If you’ve had a great cup of tea in Nashville lately, it’s probably thanks in part to Sarah Scarborough. With degrees in environmental studies, agroecology and sustainable development and a decade’s worth of experience working in sustainable agriculture, it was Scarborough’s interest in ethical trade (she received a Congressional Award of Merit for her advocacy of Fair Trade in 2005) that led her on the path to tea. After launching Firepot Nomadic Tea online in 2001, she planted roots in Nashville, where the company recently opened its first brick-and-mortar tea room. “Until recently, tea culture in Nashville has essentially been sweet tea and fruit tea and maybe the odd English-style afternoon tea,” Scarborough says. “Even 10 years ago, when I moved to Nashville and started Partners Tea Company, which was the city’s first specialty tea company, many chefs and coffee shops weren’t too interested.”
Scarborough’s work with Partners and Firepot helped change that. Firepot teas are now served in coffee shops, bakeries bars and restaurants around town, and it’s not unusual to find a local bartender or brewer experimenting with the teas in cocktails and beer recipes. “The next frontier is getting high-quality and seasonal teas on menus,” Scarborough says. “The key is education, which is the focus of Firepot Tea Bar. Our goal is to be able to host educational classes and bring a real understanding of tea to Nashville.”
The new bar, which opened in the 12 South neighborhood this spring, is a bright and airy space. Scarborough started making the company’s flagship chai in the space five years ago, and she knew the building would be perfect for a storefront thanks to the high foot traffic in the area. “The tea bar is across the street from Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James and Holly Williams’ White’s Mercantile and down the road from Imogene and Willie, so we’re surrounded by several nationally recognized spots,” she says. Inspired by the earthy and textured yet clean and refined feel of Tulum, she worked with friend Jessica Sloane to design and style the interior. Handmade objects decorate the space, with tea wares and decor from local Nomad Collective and stools and pillows coming from a recent trip to Scarborough took to Morocco.
Tea classes are held every Monday, and free tastings welcome guests to the shop on Tuesdays, covering everything from tea history to teas varieties. “We offer approachable drinks like sparkling hibiscus ginger tea on tap and seasonal sweet teas, as well as some very rare and unique ones,” Scarborough says. “Once people come in the shop, they can begin to expand their tea knowledge.” There’s a charitable aspect, too; one percent of sales go to women and wildlife in tea through the Roar Collaborative.
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