Sip Tea Lounge: A Cultural Adventure, One Sip at a Time

Pu’er tea leaves

Photo by Toshi Mogi

As a little girl, Nicole Basso recalls, her passion for tea and conversation brewed over midnight talks with her grandma. Growing up in an Italian household of black coffee with breakfast and espresso after dinner, Nicole always looked forward to their nightly rendezvous, her grandma sipping whatever black bagged tea she had in the house, and though at the time Nicole refused the tea, she always gladly participated in the conversation that went with each sip.

Now the owner of Sip Tea Lounge in Huntington Village, Nicole brings this lovely combination of tea and conversation together, offering each of her patrons an experience she now realizes was one she always subliminally connected with, one of which was rooted in her childhood and seeped long into her adult years.

PuÕer tea plantations in China.

Photo by Toshi Mogi

“I began drinking more tea and really enjoying it once I was in college and graduate school.” Nicole admits, “My desire to really learn more about the actual tea in my cup, the leaves from which it comes and the array of teas that exists started about 13 years ago in San Francisco.” At the time, Nicole and her husband, Toshi, were living in the bohemian West Coast city, and she was spending her free time exploring farmers markets and tea shops, her favorite to this day Samovar, where her love affair with Pu’er tea began.

Pu’er is a variety of fermented dark tea with origins in the Yunnan province, China, a unique tea that caught Nicole’s attention after she participated in a tea tasting at Samovar. The tea, which is dried, rolled, fermented and oxidized, inspired Nicole and Toshi to visit China in 2012 to further explore Pu’er tea. A tea she now serves in her own shop, Sip Tea Lounge.

Nicole Basso of Sip Tea Lounge at a tea plantation in China.

Photo by Toshi Mogi

“This trip provided me with historical and hands-on knowledge of Pu’er from the people who grow it and drink it every day. I learned about a culture through the tea drinking experience in China. Nicole recalls, “We visited tea plantations, factories, wholesale emporiums and tasting rooms. We also visited teahouses in China, where we saw how tea plays a central role in social gatherings and community connections.”

When Nicole and Toshi returned from China, she was incredibly inspired. Up until then Nicole’s passion for tea had landed her a stand at her local Huntington farmers market, and she was selling tea online, but the experience she wanted to share with fellow tea lovers went beyond that. “When you share tea, you’re sharing a cultural experience. It’s not just about the tea. When customers come to have tea at Sip, I want them to share in these experiences and feel as though they are taking an unexpected journey. I am doing my job if they feel transported to another place.”

Sip Tea Lounge: 286C New York Avenue, Huntington