EVERETT — When it came to filling the tea caddy or topping off a spice jar, Jeni Ellis was flustered.
Having to buy spices in small plastic or glass bottles, she noted, is another layer of unnecessary packaging that creates more waste — just 9% of plastics are recycled.
“I couldn’t bring my cinnamon jar to a store and fill it,” said Ellis, who thought, “there must be a better way.”
Her frustration, eventually, launched a new business.
In March, Jeni and her husband, Tim Ellis, opened Chai Cupboard, a new tea and spices shop, at 2809 Colby Avenue in Everett, where you can bring your own container or use one of the store’s compostable bags and stock up on spices, loose tea and tea-making accessories.
(Tim Ellis is the creator of “Dispatches from the Multiverse,” an improv comedy sci-fi podcast and takes his tea seriously.)
Chai Cupboard carries more than 100 varieties of tea, including Pea Flower, which makes a deep, blue cup of tea. It also carries 100 spices from kitchen staples such as cumin, coriander and fenugreek to ghost pepper chili flakes, among the world’s hottest peppers.
Need a little? Need a lot?
Spices and teas are stored in large glass jars. The store carries traditional black, green and oolong teas, along with herbal teas and blends, plus some unexpected flavors.
White Chocolate Mocha, a blended black tea, and Mocha Gingersnap, a blended herbal tea, taste just like their names and can tempt even diehard coffee drinkers, Jeni Ellis said.
One of her favorites is Mocha hazelnut. “It’s like hot cocoa with no calories,” she said.
The couple got the keys to the store in November, but it was a slower than normal process stocking the shelves. The pandemic forced many retail and industry trade shows to cancel events last year, including the “World Tea Expo, ” which brings wholesalers and retailers together to buy and sell and view new products. Without those events, it was difficult to locate suppliers, Jeni Ellis said.
Eventually, they filled out the store’s inventory, but only after extensive internet searches to find products.
Chai Cupboard doesn’t serve beverages, but in the future, the couple plans to offer samples and hold tea-tastings. Like wine and beer, “you can match teas to your food,” Jeni Ellis said.
For years the Everett couple traveled to Seattle to buy tea and spices.
They dreamed of opening a local tea and spice store, but were never serious about it until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
Quarantined and bored at home, they finally drew up a business plan, Jeni Ellis said.
They began a search for properties that were centrally located and close to neighborhoods and apartment dwellers.
In downtown Everett, a former real estate office on Colby Avenue with an exposed brick wall and 600-square feet of retail space became available.
Around the corner from Funko’s, on a block lined with restaurants, “we hope people will drop in and buy some tea,” she said of the location.
The couple said they planned to invest $20,000 in their new venture, but that’s risen to more than $30,000.
Chai Cupboard’s tea and spices are gathered from across the globe, but the store’s signs and fixtures are local, Tim Ellis said.
“I built our shelves with hardwood that we bought at Martin Lumber on Broadway,” he said. “We had our labels printed at Alexander Printing on Rockefeller. We bought our main counter at Bramble Home Store on Hewitt, and we had our signs made by FastSigns, right across the street from our shop. We tried as much as possible to patronize Everett businesses,” he said.
Chai Cupboard: 2809 Colby Ave, Everett.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:30 pm.
Janice Podsada; email@example.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods