Tea house brings Eastern tradition from San Francisco hills to WNC Mountains

Eliza Hill

Arts & Features

ehill4@unca.edu

Photo by: Emily Arismendy Appalachian State grad, Hunter Strickland pour the cooled water over the tea to let it steep.

High Climate Tea Company transcends ordinary retail practices by infusing customer service with education and passion, transforming curious visitors into knowledgeable tea consumers.

“The big picture and grand-scale vision is to popularize Eastern medicine and show people how to balance their health to cleanse and detox their bodies,” High Climate owner Hunter Strickland said. “It’s really rewarding to be a part of a community of people who share the same interest as me and show them simple things that allow them to go deeper into a world that they love.”

 The former English teacher developed a passion for tea and Eastern medicine during a four-year period working in San Francisco, California under his mentors who own the Chinatown tea shop, Vital Tea Leaf.

 Mentors nurtured Strickland’s quest to open his own tea shop in Asheville, initially sparking hesitation due to climate and customary differences.

 “I said you know; the South is very different than San Francisco. It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s not good tea-drinking weather, people drink sweet tea, it’s different, I can’t do it,” he said.

 After reacquainting himself with the mountain town, he overcame hesitation, realizing Chinese medicine practitioners serve the Asheville community in full force.

 “I was like ‘It’ll probably work in Asheville if it’ll work anywhere,’ So I came back after seven years in California and all the traditional Chinese medicine places have opened, all the acupuncturists and herbalists were here,” Strickland said.

 On July 3, he opened shop on 12 S. Lexington Ave., adorning the space with beautiful aesthetics, displaying rare, quality teas along the walls. The wooden bar welcomes patrons to perch on a stool and experience an engaging, educational and conversational tea drinking experience.

 Childhood friend Andrew Ferrell credits Strickland for kicking off his newfound tea craze. While lending a hand in the tea shop’s preliminary stages, Strickland’s expertise and wisdom intrigued him. Ferrell now drinks pu’erh, green and oolong teas on a daily basis to enhance physical health and mental clarity.

 “I saw Hunter was moving out here to open a shop and I randomly just asked him if he needed any help or would want to hang out when he got here and he just started teaching me about tea,” Ferrell said. “I think Hunter’s really knowledgeable and willing to let you try a lot of stuff and can really explain a lot about it. I’ve learned more here than anywhere else in person.”

 High Climate visitor Mia Pederson said customers can expect quality, enlightening service surrounded by the shop’s dazzling, well-lit and cheery interior.

 “I couldn’t remember what the space had been before and I was kind of amazed that I couldn’t think of it because of how good of a job they had done redecorating,” she said.

 Pederson ordered green tea upon her first visit with a friend, initially overwhelmed by the complex gaiwan and straining system served upon a slotted wooden drainage tray. The server’s product knowledge impressed her as they guided her through the infusion steps.

 “Mine was in a traditional pot that doesn’t have a handle, doesn’t have a spout, just a cup with a top. The server we had walked me through the processes and told me where to put my fingers and how to tilt it,” Pederson said. “The most shocking part- it was only $8 for each of us. For the amount of time we were there and the amount of time the server spent with us explaining everything, we paid more for the experience rather than the actual tea.”

 Strickland offers a rare, affordable and authentic tea selection sourced directly from farmers, differentiating High Climate from standard tea shops.

 “We directly source and import all the tea we carry. Nothing comes from mail order or middlemen; nothing goes to Europe and is broken down or goes through a franchise chain to get to us. It all comes from the people that farm and produce it,” the tea guru said. “Sourcing it and importing our sales directly allows us to sell quality tea at prices where people can drink it every day.”

 Strickland cites his Blue People Ginseng Oolong as the shop’s flagship tea, earning the moniker “Blue People” for its congeniality and widespread favoritism among customers. The Taiwanese oolong coated in ground ginseng root serves as a popular coffee replacement, enhancing focus and increasing energy by dilating blood vessels and improving circulation.

 “Ginseng is phenomenal for extended periods of focus and concentration because of the extra blood and oxygen to your brain, and your brain uses more blood and oxygen than any other muscle in the body,” he said.

 Consumers may leave High Climate rethinking their tea rituals. Strickland emphasizes three main culprits of a sub-par pot of tea, the first being scalding tea leaves in boiling water. He said high temperatures force tannins out of the tea, causing a bitter, leathery taste and diminishing nutritional value.

 Secondly, he discourages tea drinkers from wasting or over-steeping tea, saying quality tea may be reinfused and contain benefits long after the first pour.

 “A lot of people who drink loose leaf will just drink it once or twice. Usually you don’t get the best pot of tea until about the third or fourth time you infuse it. So, as a result of that, you can make much better tasting tea in a smaller sized pot,” Strickland said. “The different elements of tea will all infuse at different rates and steeping it in smaller sizes can create a much better flavor than you can in something really large trying to steep huge volumes of it.”

In addition, he suggests refraining from dressing tea with milk, sugar or spices, comparing mixing tea with outside substances to pressing the gas and the brakes simultaneously. These ingredients also doc health benefits, natural flavor and disrupt the tea’s intended effects.

“Different herbs and spices belong to different elements- some belong to yin, some belong to yang, and you start pulling yourself in different directions. It’s sort of like looking at a bike and saying ‘If I push down on this pedal it’ll go this far, let’s push down on all of the pedals at the same time.’ You often end up working against yourself instead of going twice as hard,” Strickland said. 

While Strickland’s shop emphasizes wellness aspects, artistry and science behind their medicinal beverages, he looks forward to spinning a fresh twist with traditional tea culture by hosting tea and vermouth, wine or whiskey pairings. As of Nov. 7, High Climate hosts Asheville’s first authentic matcha bar, held during regular business hours.

Strickland expresses appreciation for his mentors who nudged his tea shop aspiration toward the North Carolina mountains, where a community graciously embraces the manifestation of his efforts.

“I’m just really grateful that things worked out the way they did. I had the opportunity to bring something that I love and am so passionate about to a place that I love just as much,” Strickland said.

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