On a “mission to slow Americans down one sip at a time,” Souvia tearoom owner Olivia Wingert offers a tearoom of respite in north-central Phoenix, Arizona, that features high-quality tea, education and place for people to gather and connect as a close-knit community.
Souvia was founded in 2006 by Wingert, who moved to Arizona from Frankfurt, Germany, after meeting her American husband overseas. “Coming from Europe, I really missed good tea; 11 years ago there was just Lipton and Bigelow,” she said. “Tea was always the vehicle that brought people together and slowed you down, the catalyst for a break in the day. I wanted a place where people could buy a good product and have education.”
For these reasons, Wingert does not offer Wi-Fi in her tearoom. Even though people advised her against this choice and told her customers would stay away because of it, the effect has actually been the opposite, mused Wingert.
“People like to come and spend time together,” she said. “I’ve seen strangers walk in and leave as friends. That is what makes us happy, because that is what sums up our store. A community has grown around tea where tea is the vehicle.”
Wingert says it is the excellent customer experience at Souvia that sets it apart from other tearooms because she creates a customer-centric experience by greeting them with a warm welcome and by assisting customers with choosing their tea.
Souvia is about 900 square feet and seats 12 people. It is located in a strip mall and it was the first tea store in the area to sell loose leaf. Wingert sources from tea importers that purchase it from tea estates. She sells 140 teas and herbals, which can be served hot or cold. Wingert stocks both organic and non-organic, though she intends to increase organic inventory. She creates some of her own signature blends, which can be a mix of organic and non-organic teas. Souvia also provides wholesale custom blends to restaurants and coffee shops.
There are seven tiers of pricing, based on the quality of the tea. A 50 gram bag of tea starts at $6.99 and goes up to $28.99. A pot of tea is $4.25 and a pot of matcha is $5.75. A 32-ounce cup of iced tea to go is $4.25.
Wingert and her staff assist customers in finding what they are looking for in tea and fill orders as they receive them. “We talk with them and figure out what they like and want. We ask them questions. They smell the tea. We bag it for them,” said Wingert’s colleague, René Haertel-Eva, who has co-owned Souvia since 2014. They keep the food selection simple — cake pops, biscottis and tea crunchies, which are little squares similar to trail mix — because they want customers to experience the tea.
Souvia offers classes to customers in the store that begin at 6:30 or 7 p.m and cost $35 dollars. From January through May, one class is offered per month. Classes are offered again in September and October. Wingert focuses on educating people about loose-leaf tea so they learn to differentiate between growing regions. She compares tea to wine in the sense that tea has many layers, many varieties and much complexity. Wingert also offers classes on the benefits of herbs and recently offered a class about herbs from the desert. Wingert touted the all-encompassing healing benefits of tea. “There is so much to get out of the tea, which is why we focus on the educational aspect of it,” said Haertel-Eva, who teaches about the components of tea.
The environment at Souvia is conducive to building a sense of community and this draws people from various backgrounds, some of whom are not the typical tea room attendee, including millennials and men. Souvia’s clientele is 40 percent male and they often purchase the high-end teas. Wingert quipped, “Two cops came in with Teflon vests, and I wondered, ‘What did I do’ and they ordered the iced angel’s kiss tea.”
“We stuck to our model, we said this is who we are. The core model and the mission and the vision is still in-tact,” said Wingert.