Teahouse: Essencha

Monday is Teahouse/Tea Room, Accessory and Brand Review Day!

Essencha, located in Oakley, is considered one of the premier tea houses in the greater Cincinnati area. Part of this is its trendy location. Part of it is the great tea, part is the atmosphere and part is its more contemporary style.


Quick Info

Rating 4/5
Company Essencha
Hours M-F: 11-6 PM
Sat: 11-7 PM
Sun: 10:30-6 PM
Phone (513)-533-4TEA
Address 3212a Madison Rd
Cincinnati, OH 45209
Avg. Cup $ $4.00 USD
Atmosphere Contemporary

Unlike most of the tea houses in Cincinnati Essencha celebrates tea as an approchable part of life which anyone can enjoy, as opposed to a more British styled High Tea which certainly has its own attraction.

The first thing you'll notice when you approach Essencha is the dearth of parking and that Google and MapQuest get their directions wrong, though the location is correct. I was taken to a road behind the establishment and had to turn around.

Once I'd parked in the small-ish lot behind Essencha (entrance at the front) shared by other stores in the vicinity I found my way down a small set of stairs to the side door and was immediately greeted by a warm, inviting atmosphere with hearthy colors and quiet conversations.

Japanese and Chinese art is displayed on the walls and in the spacious bathroom, and a mural along the far wall certainly provides an interesting eye piece. The clear centerpiece is a hanging wooden scaffold which is suspended from the ceiling across the middle of the restaurant helping it feel warmer and less industrial.

One of the more unique features at Essencha is the "Passport." Essencha's passport allows you to keep track of which teas you have and haven't tried and what rating you gave each of them (out of 5 tea leaves). Although you have to leave the passport at Essencha, it's a rather convenient and novel way to make tea bit more adventurous for newbies and experienced drinkers alike!

I'm drawn to Genmaicha as a rule, since it helps me to decide how much attention a blender or teahouse pays to the smaller details of flavor. Essencha offers a robust Genmaicha "Extra Green" blended with Matcha. As I've noted before, this pairing doesn't really get me going since I feel it betrays the more humble roots of Genmaicha's history. Nontheless, the blend was aromatic and flavorful, if a bit less earthy than I'm used to. I'll review this specific blend sometime in the future.

Although I was suprised to note a Pu'erh on the menu I decided I would try Essencha's Kukicha (often called twig tea due to the inclusion of leaf stems). Flavorful, aromatic and with just the slightest hint of bitterness at the end which I've come to enjoy from a good green tea. I'll state for now that I thoroughly enjoyed this blend and will also review it in the future.

The teahouse offers a decent menu of culturally inspired meals to go with their teas. I chose to go with a Japanese Beef Bowl (Beef Donburi), a good match to my Kukicha. The beef wasn't cooked too long and the rice was nice and light. The option of brown rice would be appreciated, but wasn't apparent and a selection of veggies to accentuate the beef would have been nice. The meal comes only with grilled onions, beef and rice.

Desserts are offered at Essencha as would be expected of any teahouse or coffee house. Cute little pastries, cookies and confectionery appear very appetizing and tempted me more than once. I resisted the temptation as I was already full from the donburi and two hearty mugs of tea.

Essencha also offers to sell their tea loose in custom labeled bags or tins. They also sell decent mugs, infusers and tea pots. I didn't notice any tea cozies to keep the pots warm, or any tea scoops/spoons or even any sugar cubes for those who like theirs in proper shapes.

A cup of tea isn't 'cheap' at Essencha. But you're certainly paying for a little more than you get. Both the Genmaicha and the Kukicha were $4 a cup. Still less than some would spend at Starbucks for a lesser quality tea or coffee, but more than I'd expected. The donburi ran me rougly $8 for what should have been 'maybe' $5-$6.

I'm not sure whether to blame the pricing on the location (Oakley is frequented by the trendy young professional crowd), the relativeley young age (Essencha is less than 5 years young) or what the owner's (Tracy Monson) market research indicated was what the market was willing to pay. Regardless, I feel the prices are just a tad high. I was anticipating $0.50 to $1.00 less than what I got.

All in all I'd give Essencha a 4 on a 5 scale. Essencha is the best place to have tea in Cincinnati if you're young, trendy or want a place to relax with a friend or two. The decor and setting are stylish but not distractingly so. The teas are of a quality selection, but are priced a just tad high. The foods are tasty and although the flavors are matched well to the teas they're also slightly pricy for what you get.

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  2 comments for “Teahouse: Essencha

  1. March 30, 2009 at 11:31 AM

    Chris, thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to visit our teahouse and review it. I really appreciate it, and sincerely take your comments to heart. I'm excited and heartened to learn that you're interested in opening a teahouse/room! More teahouses/rooms will enable better access to finer tea experiences, helping to foster an appreciation of the many joys tea has to offer. If you ever want to talk about your project, please feel free to contact me.

    A few notes re: your review: the gyuudon (beef bowl) is made completely from scratch, including selecting, slicing, & slowly braising the beef for a very long time w/ carmelized onions. We don't just microwave a bag of seasoned beef & onions, cut it open, & place over rice like other places that sell it for less. I wanted to keep our food very honest & fresh, but unfortunately this costs a lot more. Even at its current price, this dish is still our least profitable item.

    Regarding tea prices: our tea is a higher quality than what's offered at a lot of other places because I have relationships with several different small-time farmers/importers which makes our supply chain more challenging but ensures a higher quality product. A lot of training & overhead (full-service, real dishes, professional design--you name it!) goes into that cup. This unfortunately drives up the cost.

    Pricing strategies are complex, at least they should be if you're doing them correctly in a cafe/restaurant/retail hybrid, but they should remain dynamic. Poorly defined margins determine your cashflow and will make or break your operation. I will take into consideration your comments on pricing, and see how we can further cut costs (this may entail buying less expensive tea or exploring other service models) for the future.

    Thanks again, and best wishes to you in your future project!

  2. March 30, 2009 at 3:37 PM

    Tracy,

    Thank you very much for your well wishes and very well thought out reply. I've visited Essencha a number of times, and have tried a number of brews and have enjoyed all of them. I understand pricing structures can be complex. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with you again.

    I know you're not in the establishment all the time. When could I get hold of you?

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