Individually brewed

As soon as I walked in the door of the Kaleisia Tea Lounge, I felt a sense of relaxation. It was as though I had just walked into someone’s house and everyone was hanging out, doing homework at tables or reading magazines on an oversized couch in the corner.

The Kaleisia is similar to Starbucks, except it serves tea and the pace is slower, giving the staff time to educate customers about the benefits of tea and helping them choose one that is best for their individual needs.

For most people in the United States, tea is something that neither frightens them nor excites them; it’s just sitting there in the coffee isle, something that the British and those in Eastern cultures drink. As a result, many Americans have never been interested in tea because it’s not a part of the culture they grew up in. As a kid, tea was that yucky, bitter-tasting stuff I would only drink as a last resort. The staff at Kaleisia is working to change all that.

My roommate Jen came with me to the teahouse. As we ordered at the counter, Jen said she did not want a tea with caffeine since it was around 9 p.m. and would keep her up late.

While waiting in line to order, a Kaleisia regular was telling us what was good, based on what we were looking for. She told us that the red teas, formally called Rooibos, were caffeine and calorie free.

Kim Pham, co-owner of Kaleisia, waited on Jen and me. Jen picked out a red tea named chocolate mint, over ice. Pham recommended she add some milk to make it sweeter.Instead of smelling loose-leaf teas in the tin canisters behind me or reading through the Kaleisia Book of Teas like an intelligent and informed consumer, I picked out my drink based on its name: a tea smoothie called Lustful Lychee.

Pham told me lychee is a Chinese fruit with a sweet taste hard to more poignantly describe. Pham recommended that some lychee jelly would enhance the smoothie’s flavor.

Right she was: The lychee was sweet, and the bits of jelly tasted like Swedish Fish. While sipping the tea smoothie through an oversized straw, I drank it slowly, letting the smoothie and jelly seep into my taste buds.

As for Jen, she downed her tea in five minutes.

“I was really thirsty!” she said.

Since we couldn’t get a seat on one of the giant couches, we read newspapers and magazines at a table near the front counter. It was comfortable, but perhaps dim lighting, a few more couches and fewer tables would help create an even more peaceful mood. Pham said customers suggested dimming the lights and using candles, but the idea was deemed unsafe. The Kaleisia staff reads all comments in the suggestion book, Pham said, and they try to cater to their customers.

When Kaleisia first opened in April, for example, they did not sell food. Now, thanks to customer suggestions, the owners have added vegan lunches and vegan pastries to the menu.

Customers can eat healthy when at Kaleisia, Pham said.

For 45 minutes after we arrived, Jen and I had been enjoying the atmosphere created by the other patrons, including a guitarist playing on a couch, the sound of laughter and people making small talk. We decided the lounge was a good place to hang out or study.

Pham said it’s important to her and her cousin Lan Ha, both owners of Kaleisia, that the USF community knows the health benefits of tea.

With Pham, Ha, a USF alumna, put together the Kaleisia Book of Teas that lists tea as “a rich source for antioxidants,” which help to fight “free radicals (that) can damage the body and contribute to many diseases.”

The goal at Kaleisia, Pham said, is to increase the amount of tea drinkers and remove the barriers that might prevent people from drinking tea. If you want it sweet, she said, they’ll make it sweet. If you want milk, they’ll add milk.

As an inexperienced tea drinker, I felt a sense of belonging at Kaleisia, though I had never been there before. The staff made the extra effort of calling me by name, a rare occurrence in most places, and part of the reason — along with the Lustful Lychee smoothies — why they will retain my business.

Kalesia Tea Lounge is located at 1441 E. Fletcher Ave. The phone number is (813) 977-8266.