The “People’s Choice” winner of RI Food Fights Iced Coffee challenge came from an unexpected spot this year: Ceremony, a café on Thayer street best known for its tea ceremonies. When Ceremony first opened its doors, just before COVID struck Rhode Island, owner Michelle Cheng talked to Motif Magazine about her vision for her business as “a tea house: reimagined,” where people could sit down for high quality, single-estate tea tastings, similar to whiskey or wine tastings.
But when restaurants and cafes had to transition to take-out menus, Cheng was forced to reimagine her business yet again. And the solution she arrived at is genius.
“Since our tea ceremony services were limited, I knew we needed to expand our to-go and creative menu items. The way it works is: you choose a base — ranging from Japanese green teas to espresso — and your style — from a latte to a spritz — and it’s like building your own poké bowl, but with drinks.”
There are currently four base options to choose from: a matcha tea, a green tea, a black tea and an espresso. There are also four styles of drink: latte, cappuccino, Americano and spritz. There’s no upcharge for milk preference (regular, soy or oat milk), and you have a choice of add-ins: house-made strawberry or lavender syrup, adzuki redbean, CBD shots, brown sugar bobas and seasonal syrups.
“I realized that people understand how to order coffee, but they don’t understand tea options,” Cheng said, “so we have a signature menu with some of our favorite combinations. It’s brought in a new wave of customers and a different clientele, which has been great for us.”
For journalistic integrity, I thought it would be wise to try at least three of these build-your-own drinks, so I ordered:
-(iced) Spiced Chai with a shot of espresso (ie, a dirty spiced chai)
-(iced) Lavender Matcha with brown sugar bobas
-(hot) Hojicha — the Japanese green tea — Latte with maple syrup
These are — and I’m not just saying this — the best tea drinks I’ve ever had. As someone who completed a Bubble Tea crawl two years ago, I’ve had my fair share of bobas, but this Lavender Matcha topped the charts.
“I never knew there were different grades of bobas you could buy,” Cheng said, “so I learned a lot this summer. Even within Grade A (which we use), we had to decide on a specific level of chewiness!” she laughed. “We make our own brown sugar and cinnamon syrup to soak them in. A lot of places use a honey syrup, but we wanted to be mindful of our vegan customers. Vegan bobas teas are hard to come by.”
Whether you are feeling adventurous enough to build your own drink on your first visit, or want to order from their signature menu, I promise you will find something that excites you. “The black sesame latte with a scoop of strawberry sauce is a current late-night favorite — like dessert in a cup,” Cheng said. I am already planning my next visit.
“No matter how hard things get, I have fun with it,” Cheng said, which, coming from someone who opened her business two months prior to a global pandemic and had a baby mid-quarantine, redefines hard. “The prospect of coming up with new recipes always excites me. My motto is ‘Be unique; be creative.’ The most dangerous thing is to become comfortable.”
231 Thayer St, PVD
Order online: ceremonypvd.com