By Stephenie Overman
The Infini-T Café & Spice Souk blends the owner’s love of tea, spices and good food, giving visitors to the Princeton, N.J. tea room the olfactory sense that they’ve been transported to a Middle Eastern bazaar.
Mary Fritschie, who opened the tea room about four years ago with a family friend, travels extensively, looking to find Fair Trade certified teas at the source. Along with the tea, “it’s beautiful to bring back a bit of the region’s culture,” she says, which means that the café’s décor matches the tea trail she has traveled.
“It’s a mix of Turkey, the Middle East, India, East Asia, your kitchen table at home. We want every nook and cranny to be comfortable,” says Fritschie, whose own roots are Dutch. The objets d’art she finds along the way are for sale and “as we’ve sold art work, furniture, etc., we look to replenish from women’s co-ops and other organizations on our next travels.”
Her expertise in tea was expanded by spending time with experts at the Tocklai Tea Research Institute in Assam, India as well as working with managers and families that own tea estates.
A college town like Princeton has no shortage of tea and coffee shops, but “our goal is not to compete with our neighbors but support each other. They’re faster paced and more of a place to work on your computer, whereas Infini-T has book shelves, board games and plenty of conversation happening,” Fritschie says. At Infini-T, people come for the freshly brewed chai and calmer pace. “We want you to come in, enjoy that pot of tea, and remember the experience.”
“We have a slightly different vibe,” she says, “folks of all ages, international students, yogis, people concerned about their health, a lot of moms with children, as well as business meetings are had over tea. We have a little table and chairs from the Middle East and toys for the children. I have an Egyptian coffee urn that I bring out. We bring out dates and figs and set up an area with pillows on the floor.”
The food, healthy fare heavy on Indian dishes, is memorable too. “I cook with our tea and spices. The soups are always made from scratch. We have gluten free and vegan choices.”
Some customers are starting to hand over their cell phones as they walk in, placing them in a basket provided by the cafe, according to Fritschie. “We’re contemplating putting out conversation starter cards making it easier to connect.”
Fritschie helps people make connections by hosting events at the tea room such as tea classes, a talk by a vegan cookbook author and even an independent film festival group.
She recently added an online business at www.tealeafmarket.com and is considering getting an import license. Both, she says, help her extend her passion for fair trade.
“When I travel for tea, I’m constantly humbled. That’s why I have a passion for selling fair trade tea. I’m not a non profit but I do feel this type of product is something I can feel good about. It means families living in good housing, having food, all the children getting an education. Clothes. Health care and clinics. Child care. Running water. Basic necessities we take for granted as Americans.”