Tea and Realty: Opening of Tavalon on the Upper West Side


Champaign corks flew by as the smartly dressed team behind the new Blu Café by Tavalon cut the long red ribbon symbolizing their official opening.

The roomy shop filled up quickly as family, friends, passersby, and neighborhood residents mulled about and sipped on complementary cups of iced tea and green tea cupcakes. Amid the crowd, in a stylish suit and bow tie, Tavalon’s co-founder John-Paul Lee beamed as he showed off his new shop.

“I have been eyeballing this location for years,” said Lee, who used to live in the area. “It would drive me crazy that I had to walk blocks and blocks even for something like a Starbucks.”

Overlooking the Hudson River in one of the towing Trump buildings, the Blu Cafe brings not only tea to the residents of these luxury condos, but also to people looking for a home. In a savvy business move, Lee paired his new shop with the real estate firm Blu Realty, giving people who want to browse listings the comfort of good tea and snacks.

John Paul Lee
Co-Founder John-Paul Lee

“It’s very unique and no one is really doing it,” said Lee, adding that the business model proved good for both parties because normally people only go into a real estate office if they want to buy or sell, but, with the café right there it gives people a chance to window-shop.

While the realtor shows off expensive apartments and condos, Tavalon serves up their gourmet teas including peachy oolong tea soda, plum infused Genius iced white tea, and their MoTeajo, a play on the cocktail with green tea, lemongrass, and peppermint. For food they dish up Chai chocolate brownies, Roiboos red velvet cupcakes, and will soon be serving sandwiches and salads.

“It’s such a natural pairing and we have integrated the two as much as possible,” said Zach Olczak, who helped design the space.

The assimilation of the café and office goes beyond drinks and housing to include hand-made white furniture and clean lines that give both ventures a modern look. The front is all glass, which lets the sun shine in and offers a gorgeous view of the water and sunset. Inside, the two businesses are separated by a glass wall, which helps give the area a flow that leads a patron to naturally wander from the café into the real estate firm where books of available houses share the same space as Tavalon’s for sale items.

The shop seats 20 to 25 customers at tables and a tea bar in 900 sq. ft. of retail space. The venue will serve morning pastries, snacks, sandwiches and dessert. Breakfast will include gourmet/exotic coffee and a selection of strong black wake-me-up tea blends. The store features hot and cold dishes and treats like tea-infused frozen yogurt, green tea cupcakes, matcha cookies and chocolate chai flavored brownies. Cason has a preference for Fair Trade and organic offerings.

“It’s a great combination of mixing two high-end businesses,” said Dave Lee, a partner in the shop. “It harmonizes the ‘what if’ possibility, I mean, you have the calming effect of the tea and you might think, ‘why not’ and go check out the listings.”

If people truly walk in for a cup of Tavalon’s coconut mate latte and leave with a condo, this venture might prove to be a match made in heaven.