The Cultured Cup provides metropolitan Dallas with an enriching tea experience, both for the palate and the mind. The tea and coffee shop recently relocated to a new space in Farmers Branch, Texas, north of Dallas, where it will continue to encourage people to “taste the adventure.”
The Cultured Cup’s story began in 1995 when Kyle Stewart and Phil Krampetz opened a coffee shop called the Coffee Mill. Both chose to leave careers in other fields to be entrepreneurs. Stewart had taught voice at the college level and worked as a proposal writer in the computer industry. Krampetz’s background was in mechanical engineering and industrial management.
After the first year they changed the shop’s name to the Cultured Cup because they wanted to add tea to their repertoire. “We thought tea was a really important product that was being really overlooked,” Stewart said. “There was hardly any tea in Dallas at that point.”
To get inspiration for how to present and sell tea, they traveled to Europe, where tea had a much stronger and more developed presence. First, they scoped out tea shops in London. Then, on a friend’s recommendation, they made a side trip to Paris, France to visit Mariage Freres, a renowned tea retailer founded in 1854. “When I walked in that store, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the Cultured Cup,” Stewart said, “The store embraced the world of tea.” The shop is organized into sections representing different countries, such as Japan and Morocco. Stewart and Krampetz decided to make their shop represent all cultures of tea.
They began buying tea from Mariage Freres and now source tea globally from many specialized tea purveyors. Though the Cultured Cup began as a coffee business, today more than 65 percent of sales are from tea.
Krampetz’s focus is on coffee and Stewart, who is a Certified Tea Specialist and a Specialty Tea Institute Mentor and Advisory Board Member, focuses on tea.
Like the former location, only two blocks away, the new location has a tasting room, which has become the driving force of the business. Stewart educates customers about teas through the experience. “It’s more about trying to understand the world, so it’s not only about the beverage, it’s also about the ritual,” Stewart said, who feels Dallas is a place that needs events that bring people together. As with the last location, where the popularity of the tasting room grew significantly from word of mouth, Stewart expects the current tasting room to continue to be a draw.
A different tea is offered every weekend at the free open tastings. Scheduled tastings occur during the week. Tastings introduce one easily learnable concept, and then Stewart builds on the concept from week to week. Examples include sessions on the differences in appearance, aroma and taste between Darjeeling and Assam teas; and how to identify the characteristics of a first flush, versus a second flush tea.
The teas are poured into double-wall glass cups so that customers can examine the color of the tea as they hold the cups up to the light. “We create this kind of sensual experience with tea,” Stewart said, adding that these tastings have promoted the business like nothing else. “I think it’s so important for a business to have a focus.”
He plans to introduce a more structured curriculum and expand the tea tasting adventure to online customers. “When you put all of these [educational offerings] together, people understand tea in a more complete way,” Stewart said. The tasting experience “is what propelled wine forward and it’s what I believe can propel tea forward,” he said.
Stewart believes that a more rigorous tea education program and more standards will help customers develop greater respect for people in the tea industry.
“I’m really excited about educating Dallas about what tea is, and now we have a place where we’re able to do that.” said Stewart.