Minority-Owned Chado Tea Room Turns 30

Afternoon Tea at Chado Tea Room. Photos courtesy of Chado.

The story behind Chado Tea Room is a great example of the American Dream. Fostered by minority immigrants passionate about their trade, this groundbreaking endeavor proved influential to Los Angeles (and, eventually, the entire country).

Chado began in 1990 with the opening of its first location on 3rd Street near La Cienega. Two years later, Chado was bought by Reena Shah, born in Fiji, and her husband Devan Shah, a native of India. Tea was always a fixture in Devan’s life — he spent his childhood summers on a tea plantation and grew up to become a tea broker. Moving to the U.S., Devan became a tea importer and proved to be a visionary: he is credited for bringing Chai to the United States by the World Tea Academy.

Born in Africa, Tek Mehreteab joined Chado in 1999 and is credited by the Shahs as an important element in Chado’s success. A native of Eritrea who spoke no English, Tek began at Chado as a busboy, then worked his way up to cook, server, manager, and finally a business partner and COO who convinced the Shahs to open a second location, helping to spur the company’s growth.

Chado now boasts four locations, and this thriving mini-chain just celebrated its 30th anniversary. Every location is open despite COVID-19, as each features outdoor space. Each has a different vibe, but perhaps most noteworthy is the patio at Chado’s DTLA location. Situated at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, it offers a zen garden feel, thanks to bountiful greenery and a large, tranquil water fountain.

Since its beginnings, Chado has stood out from other tea rooms, thanks to the staggering selection of over 300 hard-to-find, high-quality teas and a modern, international vibe that’s also approachable. Devan and Reena’s daughter Bianca, now Chado’s CMO, told me, “Chado is accessible. It goes back to the original vision my parents had of the European tea. They saw Chado as not too traditional and not too girly.”

Afternoon Tea at Chado

I asked Bianca about Chado’s newer offerings and she informed me that Columbia, long known for coffee, is now producing some noteworthy teas. “We sell teas from Bitaco, a great eco tea plantation there that specializes in black tea mocca (a unique blend of tea, coffee, cloves, and cacao).”

Bianca added, “We’re seeing growth in specialty tea. A lot of our consumers are driven by social consciousness — where are the products coming from? How are the workers being treated? Our business has always visited tea farms to see the working conditions. There will be a lot less commodity tea. We’re also seeing more sales of organic dragon well tea and jasmine pearl green tea.”

For a cup of something both tasty and highly Instagrammable, you need to order one of Chado’s blooming teas. You’ll be presented with a clear teapot showcasing tea leaves blended with dried flowers. When boiling water is added, the concoction unfurls into a gorgeous, blooming floral presentation.

Guava Blooming Tea at Chado.

Afternoon tea service at Chado includes a pot of freshly steeped loose tea, four half sandwiches (smoked salmon, chicken infused with smoky souchong tea, egg salad marinated in Punjab tea, and cucumber and cream cheese), a scone with cream and berries, and an ice cream float or cookies for dessert. Afternoon tea ranges in price from $22.95 to $28.95, and you can order a la carte if you’d prefer something lighter.

Chado sells its hundreds of loose leaf teas online, and shipping is free for the rest of 2020. If you’re buying Chado’s loose leaf tea onsite, don’t forget the 15% discount off all loose leaf tea with a Yelp check-in.

Chado Tea Room is located in Hollywood, Downtown L.A., Pasadena, and Torrance. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and reservations are recommended. Delivery is available via Postmates and Uber Eats.

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