the summer, our customers want something more refreshing so midsummer peach would be our bestseller. We steep the tea in cold water, then add honey or coconut sugar and put ice [in it].

Can you place special orders for tea?

Yes, we also do custom blending if customers want a specific taste. If they’re in the mood for something specific we can custom blend it, they can just let us know ahead of time.

Luz Ramos

Luz Ramos

Why did you choose the Danforth neighborhood?

I like the Danforth neighborhood, the vibe, and the people in the area. There are a lot of families and we realized that a lot of people are into healthy things.

Do you have dairy-free, vegan and gluten-free options?

Being in the Danforth area, there’s a demand for vegan and organic food. A lot of people who live in here are very health-conscious. People come in requesting vegan options, which we do. We come up with recipes they’d like, including vegan sandwiches. We became known through word of mouth and I’m really happy that people would recommend us to others.

What are some of the items made in-house?

The cheese and chives scones, which we make in the shop. We also do homemade banana loaf. Some of our vegan and organic pastries are from this place called Sweets from the Earth. We have a lot of sandwiches and salads, which are made in-house.

What’s the most popular drink on the menu?

It depends on the season. Now, it’s cold so people want something that will help them with various ailments. Last summer, we always sold out of halo-halo.

FB_IMG_1520211617429[1]Tell us more about your halo-halo.

We started offering it in our second year and we were surprised! During the summer, my parents would make halo-halo at home so we thought, “Why not offer it at the shop, as well?” We started doing a tasting so we could have people try them outside in the summertime. We were surprised with the outcome – people actually liked it! Even non-Filipino clients came back for it. We take part in Taste of Danforth every year where we offer halo-halo outside at a booth and it’s crazy how many people order it.

Do you have other Filipino influences on your menu?

During the summer, we also do turon and cassava cake. One of our customers came in and asked my mom, “Why aren’t you offering cassava cake?” We actually started offering it and we had a good response – people love the cassava cake and turon. And it pairs well with halo-halo.

What else do you have available at the store?

We have tea accessories. We have all this good tea but sometimes customers will ask if we have steepers or teapots. So we can help them select the color and style that they want. It just makes sense so it’s easier to prepare the tea – it’s already there. They can just grab it and take it home with them, basically.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?

By being authentic and through our customer service. People come back because we provide excellent customer service. We try to connect with people by just talking to them and trying to talk them through what they like, suggesting things and customizing blends, especially with tea. It makes them happy that we care. That’s something I find with small, family-run business: we can actually help people out, we listen. It makes people come back all the time, that connection.

412 Danforth Avenue, (647) 342-1981, www.instagram.com/tsaateashop