Chimera Teas in Tower Grove East sells baked goods, small plates and plenty of beverages
When Brianna Velarde decided to open a tea shop, one big thing she was hoping to create was a little extra community in Tower Grove East. That seemed especially important because when she'd moved in about two and a half years ago, two juggernauts in nearby Tower Grove South — VP Square and the London Tea Room — had recently left. "I was missing some tea, so I decided to bring it back," she said. "That's kind of my goal here, bring tea back to the neighborhood."
Walking into Chimera Teas at 3149 Shenandoah Ave. mid-morning on a recent Saturday, it's abundantly clear that Velarde has done that — and then some. The small tea shop, which takes over the storefront vacated by longtime neighborhood favorite Kitchen House Coffee, is hopping.
Every table is taken, and a small crowd stands sipping tea or noshing on pastries while leaning against walls or standing in odd corners. The minute a person stands up from a table, there's someone else at their elbow sitting down a cup. In front of the pastry case/register area, there's a swiftly moving line.
It's a bit loud, especially for a tea shop. That's thanks to the duo playing on an elevated stage set against Chimera's front window, but also the constant low-level hum of conversations, which goes to show how much the shop has established itself in the neighborhood since first opening late last year. "When we first opened up our doors, basically everybody that came in would introduce themselves to me and be like, 'Oh, I live two blocks down.' Or, 'I was walking my dog, and I saw you guys were open,'" she said. "At this point, at least half of our traffic is neighborhood traffic. There's people that come in every week."
Velarde was inspired to create this kind of neighborhood institution tea shop during the pandemic. Working from home at a job she enjoyed, she couldn't help but think about how she didn't know her neighbors. She didn't want to meet people at bars and thought a coffee shop or tea shop was a better option. Velarde combined that thought with a passion for sustainability, which can be seen in Chimera's plant-based fare (everything is vegan), composting and even the plants around the shop.
Chimera first launched last year as a stall in the Tower Grove Farmers' Market. When Kitchen House Coffee closed in March, Velarde was looking for a brick-and-mortar space in the area and was drawn in by its large windows and patio. "It was kind of perfect," she said. Velarde set about designing the shop to have the perfect vibe, an atmosphere that would "make people relax and loosen up and be more likely to open up and chat."
"I want, from our source to our store, to be part of the solution," she said.
In addition to hot teas, Chimera serves iced tea, bubble tea, coffees (with beans from Blueprint) and a wide selection of lattes that includes offerings such as a Thai tea latte (spices, vanilla, coconut milk) and a golden milk (turmeric, spice concentrate, maple syrup).
Food at Chimera is mostly bakery items, small plates such as avocado toast, steamed buns in a variety of flavors both expected (mapo tofu) and not (ancho jackfruit) and occasional specials. Velarde is planning on building in additional food items over time.
In other words, Chimera has something for everyone and, Velarde believes, a tea for everyone, even if you don't think you like tea.
"Any tea can be bitter if you brew it too hot or too long. You've got to be careful with it. It's a delicate, delicate leaf," she said. "What I love about being a tea shop and trying all these teas that I've sourced is finding the nuance of flavors, the complexity of flavors, like those small notes that come out when you brew something well."
Additional reporting by Zachary Linhares.
This article was originally published by the Riverfront Times.