It smells really, really good inside Tea & Tarts, the new downtown Bangor tea house and eatery that opened last week.
It’s not the smell of the simple, elegant vegetarian fare that co-owner Sara Moreshead cooks up in her kitchen that you first notice — though that does smell very good. The smell that hits you when you walk through the doors into Tea & Tarts’ serene, airy space at 20 State St. is the tea.
Every sort of scent creeps around: a hint of mint here, a note of lavender there, a pop of ginger and turmeric as co-owner Caity Brown steams up a golden milk tea latte.
“I think the thing about tea is that there really are endless flavors, endless styles,” said Brown, a Bangor native. “People have been drinking it for thousands of years, in every kind of place. You’ll never run out of teas to try.”
Since she and Moreshead last year hatched their plan to open a downtown business, Brown has been on the hunt for exotic, deliciously flavored teas to serve at the cafe. Tea & Tarts presently has 33 varieties of tea on its menu, available as individual cups or as a whole teapot, served in the many vintage and retro teapots Brown and Moreshead have bought at thrift stores and estate sales over the years.
For the traditional tea drinker, there are old standbys including Earl Grey, Orange Pekoe or Chamomile. For chai lovers, there are three varieties of the spicy brew. And for true tea enthusiasts, there are styles such as the Chinese fermented tea Pu-erh, Genmaicha, a Japanese bancha tea made with popped rice kernels and Kukicha twig tea, also a Japanese tea, which is made from toasted twigs and stems from the green tea plant.
“We are really into educating people on all the different types of tea we have,” Brown said. “If you don’t know what you want, we can help you.”
In addition to what’s on the menu, there are another 40 or so varieties of tea to purchase and take home, all with evocative names such as Black Iris (oolong tea with peach and pistachio), Purple Rain (Kenyan purple tea with lemongrass and passionfruit) and Psychocandy (Rooibos with pumpkin and caramel).
And yes, there is coffee. Brewed coffee; no espresso. Two sizes. It’s good, but it’s not the point.
“We love coffee, too,” Brown said. “But we love tea more, obviously.”
Brown and Moreshead met while both were working at now-closed downtown Bangor burrito shop Verve. Moreshead has worked in all sorts of kitchens for years, but at home, she mostly cooks without meat. The Tea & Tarts menu is all vegetarian or vegan, ranging from breakfast sandwiches and house-made scones in the morning, to sandwiches, grain bowls, salads and, of course, tarts. There are six flavors of tarts in all, including chocolate, peanut butter, tiramisu, blueberry and strawberry ricotta, and Moreshead’s signature lemon and lavender.
“I worked a really long time on our tart recipes,” Moreshead said. “I wanted to make the perfect lemon curd. It’s not easy, but I think we’ve got it.”
20 State St., the building that houses Tea & Tarts, was under renovation for close to two years after owner Emily Tilton purchased the building in fall 2016. At that time, construction crews uncovered lots of artifacts from the building’s early history as a candy shop, hotel, restaurant and bar, including an array of Greek-inspired pictorial tiles lining the interior walls.
While the striking tile-front art deco exterior remains, the interior has been dramatically redesigned, with open space, exposed brick walls, an open kitchen and soaring cathedral-style ceilings with a large skylight in the back, allowing lots of natural light into the rear seating area and a children’s area. In the front, a floor-to-ceiling mural inspired by the tea party scene in “Alice in Wonderland” greets customers as they walk through the door.
Brown and Moreshead plan to showcase local artists on one of the large interior walls, and to offer semi-regular live acoustic music, storytelling, poetry and dance workshops — Moreshead is a longtime member of the Bangor-based Haus of Paradigm bellydance troupe, and Brown is a fire dancer, seen at festivals all over Maine and New England.
Their goal, Brown said, is to offer tea lovers and tea novices whatever kind of experience they like, be it a quick cup of English breakfast and a bagel to kick off the morning, or an afternoon spent slowly sipping on pot after pot of artisan tea and nibbling on tarts and scones.
As the first customers lined up to order last week, Brown admitted she was still in “pinch me” mode.
“Sometimes I sit under the skylight, and I think, ‘Wow, we are so lucky to be here,’” Brown said.
Tea & Tarts is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays-Saturdays. Breakfast is served 7 a.m.-11 a.m.; lunch is served from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. For more information, like them on Facebook.