Meet Your Merchant: Niuka Tea fosters health, community with unique blends, pop-up lounges
July 29, 2018
Alexander Friend has early memories of his mother and grandmother creating cozy spaces and drinking tea together in his Midwestern home.
But it was always more than the tea — it was also a time to slow down, share the happenings of the day and enjoy each other's company.
This positive association with tea was something Alexander carried with him into adulthood when, in 2006, he made the decision to pick up and move west.
A deeper interest in the healing aspect of tea was sparked and complemented by his growing passion for alternative medicine and wellness, which included the practices of Reiki, craniosacral therapy, Tui Na Chinese massage and Kung Fu, which has since become a daily ritual.
In 2008, a friend opened an underground tea house, Om Shan Tea, in San Francisco's Mission District. Alexander was hired to prepare, brew and serve carefully selected teas.
"We had every herb on the planet — I was trained to serve in the gong fu cha style of Chinese tea ceremony, using small pots, decanting pitchers and tasting cups," he said. "I served from a low tea bar, where customers would gather around on small stools in a communal setting. I learned a lot by doing that all day for a couple of years."
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On the side, Alexander developed what he dubbed a "tea clinic," a lounge where his massage clients could wait, sip tea and talk before and after their treatment. It was well received, and led him to another idea — "The Nomadic Tea Lounge," which began to gather momentum after Alexander moved to Oakland.
"I would create pop up tea lounges wherever we were invited to do it, mostly in the East Bay," he said. "Over time I collected Persian rugs, furniture and tea wares from the Middle and Far East."
Over the years, having developed expertise in the healing aspects, global traditions and sources of tea from around the world, it seemed only natural that Alexander would launch his own tea business, Niuka Tea, ("nye-yooka") in 2015. The company has since become known for its original formulas, using organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. His blends combine "standout flavors with health benefits," which have been carefully created through his extensive research.
In 2016, Alexander opted to move out of the city and up into the foothills. His business headquarters and tea warehouse are now located just outside Nevada City limits.
"Our teas are designed to help regulate stress, detoxify the body and maintain that ever-shifting sweet spot of relaxed vitality and inspired focus," said Alexander. "People need alternatives to coffee, sodas, cocktails and beer. They need a new, different daily beverage that is delicious and fun, but not draining their adrenals and further inflaming the body."
STRIKING A BALANCE
In today's busy world, many people are overproducing cortisol and other stress hormones, he added. Niuka Tea's blends boast anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and immune-boosting properties to aid with strength, stamina and stress relief. His teas contain "adaptogenic" herbs, which, according to the website, are "ancient botanicals found to help the body adapt to stress factors from external influences and internal imbalance. Their effects accommodate each individual's specific needs, in order to promote homeostasis — internal equilibrium for optimal health."
A sampling of blends include "Daily Balance," which contains sarsaparilla root, hibiscus blossom, spearmint leaf, rose petal, ashwagandha root, codonopsis root, astragalus root and sage leaf. "Clear Lung and Mind" includes tulsi leaf, osmanthus blossom, chaga granules, ginkgo leaf, gotu kola leaf, makrut lime leaf, lemon balm leaf, sassafras root bark and schisandra berry. "Anti-inflammatory Chai" contains roasted Dandelion root, Cardamom, Eleuthero root, Licorice root, Wild Yam root, Roasted Camellia twig, black pepper, cinnamon Bark, ginger root, Meadowsweet blossom, Star Anise and turmeric.
"Adaptogenic herbal teas have exactly the medicine we need," said Alexander. "They specifically regulate and replenish the adrenals and serve to soothe and re-tonify our system. My major focus is on herbal blends, which I was initially exposed to through my work in Chinese massage and study of Eastern medicine for my own health."
Today, the bulk of Alexander's business is wholesale. His teas can be found in an array of California and Midwestern businesses, as well as in Nevada County, including Fable Coffee, FoxHound Espresso and Coffee Broaster, Heartwood, The Stone House and The Break Caffé Espresso Bar.
Alexander said he's hoping to get more Nevada County groups and businesses interested in his Nomadic Tea Lounge, which gives people a chance to sample his blends. In the near future he will be collaborating with Body Balance in Grass Valley to open the Kung Fu Tea House on Mill Street.
"The most rewarding part of this venture is when I get to hear from people how much they connect with the teas and how great they feel after drinking them — and how they fold tea drinking into their daily lives as a daily ritual they enjoy," he said. "It supports them in feeling good, both mentally and physically. That's the ultimate goal."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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