A New Cup of Tea for Kalispell

By Beacon Staff

Chris’ Tea Cottage is located in an old principal’s office in the Museum at Central School in downtown Kalispell. It’s a charming store in an equally charming location, though recently a young girl expressed concern over standing in a place that she has long learned to avoid: the principal’s office.

“That didn’t sit well with her,” Chris Easton, co-owner of the tea shop, said.

But luckily for the little girl, the principal no longer looms there. What can be found at Chris’ Tea Cottage, though, is a tea drinker’s dream: pots, cups, strainers, books, rare black teas, healthy green teas and anything else one needs to satisfy the tea appetite. Carl Easton, the husband of Chris, calls it a “one stop tea ware shop.”

The shop, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, also offers a diverse lunch menu. Carl Easton envisions the restaurant serving as a hub for downtown businesspeople. On the menu is a diverse selection of specialty sandwiches, soups, salads, cheese plates, dessert trays, fresh-squeezed lemonade, coffees and teas. The Eastons accept call-in orders for pick-up.

The blue glass of the antique snack sets contrast with the red napkins and hand made napkin rings at Chris’ Tea Cottage.

Chris’ Tea Cottage has a location in Bigfork that has been open for three years. The Kalispell shop opened in early October and the Eastons also run a store in Columbia Falls that is strictly dedicated to tea retail goods. The Bigfork store is closed for the winter and Chris Easton said Kalispell provides a good year-round, centralized location. Many of her customers come from Whitefish and Bigfork is quite the drive in the winter.

Among all of the gadgets in the Cottage’s kitchen is a particularly futuristic-looking machine that immediately catches the eye. It’s called a “teaspresso” machine. One side of it makes regular coffee espresso and the other side makes “teaspresso” – shots of espresso made from tea leaves instead of coffee beans. Mix it with steamed milk and you have a tasty tea latte.

Chris Easton discovered the machine while attending the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas and she estimates her shop is the only place in the Northwest United States, if not the whole country, to have the cutting-edge technology.

Traditional English afternoon tea parties are a popular draw at the Eastons’ business. At the parties, women and a growing number of men gather to drink tea, socialize and enjoy a multiple-course snack that includes scones and “tea sandwiches.” The parties run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. everyday and Easton recommends reservations. They fill up fast.

On top of the daily tea parties, the Eastons also host a series of Christmas tea parties. They sold out all three years in Bigfork and are expected to again in Kalispell. Around 25-30 people attend each party.

Patrons of Chris’ Tea Cottage are encouraged to tea wear hats – to bring their own or borrow one from the cottage – while enjoying tea in the elegant setting.

The Christmas parties are similar to the regular parties, but more elaborate, with champagne, mimosas, an array of finger sandwiches and fruits, all capped off by an eclectic dessert tray. Whitefish resident Diane Dickerson plays a golden harp at the ceremonies. The cost is $35 and the parties, which begin at 2 p.m., will be held on Dec. 6, 12-13, 19-20 and 22-24, in the museum’s display room.

“It’s expanding upon the Christmas tea experiences by bringing them into the museum itself,” Carl Easton said.

The presence of the museum adds cultural flair to a business that already prides itself as a unique cultural draw. The display room of the Museum at Central School is virtually an extension of Chris’ Tea Cottage, and the two entities provide a classy ambience. The shop boasts antique tables, elegant china, books about tea and even a rack of fanciful hats for tea partiers to wear.

“I love pretty things; I love the antiques; I love the elegance,” Chris Easton said.

Chris’ Tea Cottage offers a wide variety of teas: flowering, oolong, black, white, green and herbal. The health benefits of tea have been rapidly emerging in recent years, and countries that aren’t generally regarded as tea-drinking strongholds, like the United States, are beginning to take note.

“I always call tea drinkers happy drinkers,” Chris Easton said. “They seem less stressed than coffee drinkers. There are so many people getting on the tea bandwagon.”

The Kalispell location will be open year-round, while the Bigfork store will re-open on June 1 for the summer season. The address of Chris’ Tea Cottage is 124 Second Ave. East, Kalispell. The store can be reached at 756-4TEA and found online at www.christeacottage.com.