IMAGES: Photos of Na Tra Tea’s by Bill Brown.
BY BILL BROWN
MAR 10 — At last, a local cafe that knows how to serve tea. Most cafes, coffee-houses and restaurants will hand the customer a rapidly cooling cup of warm water and direct them to a box of packaged tea-bags.
Na Tra Tea’sh makes tea properly. There are no tea bags in sight. The organic loose-leaf tea is spooned from big jars. The hot water – boiling for black tea, slightly cooled for most green teas – is poured directly over the leaves. The tea is steeped from two to five minutes depending on the type, then poured from the pot to a cup. If the costumer wants something special, for example an herbal spice tea with a caffeine kick, the herbal tea is poured into a cup through a small black-tea-filled strainer.
Owner Aster Tefera prepares each pot of tea carefully. The pots are designed specifically for tea-brewing – with built-in infusion baskets below the center opening so hot water pours directly onto the tea leaves.
Na Tra Tea’s is in a cozy building on Erie Avenue just off Flower Avenue, around the corner from a block of small store fronts on Flower. The name is derived from the word “natra,” the Ethopian word for cinnamon bark. Tefera is Ethiopian, though she has lived in the area for decades.
Na Tra Tea’s owner Aster Tefera brews a pot of tea. Photo by Bill Brown.
She serves caffeinated and herbal teas – and some combinations of both such as an Indian-style chai made with black tea and spices. Offerings include: Earl Grey, breakfast, Sencha, jasmine, dark-roast Oolong, coconut, white Peony, two styles of chai, chamomile, peppermint and blood orange.
Na Tra also serves regular coffee. On occasion – this coming Sunday, perhaps, she said – Tefera prepares coffee in the ceremonial Ethiopian manner. Ethiopian coffee pots and cups sit on shelves at the back of the shop.
Cold sodas and juices are available, as are pastries, cookies, organic nibbles such as nuts and dried fruit and energy bars.
Na Tra Tea’s at 720 Erie Ave., Takoma Park, MD, is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. 240-305-5233.
At age 65 Tefera is not a seasoned business-person. She deferred a career for fifteen years, caring for her bed-ridden mother in Silver Spring, MD.
She described her former life, “I am suffocated fifteen years with my mother in the house. I will not go out, my life is my mom.”
She wanted a new life out in the community where she could talk to people. she said. Last year with her brothers’ grateful financial support she opened her tea shop.
Former city councilmember Reuben Snipper, owner Aster Tefera, Ward 5 councilmember Jarrett Smith and owner’s cousin Roman Mezmur, who helps out at the cafe. Photo by Bill Brown.
It was not easy. She knew next-to-nothing about opening a business. Setting out, she had no business plan and had little idea of the requirements and regulations involved. Even with family funding she had little capital – certainly not enough to pay an architect $5000 – $10,000 for a required interior design, an unexpected cost.
“A very, very good person helped me, Mister John helped me.” she said.
Takoma Park architect John Mangan, whose Mangan Group Architects office is above the Carroll Avenue Amano storefront, provided her a design for no charge.
Tefera said Mongan told her “I will find some student to help you,” but he did the work himself.
The shop opened in August, serving a steady but growing trickle of neighbors, students from nearby Washington Adventist University and friends. She had to close in February due to an injury – Tefera slipped on ice during the big “Snowzilla” snowstorm and hurt her back.
Local writer and editor Joan Dawson discovered Na Tra Tea’s recently when her home internet went out. She enjoyed both the free wi-fi and Ethopian-style spice tea. She was back for her second day of internet outage March 10, settling in at her laptop and ordering another pot of spice tea.
Mayor Kate Stewart, at far left, and Councilmember Jarrett Smith at far right chat with residents and former councilmember Reuben Snipper (center, facing camera) at Na Tra Tea’s March 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Brown.
The previous Friday, early in the morning when a picturesque overnight snowfall had yet to melt and fall from branches and telephone lines, Tefera passed out small shot glasses of her tangy blood-orange herbal tea to a crowd of residents and city officials gathered at Tra Na Tea’s for the mayor’s second “community coffee” gathering.
Takoma Park mayor Kate Stewart, Ward 5 council member Jarrett Smith, city manager Suzanne Ludlow and deputy city manger local councilmember and residents. The local council member present at Na Tra Tea’s on that day – March 4 – was Jarrett Smith, Ward 5 representative.
About eight residents dropped by, including former Ward 5 council member Rueben Snipper.
Some of the issues discussed involved the Washington Adventist University and Washington Adventist Hospital, which have adjoining campuses in Ward 5.
Flower Avenue storefront of concern to residents. Photo by Bill Brown.
WAU owns the corner building, once a neighborhood grocery /convenience store, fronting Flower Avenue at Erie Avenue. Some of the residents are concerned that the new tenant is an organization providing services to the homeless. There is already a half-way house in the neighborhood, said resident Marty Ittiney.
Construction on the WAU campus was a concern. There was an exchange of views on marijuana dispensaries. And the growing number of Takoma Park’s “airbnb”s was discussed.
Tefera, smiling broadly, placed plates of cookies and dried fruit on the cafe-tables, passed tea samples around and took orders at the counter. She was relishing all the people and talk in her new life.