If you have enjoyed tea at any of Chicago’s top restaurants or elite hotels, chances are the teawas supplied by Rare Tea Cellar and sourced by a Rod Markus.
Markus found a career in psychology and hypnotherapy hard going in Chicago so in 1994 he began importing wine and cigars. In 1997 out of concern about the impact of these lines on the health and wellness of customers, Markusbegan importing tea under the name MITEA. He said that he loved the challenge of directly sourcing tea said that at times involved “sending money orders to China” and importing tea from a friend’s “cousin that grew tea in Sri Lanka.”
After re-branding is venture the “Rare Tea Cellar” in 2004, Markus met with success working with renowned hotel designer Tony Chi to. Together they created a $2.5 million tea cellar in the Park Hyatt in Washington D.C. In the years since, Rare Tea Cellar’s offerings have made their way into more than 250 hotels and restaurants and are used by some of the top chefs in the world in some of the top restaurants in the world including Next, L20, Alinea, Girl and the Goat.
Markus told World Tea News that he “developed a niche by blowing minds.”
Just how did he blow minds? Markus offers 350 teas, from a 1930s vintage pu-erh, to wet and dry barrel aged teas (he has 50 barrels in rotation in his North Side warehouse). Markus has been collecting pu-erh for about 17 years. Some of his rarest offerings can be found on fine-dining menus ranging anywhere from $250-400 per serving. Markus attributes his success to his persistence and the time he spent hitting the street with his teas remarking that “unless they taste it, it does not exist.”
In October Rare Tea Cellar launched an online shop selling teas, tea-ware and rare gourmet ingredients to meet the growing demand for culinary tea.
Markus said that “about five years ago chefs started requesting individual ingredients from his tea blends” – the new online marketplace now sells those ingredients. Since launch, business is growing for Rare Tea Cellar. Markus said that he is fulfilling “several dozen” orders a day and that wholesale inquiries have spiked as well. When asked if he has plans to eventually open a brick and mortar shop, Markus said that he’s got enough business right now between his restaurant service and his online shop. Rare Tea Cellar’s warehouse facilities are located on Chicago’s North Side on Ravenswood and Addison.