Hand Blended Teas Find a Home at Tay Tea in Andes
131 Main St | Andes, NY
Although Nini Ordoubadi has always had an affinity for tea, it wasn’t until 2003 that she decided to leave her career in interior design to pursue her passion full time. By 2005, this third-generation tea blender, was selling her unique blends in over 125 stores across the country. That same year, a desire for an upstate oasis full of exceptional tea, great food and hospitality, led her to open Tay Tea, a quaint tea shop in the artsy town of Andes near the Catskill Mountains. “It’s so important to have a brick and mortar. The online thing is great, but it’s not the same,” says Nini. “I wanted something else. I wanted a building where I could flow into. This has been such a joy.”
In the vein of some of her fellow upstate shop owners, her store has something for everyone – from beeswax candles and tea soaps to vegetarian organic seasonal eats. Spend more than five minutes talking to Nini, and you gain insight into the great lengths she takes to thoughtfully curate every item in her shop. “When people come into the shop, I talk to them and listen to them and that’s really where I get my inspiration,” she says. “It wouldn’t be the same business without the store.”
Arriving at the home of Tay Tea on 131 Main Street in Andes, some might wonder if they are stepping into a tea salon, a cafe, or a design store. Nini distinguishes, “’Tay Tea’ is the brand, while ‘Tay Home’ encompasses everything. It’s the tea, the interior design aesthetic, the gifts…it’s also the food.” She furthers, “It’s not just about tea, but it’s about community and building community. It’s a blending of people and tea – good food and joy.”
Ordoubadi’s family has blended teas for three generations, beginning with her great grandfather who was a 20th century Iranian Prime Minister – Saad Doleh. “For every party, he made a private blend of black tea with dried quince for my mom, the great aunts, and all the family. Everybody loved it,” she recalls. Doleh passed this love of tea down to his daughter, Noushafarin Saad, who learned how to blend tea from his teachings. “I was mesmerized by her,” Nini exclaims of her great aunt, who was a french professor, poet, globe trotter and – most importantly – Nini’s tea muse.
“The love of tea is in my blood, and there’s a lot of tea out there, but nobody has my tea,” says Nini. “I started a signature collection of teas [to help] tell my story.” The result is a variety of loose leaf, hand-blended teas, containing ingredients imported from tea gardens around the globe, which are then combined with locally grown herbs and botanicals (that come from Nini’s own garden). Even the names of Nini’s teas add to her narrative – names like, ‘Marry Me Again’ and ‘Wild Woman,’ to name a few.
In January, when winter hits, Nini and her husband close the shop and return to their home in New York City. Sometimes they travel the world, seeking inspiration for what to bring back to Tay Tea. “This April, we went on a private safari in Namibia and it was fascinating,” she says. “I got tons of jewelry, clothes, and artifacts and the gift room is filled with that. It’s my world.”
Tay Tea also offers a local, vegetarian, organic fare that has evolved just as naturally as the ingredients that comprise each dish. “I was in a different location in town for five years. We moved into the new space and I continued the food program. I support the organic farmers one hundred percent,” she says, referring to her suppliers and dear friends: Burnett Farms and Star Route Farms. The menu’s signature item remains the ‘Nini Panini,’ which includes Portobello mushrooms, local cheese and greens on fresh bread, complete with a side salad.
“’Tay’ is the oldest word for tea in Mandarin Chinese, which means ‘tea,’ Nini exclaims. “When I was looking to create a stamp and a brand I wanted something very graphic and very modern and universal. I wanted something that speaks to all of us. Tea comes from China and it’s a 5,000 year old beverage.”
“It’s all international flavors with beautiful spices from around the world,” says Nini, referring to the food she serves at Tay Tea. “A lot of the food has a Middle Eastern and Mediterranean taste to it. I cook with tea. We do baked goods with tea [and] tea-infused desserts. I work with local bakers, who are my good friends.” Baker friends include: Taylor Foster of Heaven on Main Street, Liza Belle Burke, and Anne Gohore of Bread Fellows.
“Many years ago, when I was in college at Columbia University, I always thought, ‘The city is great. I really love it, but I’ve got to get out of here,’” says Nini, recalling her decision to find a respite in Andes. “Back in Iran, we had a country house. We had mountains and a pool. We had goats, cows, and cherry orchards and my dad was so proud of all of that. I really don’t know how I ended up here, but to re-create my past. I knew I needed to run around and be in the quiet of nature.”
Nini’s shop is known for its blend of local and global suppliers. “My products are either made within a twenty mile radius or in the Namibian Desert in Africa.” L’ouvriere, for example, is a line of hand-molded, locally made beeswax candles that she’s sold in her shop for the past nine years. “From the get-go, the candles fly out the store.”
Reflecting on childhood summers spent at her great aunt Saad’s country home on the Caspian shore in Northern Iran, Nini can’t help but draw comparisons between there and Andes. “From [age] eight to fourteen, every summer, I was shipped to her country house in northern Iran. It’s like the Hamptons minus the people and very chill,” she says. “It’s kind of like the Catskills. When we came up here, I told my husband, ‘I’m home. I’ve come to my adopted home’. I feel so comfortable with the landscape, the air, the trees and the people. This is the land of milk and honey for me.”