I just returned from a week-long trip to Northern California where I drove up and down Sonoma County in search of great restaurants, cafes, and hotels with which to share our newly redesigned tea service program.  On my journey, I found some impressive gems that made me want to pack up and move north for their sense of style, culinary prowess, and architectural splendor.  Many of the people I met along the way were welcoming enough to hear what I offered and at the very least gave me 10 minutes to pitch my tea spiel.  Several allowed me to open my trench coat and show my wares.  But there was one fellow in particular who really made this trip a delight.  Not because he wanted anything I had to offer, actually.  Quite the contrary.  It was what he offered me that made this detour worthwhile.

I was in Graton, California, a little town with a charming one-block shopping district, making my way to the local good eats.  I went to Graton specifically to visit a restaurant that I read about on Yelp, a review site by the people for the people.  When I read all of the flattering reviews by locals and tourists alike, I thought it a great fit for our program.

After walking out of the restaurant knowing it might not be quite the fit I had hoped, I decided to stroll the block and wander a bit.  When I came to the end, I noticed a busy man sweeping his stoop of the nothingness that had already been removed.  I gazed up at the sign, wondering what this modern-meets-Zen door held behind its greatness.

At first, I was confused.  There were two doors that looked identical and the signage said “Antiques, Chinese artifacts, Art gallery and Lifestyle Emporium”.  But when I looked up at the overhanging sign, I saw “T Bar” inconspicuously looming low.  I asked the fellow if he was the owner and where the tea bar was located.  He stopped his broom and welcomed me inside.  I was impressed with what I saw!  To my delight, a beautifully designed wooden tea bar graced the center of the room and a retail area stood at its side.  It was more tea bar than antique emporium, and I was quickly invited to join Lou, the T Bar’s proprietor, for a cup of oolong deliciousness that had just arrived from China.

Lou and I talked for almost two hours as he shared stories of his exciting travels to China, the art of being a sole proprietor, and wearing the many hats associated with the job.  We exchanged ideas and resources that I’m certain we’ll both find useful in the near future.  Lou kept my cup full all the while as we leisurely forgot it was a Tuesday work day.  I looked up and it was time to move on and to put my own sales hat on now.

Graton would have basically been a forgettable town were it not for the fact that it’s managed to bring in some unforgettable food establishments.  But there’s nothing forgettable about Lou and his little tea shop.  It’s experiences like this that I love about being in the business of tea.