Joe and Ann Budharaksa opened the Edmonds spot in November. The tea room was inspired by Ann's mother, a tea aficionado. It was named by Joe's father. Baicha is the Thai word for tea leaf, honoring the couple's heritage.
The pair had sought a village location by the fountain for two years for an Asian restaurant.
"When I saw a little sign in the empty store I knew that was the spot for us," Ann Budharaksa said.
Significant retrofitting was necessary. Restaurant-grade plumbing and repositioning a staircase were required to bring the location up to code for food service.
Now Baicha serves a full complement of nearly 100 varieties of tea, including selections from China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka. Blends, flavored and scented teas, seasonal selections and infusions that encourage good health round out the tea menu.
Bulk teas are sold in 2-ounce portions, to ensure optimal freshness. Joe Budharaksa also instructs customers to keep the tea in a small, airtight container that won't let in light and to store it in a dark place with stable temperature and no humidity.
He is also fanatic about the various water temperatures each tea requires to brew correctly. Black teas require 212 degrees; green teas, 170.
"Tea will be bitter if the wrong water temperature is used," Budharaksa said.
Baicha also has a limited food menu, from light breakfast fare to hearty sandwiches and steaming soups. Classic tea sandwiches are also available, as are salads.
It was Ann's mother who captured Joe's imagination with tea.
"She is really knowledgeable about tea," he said. "She taught me quite a bit. I tried to learn everything."
From there the couple immersed themselves in all things tea. They attended festivals and trade shows. While in Thailand, they visited the tea trees to witness the process. They visited tea rooms.
"There is a lot to learn," Joe Budharaksa said. "Black tea from India is like wine, harvested twice a year in a first and second crush. In Japan there are tea masters. Every day we learn something, often from customers."
For the couple, raising a family in Edmonds, it was important to have a family-friendly space. A kids menu includes macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese and peanut butter and jam sandwiches, each served with milk or hot cocoa. Furniture edges are rounded, the cellar level has large restrooms, and there are nooks for people who seek solitude along with communal areas for gregarious sippers.
"Tea is healthy for everyone," Joe Budharaksa said. "There are no side effects to drinking too much tea."
Baicha Tea Room
Where: 622 Fifth Ave. S, Edmonds
Contact: 425-670-2222, www.baichatearoom.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday