For Michael Robinson, a trip to his mother’s home country of Taiwan just before the pandemic provided the inspiration for his startup teahouse, Steep Tea Company, at 960 West University Drive in Tempe.
“In Taiwan, every other business is a tea shop,” Robinson says. “It’s almost like over here and coffee.”
The 800-square-foot storefront opened in the University Park Shopping Center in early October, serving vegan tea lattes, cold brews, cold foams, and locally produced canned and bottled drinks. At Steep Tea, plant-based drinks are made to order and pulled through an espresso machine, like coffee. The process provides maximum flavor and allows for some creative tastes, Robinson says.
“We pull black leaf tea, green tea, chai tea – all the loose-leafs,” he says. “We make our tea lattes that way. It’s all made fresh.”
Robinson says Steep Tea is vastly different than Boba tea. A nearby Boba shop doesn't concern him, competition-wise.
“I drink Boba tea all the time, but it’s different than what we’re going for," he says. "We’re going for tea lattes and things like that.”
Robinson says that even though many Americans are relatively unfamiliar with loose-leaf tea, most people can connect with the familiarity of an espresso machine.
“We even have some teas, like our Rooibos, which come out with a crème, just like coffee, and it’s so unique,” he says.
The caffeine-free Rooibos is a South African-inspired latte with a plant-based milk alternative (mylk) and creamer, made with Ceylon cinnamon and maple syrup. It is served either hot or iced for $6.
“I feel like once I get someone in the building and they try something, they’ll come back,” says Robinson. "For example, there is culinary-grade matcha and ceremonial-grade matcha, and we use ceremonial-grade. The cost difference is about five times the price, but it’s all about the quality.”
Steep Tea also carries an assortment of bottled and canned drinks that Robinson developed over the last year and a half. He initially had a trailer at the Peoria Sports Complex during spring training to serve his teas, but when Covid shut down baseball in March 2020, Robinson started selling his teas in bottles and sparkling tea in cans.
Currently, Steep produces a variety of colorful bottled drinks and a canned Lavender Lemon Balm sparkling CBTea – a 12-ounce chilled brew with 20 milligrams of CBD extract.
“Even on our bottle teas, we try to do these colors that really pop out, and those are all colored by superfoods,” he says. “Nothing is artificial. You can have these colorful drinks and they can be beneficial to your health at the same time.”
Robinson says one of his short-term goals is to get his cans into local businesses. His drinks are presently available at Main Street Harvest in Mesa. Another focus in the near future will be to provide dry products for sale on Steep’s website.
“Basically, give the customer the ability to make this tea anywhere,” he says. “Online, you should be able to purchase all the equipment and instructions, and we’re slowly going to give out informational videos on how to brew and just knowledge about teas. We’re trying to be the Starbucks of tea.”
960 West University Drive, Suite 111, Tempe
Hours: Tuesday to Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday