Miro Tea Merges Chinese History with Modern America

Miro Tea; photo by Jeannie Liu

Miro Tea in Seattle’s metropolitan area brings a traditional Chinese teahouse into modern America.

Owner Jeannie Liu said, “I wanted to create a space that was not like your typical quiet Zen teahouse, or fall into any kind of stereotypes that people believed about teahouses.” Her father spoke of teahouses in China as being quite modern, trendsetting and bustling gathering spaces for the community where people would talk about the news, share poetry and discuss politics. “It wasn’t what a lot of Americans viewed teahouses to be—a meditative sanctuary space,” Liu said.

Miro Tea sign; photo by Jeannie Liu

She added, “Being Asian but growing up in the U.S. I was very sensitive to the stereotypical teahouses that weren’t necessarily opened by Asian people, and I had a problem with those because I felt like they were not really reflective of how Asians actually drink tea in Asia.” At the other end of the American teahouse spectrum were the Victorian British style. “I didn’t relate to either type,” Liu said.

Liu likens the atmosphere of tea houses of China to the social environments of coffee houses in the United States. She feels tea is more conducive to conversation since it helps to wake people up while simultaneously keeping them calm. “It made sense to me that it would be this liquid for connecting people,” Liu said.

After graduating from University of Washington with a degree in International Studies, Liu managed a coffee shop to get experience and learn about what worked. She also had experience working at her parents’ restaurants since childhood and then helped them open Oasis, the biggest bubble tea business in Seattle with five locations. “Opening Oasis gave me a sense of how creating a business and seeing it come to fruition can actually be a very creative process. I really enjoyed that,” Liu said. “I decided to venture out on my own.”

Miro Tea; photo by Jeannie Liu

Liu resolved to create a traditional Chinese teahouse environment in a modern setting that reflected her taste while meeting customers’ sensibilities and being inviting and uplifting.

After three years of research for the perfect space, in 2007 Liu opened Miro Tea in Ballard, Washington’s brick building and tree-lined historical district northwest of Seattle. Historically, Ballard was known for being a predominantly Scandinavian fishing community and in recent years it has become a popular family-friendly neighborhood.

Miro Tea’s décor is bright and comfortable with neutral colors and clean lines, a high ceiling, white oak tables, floor and shelves and marble countertops with plants accenting the space.

She describes Miro’s atmosphere as lively and busy, especially on weekends when people gather there with friends. At times it can also be quiet and relaxing enough for people to work on laptops. “I’m happy to see it’s being used in the way I imagined it to be,” Lui said.

Furthermore, Seattle had an abundance of coffee drinking options but not many places where tea drinkers could gather, so promoting tea drinking was another one of Liu’s goals. Liu feels the best way to welcome new tea drinkers is to make the process enjoyable, to not overcomplicate the beverage and to never talk down to a customer so they are not intimidated by tea.

Miro Tea pastries; photo by Jeannie Liu

Miro Tea has nearly 200 different kinds of tea. About one third of Miro Tea’s tea menu is organic. Liu personally sources teas from Japan, Taiwan and China, and herbs from Russia. Gaiwan tea service is offered.

The food side of Miro Tea’s menu has several delectable crepes, sandwiches and freshly baked pastries.

Miro Tea also hosts tea tasting and art walk opening events. Art work by local artists is displayed and Liu donates the teahouse’s percentage to local non-profits that help children.