It’s high tea time in Flagstaff.
Where can you settle into a plush turquoise armchair, accept a lovely cup of perfectly- brewed tea and sip gently with your pinky out while decorously nibbling on a warm scone?
With the opening of the White Rabbit Tea Lounge in an upscale retail space in Sawmill at Aspen Place, Flagstaff now has a charming location to savor the wonders of tea.
The tea lounge, situated below luxury apartments, was launched during a soft opening on July 11, with a grand opening on July 14.
Owner Amanda Kristinat is excited to see her dream of operating a teashop come true. Her inspiration is based on a British afternoon tea, with a hint of Alice in Wonderland whimsy.
There were no teashops in the small town of Palmer, Alaska, where Kristinat grew up, but she has been “plotting and planning” to open a tearoom since she spent a summer in Scotland on a mission trip when she was 14.
“Afternoon tea was a regular staple in the events of the day,” she said. “I became very fond of arriving back at my host home and being greeted with friendly faces, tea and Scottish lemon cake. It was a time of daily respite, good company and tea!”
Flavorful, Charming, Whimsical
Looking ahead, her aim became clear. “I opened the White Rabbit Tea Lounge to share enchanting drinks and good times with people,” she said. “I hope it becomes a must-visit destination for Flagstaffians, tourists and visitors alike.”
Kristinat jumped at the opportunity to take over the space formerly occupied by the Lia Leaf Tea House on Piccadilly in Sawmill.
Offerings include traditional tea drinks, as well as some new takes on the time-honored beverage.
Many of the specialty drinks have interesting names that give subtle nods to beloved classic fantasy fiction and fairy tales, including Butterbeer Hot Chocolate, Jabberwocky and Alice’s Dream.
Both tea lounge openings went well and so far, feedback has been very positive.
“People have been enjoying the fun, whimsical decor and drinks,” said Kristinat. “Popular offerings so far have been our Twisted Lemonades, so good they sparkle, Queen of Hearts latte (raspberry rose matcha), the Who Are You (Crema dirty chai), and the 42 varieties of tea that can be served hot, iced, as a latte or purchased by the ounce for home brewing.”
Patrons say they are “excited about the future offering of afternoon tea service with scones, teas, sandwiches and decadent treats,” she said.
Katherine Romero, who brought her young nephew with her, wrote a review on the tea lounge Facebook page. “We hit up White Rabbit Tea Lounge today for their grand opening week,” she said. “The Hibiscus Cooler tea sweetened with agave was tween-approved.” She also said she “inhaled” the pumpkin donut with whipped topping.
Kristinat favors a classic Earl Grey. “I love it for its light citrus notes and creamy texture; plus, it pairs well with dinner or dessert, and it’s packed with antioxidants and supports your digestive system.”
Her favorite cold tea beverage right now is an herbal hibiscus tea lemonade with blackberry. “It’s refreshing, with a balance of tart and sweet.”
Although tea is the obvious focus, coffee lovers should not despair; the White Rabbit also has a selection of Crema coffees.
For the health-conscious, another drink option is the Cheshire CaTea, a great immunity booster.
Customers also have the option of adding a shot of syrup to their drinks, with intriguing flavors such as juniper rosemary sage, lavender, peach thyme and salted honey cardamom.
Opening During COVID-19
To rise to the challenge of opening during the pandemic, the White Rabbit has reduced its seating capacity, all staff are required to wear masks, there is a rigid cleaning schedule, hand sanitizer is available for customer use and there is a minimal- to no-touch payment system, with no cash accepted.
All food and drinks are prepared for to-go service, as well. Staff temperatures are taken prior to work, and there is a UVC sterilizer wand to kill germs at the point of sale (POS) area. “We want to provide quality beverages to our customers in an engaging space, but we also want to be as safe as possible,” Kristinat said.
The seven-member staff at the tea lounge set the mood of gracious welcome and are well trained to take precautions to keep patrons safe while delivering a full range of drink choices.
One of the tea lounge’s “tea-ristas,” Sussa Gitomer, said she is happy to have found a great employment opportunity during a tumultuous time. “I find it to be a very magical and comforting environment,” she said. “I enjoy working here and love the drinks and the great energy from our customers.”
Working with tea is not new to Kristinat, who has been an entrepreneur for 15 years, which includes starting a tea catering business in Alaska in 2005.
She also owns a subscription boxed food business called FXY Box Co., and currently is shipping her Everlasting Autumn Box, which includes a hot drink and handmade items. In addition, she’s spent the past 22 years managing businesses, mostly non-profit organizations.
Kristinat, who is married to David Kristinat, has lived in Flagstaff for 10 years, after relocating from Alaska.
“We were looking for a small town with mild four seasons but close to our extended family in both Southern California and Southern Arizona, and Flagstaff was the winner,” she said. “We have loved every second of it.”
Steeped in Home-Grown Support
The couple has three children, ranging in age from 15 to 25, and they are all helping out in the tea lounge.
Kristinat also is the vice president of operations and finance at Moonshot, for the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (NACET), which has become a model for growing startups through the development of more products and services and the expansion of market positions.
She says her association with Moonshot has been invaluable in helping her start her business.
“The golden opportunity to open my tea lounge arrived right at the end of 2019, just as COVID was coming into view and most of the plans were already in motion before the shutdown. The Moonshot community has been extremely supportive and given me confidence in my venture. Moonshot CEO Scott Hathcock actually designed the interior decor for the place. I showed him an inspiration photo and he turned the White Rabbit Tea Lounge into a wonderland.”
The lounge also will be available for private parties and will host traditional high tea events. Pickup only service will be available during times of city ordinance restrictions.
For more information, visit whiterabbittealounge.com/. FBN
By Betsey Bruner, FBN