By Stephenie Overman
Steep has an extra meaning at House of Steep, a quiet tea house on a busy street in Arlington, Va.
There’s the steeping of the tea to drink, of course: An array of black, oolong, green and white varieties, plus blends with invigorating names like “Brighten,” “Cleanse,” “Uplift” and “Vitality.”
But steep also refers to the foot soaks offered in the tranquil “foot sanctuary” in the back of the shop. Customers are encouraged to enjoy a pot of tea and a therapeutic foot bath, along with perhaps a reflexology treatment or foot massage.
The menu for the foot soaks might be confused with the menu for the loose tea, cups and pots of tea sold at House of Steep. There’s bergamot tea, ginger mint, lemon grass and passion flower; there’s also pine, juniper, catnip and frankincense.
The focus on health “is really why the business works,” said owner Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma. “We’re in a very health-conscious area,” near Washington, D.C., she explains. The long-established yoga studio across the street provides a market of people who are already devoted to alternative health.
DePalma opened House of Steep in 2012 to “create a space for us all to interact” and to give her an opportunity to use some of the wealth of information about herbs that her great grandmother shared.
Top-selling teas include house blends (which include herbs) and “the ever-popular flavor-infused teas such as jasmine pearls,” according to DePalma.
“I love our house-blend oolong…. I just had a baby, so I’ve been all over the place looking for different herbs for swollen feet,” she says. The “Restorative” blend – reputed to soothe hangovers – is also a top seller.
Tea is served with a fragrant lavender tea cookie, and with a small set of hourglasses to remind the customer exactly how long to brew each type of tea. “It’s so easy to overcook green and white tea. People think those teas are bitter. They shouldn’t be” when made properly, DePalma says.
“Flights” are available, giving the tea connoisseur the chance to sample three types of black, green, herbal tisane or house blends. House of Steep also serves “tealess” drinks and sandwiches, salads, wraps and quiche. The healthy theme carries across the menu, which notes which items are locally sourced when possible, organic, and vegetarian, or vegan.
“You’re not going to find a lot of sugary, artificially infused flavors” anywhere on the menu, DePalama says, adding that foods sales “have been much bigger than I anticipated – at least 15% to 20% of our revenue.”
An establishment that serves food and soaks feet has to carefully follow employment and sanitation regulations. “The tea house has employees. The foot sanctuary has contractors,” including massage therapists, she explains. “They mostly don’t overlap, but in a few cases they do.” In those cases, the tea house employee clocks out to work in the foot sanctuary.
DePalma has drawn inspiration for House of Steep not just from her great grandmother and her herbs, but from an ancient tradition that sees foot soaks as a way to nourish the entire body and mind.
“I thought: All over the world, especially in Asian countries, people take care of their health through their feet,” DePalma says.
3800 Lee Highway, Arlington, VA 22207