St. Petersburg, U.S.A – Affectionately described as €œthe Starbucks of tea€ by locals, The Hooker Tea Company is more than just a trendy little niche in downtown St. Pete. Originally opened in 2006 by Sean Hooker, the shop has since been taken over by current owner Raymond Ritola, and the love Ritola has for both the store and the brand is evident in everything from the merchandise to the way he speaks.

Big tins full of loose-leaf tea make up one of the walls behind the counter, with pieces of real fruit and other spices mixed in, and the staff will let you take a whiff of any flavor before you come to a final decision on what you′d like to try. There′s no rush, with over one hundred flavors of tea, and the staff is highly knowledgeable in the craft, as well as more than willing to explain the nuances of their teas to help match you with the right fit for your palette. This is the kind of caring, personalized experience you can expect to feel in every aspect of the shop.

€œWe try to give a relaxed atmosphere that′s very warm and very comforting, but at the same time you can be productive,€ Ritola explains, €œYou can get away from it, you can do your work here instead of at home or at an office. €œ His words are evident in the board games stacked by the door €“ every childhood favorite, from Connect Four to Jenga €“ and the large, comfy chairs spread out among tables. Free Wi-Fi is offered to guests and drinks are usually served in real mugs and glasses in a bid to combat what Ritola calls the €œserve €˜em and send €˜em€ mentality that other, similar places may have.

The comfort of the customers, though most important, is not the only thing on Ritola′s mind as he runs his store. The Hooker Tea Company is a place that prides itself on its effort to remain local and environmentally friendly. Since taking over, Ritola has managed to reduce utilities by 40%, and all to-go containers are green and made of recycled material. They even use special trash bags that recycle the liner used in strawberry fields, which are not only green in sustainability, but in color as well. The vast majority of their ingredients for food are purchased locally, and they sell orange juice straight from a nearby grove.

As inspiring as all of Ritola′s work is to keep the planet healthy and to Keep St. Petersburg Local (an organization of which they are a member), his efforts do not stop at the store itself; the Hooker Tea Company has a variety of healthy relationship with other restaurants and shops in the area as well. Places like Mezze 119, a Mediterranean restaurant down the street, and NeoSoul, a tattoo and art shop, carry the Hooker brand teas for their customers.

And Hooker′s neighbors, the gelato shop Paciugo and AnnaStella′s Cajun Bistro, both enjoy sharing a cooperative success with Hooker Tea, as they are three very different stores that complement each other. In fact, Ritola′s neighbors are one of the main reasons he refuses to sell coffee.

€œBoth of our neighbors sell it. It′s kind of adding us into competition that we don′t necessarily need to be added into,€ he says of potentially placing coffee on the menu. €œWe feel we should stick with something that we′re very good at instead of throwing ourselves into the mix of a bunch of competitors.€

Those who need their daily coffee fix and don′t feel like walking next door can breathe a sigh of relief, however. Ritola adds, €œAside from the mates, which have the high caffeine content, we also have coffee-esque style teas like our Toasted Amaretto or our Café Latte, which are very very similar to it.€

While the main thing they serve is their superior-quality tea – and it is indeed what they are known for €“ the Hooker Tea Company does offer an array of house-made items to eat. From cupcakes that are moist and decadent, but not overly sweet, to fresh fruit, to their popular quiche. Rich and cheesy, with obviously fresh ingredients, their quiche manages to do what so little can €“ taste more of the many, layered flavors than simply of egg. If these are the kinds of items served when the Hooker Tea Company is a café, then one can imagine how exquisite the food will be if Ritola′s dreams of expanding into a full tea-based restaurant come to fruition.

€œIt′d be all kind of tea-oriented,€ he says, excited by the prospect, €œCooking with tea is becoming a lot more popular. We actually worked with a couple of breweries at one point and created tea-infused beers, tea-infused sangrias. But we also do tea-infused cupcakes, tea-rubbed chicken and steaks, tea-infused salad dressings €“ there′s just a lot of ways you can integrate teas into the cooking, which is a very unique style of cooking that could be something that could have a lot of potential and success.€

Although the possibility for such a place is still up in the air, one thing is certain: It will be as much loved and revered by the St. Petersburg locals as the humble little Hooker Tea Company shop currently is.

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  • Teas are served iced or hot: $2.75 – $3.50 (depending on type, one size only)
    • $5.95 – $7.00 for endless tea pot (in house only)
    • Skim, 2%, whole, half-n-half, vanilla soy, and almond milk available
    • Splenda, Sweet n Low, sugar, honey and agave available
    • Over 100 kinds, including green teas, white teas, fruit and herbal blends, mates, black teas, rooibos teas, oolong teas, decaf black teas, honeybush teas, and pu-erh teas
    • Customers have the ability to mix and match tea types to create their own custom blends
    • Bubble Tea (weekends only): $3.95
    • Hot Blends: $3.95
    • Frozen tea blends: $4.45
    • Food Items (made fresh daily): $3 €“ $8.95
      • Pastries
      • Quiche (Vegetarian or Meat)
      • Tea-infused Oatmeal
      • Parfait
      • Fresh fruit bowl

The Hooker Tea Company
Open 8am-10pm (M-Sat)
8am-7pm (Sun)
300 Beach Drive
Suite 124
St. Petersburg,  FL 33701
ph:  727 894 4832
e: [email protected]
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/hookerteacompany
Website: http://the-hooker-tea-company.myshopify.com/