Cup and Kettle
819 Front St., Leavenworth
LEAVENWORTH — Growing up, Barb Hambleton didn’t even like tea.
“My dad made himself a cup of tea every morning,” she said. “I thought it was disgusting. He would use a teabag, boiling water, let the tea bag sit, squeeze it.”
Fast forward to today and Hambleton is the founder and owner of the Cup and Kettle tea and spice shop in Leavenworth. She loves tea and all of its flavors, and now she knows how to make it correctly. That, she said, makes all the difference.
In fact, a lot of her work at the store is teaching people how to better make and enjoy their tea. Some of the most common mistakes? Using low-quality tea, steeping it for too long and adding too much water.
“Most tea bags are only made for a six or eight ounce cup,” she said. “If you use the right amount, it can come out pretty flavorful.”
When Hambleton opened the store in 2010, she liked tea, but she wasn’t an expert. She’s spent the last eight years learning about teas and how to prepare them.
“I love to learn, I love to research, I love to gain knowledge,” she said.
The store, 819 Front St., is right across from the gazebo downtown. She relocated from her old storefront next to The Hat Shop four and a half years ago, going from about 500 square feet, to about 2,000 square feet.
With the larger space came a bigger selection. Cup and Kettle carries around 140 loose-leaf teas and some teabags. She carries black, green, white, oolong and other tea varieties, as well as tisanes (herbal teas).
When the shop moved, Hambleton also decided to appeal to a broader audience by carrying spice blends, including specialty salts and barbecue rubs and sauces.
“I noticed a lot of people coming in and one person would go ‘I don’t like tea, let’s go,’ ” she said. “But barbecue has become huge… There are tons of grilling shows. We keep expanding the barbecue rubs.”
Customers can also pick from more than 25 kinds of salt, including smoked bacon and onion, Spanish rosemary, mushroom flake, truffle and even maple bacon smoked salt.
Hambleton said she works with 20 tea blenders and about 15 spice blenders from around the world to get unique and high-quality blends. She tests products before stocking them to make sure they meet her standards.
“There are a lot of teas that I’ve found that smell great but the flavor doesn’t carry through,” she said. “We are constantly testing different tea blends and spice blends. We want to make sure that the quality is there.”
Hambleton said she updates her inventory to reflect customer preferences. Roobois is popular for being caffeine free and high in antioxidants. When people started requesting lavender teas, she brought in culinary lavender so that they could blend their own. She also stocks teas seasonally.
“We have holiday teas with marshmallows and popcorn and sprinkles in it,” she said.
Besides walk-in business, Cup and Kettle also ships tea throughout the U.S. Hambleton said they make shipments about twice per week.
Having such a big selection comes with challenges, Hambleton said.
“The biggest challenge is probably inventory. I keep my products very, very, very fresh, I don’t want my tea sitting there for a year,” Hambleton said. “At any given time you’ll walk in and see 10 empty jars because it’s getting ordered.”
Customers can also feel overwhelmed by the choices. However, the tea-loving staff at Cup and Kettle can help make picking easier by narrowing the selection by type and flavor. She said employees have to learn all about more than 250 bulk products.
“My staff for the most part, stays all year long,” Hambleton said. “I would rather keep my experienced staff there and happy.”
Hambleton has worked in retail at Cup and Kettle and another Front Street favorite, The Cheesemonger’s Shop, which she managed with her husband for eight years. She said customers are one of her favorite parts of owning a business.
“I love people,” she said. “I love talking to people and I love finding out where they’re from and what brought them to Leavenworth.”