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Dobrá Tea brings a taste of world teas to downtown Northampton

  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Guy McGuinn, second from right, waits on a customer Wednesday at Dobra Tea, 186 Main Street in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Dobra Tea, 186 Main Street, in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Joel and Alli Jukiro, owners of Dobra Tea at 186 Main Street in Northampton stand at the tea station Wednesday.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Dobra Tea owners Joel and Alli Jukiro work the tea station Wednesday.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Varieties of tea rest on a counter at Dobra Tea, 186 Main Street in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Varieties of tea rest on a counter at Dobra Tea, 186 Main Street in Northampton.

They fell in love over tea while attending college in Vermont, created a tea program for a shop near Glacier National Park in Montana and backpacked through China’s tea lands to learn about the centuries-old practice of growing and processing tea.

And after much soul-searching and good fortune, the couple in late November launched a Bohemian-style tearoom called Dobrá Tea Northampton at 186 Main St., in the space formerly occupied by Eclipse Restaurant.

The tearoom features more than 100 varieties of hand-selected, loose-leaf teas from around the world, as well as light fare of locally produced, chemical-free foods.

The couple believes operating a shop that focuses solely on tea fills a unique niche in a city that tends to revolve around coffee. Based on early results, visitors agree, said Alli Jukiro.

“Northampton is such a coffee town, so it’s wonderful to have a place where you can go to have tea,” she said. “We have felt so welcomed by the city and community.”

Dobrá aims to serve its tea in a soothing atmosphere designed to reflect the Bohemian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern, Asian and other cultures of the tea-drinking countries where much of its tea comes from. The space features numerous “nooks and crannies” where people can have quiet, intimate gatherings, a no-technology room where computers and smartphones are discouraged and a seating area screened off by beaded curtains for extra privacy.

“We want to serve tea as traditionally as possible, as it would be in the country of origin,” Joel Jukiro said.

Moroccan lamps, Chinese teaware, artwork and tea-related photos are displayed throughout the tearoom, and soft, non-English music serves as a backdrop. In addition to traditional chairs, the tearoom also has benches against walls and areas where people sit on floors. But it’s not solely about privacy. There is plenty of seating near the entrance where large windows face Main Street. In the few weeks since opening, Dobrá has hosted blind dates, business meetings and solitary tea drinkers.

“It’s kind of a blank slate,” Alli Jukiro said. “The atmosphere is anything you want or need it to be.”

Visitors to the tearoom can choose from hot and chilled tea options. Dobrá’s thick menu gives a history and description of each tea, and each of the shop’s seven employees, or “devoteas,” are knowledgable about the teas and can make recommendations. The Jukiros said each employee goes through a training period and must pass three tests showing they understand the history and science behind the teas that Dobrá serves.

The teas, which cost between $3 and $7 for a teapot or single-serving, are served in handmade pottery or in traditional vessels.

The Jukiros’ passion for tea began as customers at a Dobrá Tea in Burlington, Vt., while they were students at the University of Vermont, where the pair first got to know each other and plan their future. After graduation, they spent three years working on a community-oriented farm in northern Montana, where they developed a tea program for a teahouse in Whitefish. Wanting to “do something big,” the couple began plotting the biggest adventure of their lives — a several-month backpacking trip to the tea-brewing regions of China.

“We really wanted to see if tea was something we wanted to follow as a life path,” Joel Jukiro said.

As they ventured from one end of China to the other, the Jukiros soaked up the tea business from many experts including a husband-and-wife team who specialized in an exotic tea called Pu’er, a tea that is served in the Northampton Dobrá.

“We would sit for four hours a day, drinking tea and eating together,” Alli Jukiro said. “We learned infinitely more than we would have hoped.”

When they returned to the United States, the Jukiros worked at Dobrá Tea rooms in Portland, Ore., and Portland, Maine, before deciding to open their own shop earlier this year.

A fortuitous sequence of events landed them in Northampton two years after their first visit to Paradise City. After struggling for a number of months to find the right spot in the Boston area, the Jukiros returned to Northampton last spring to check out the Main Street location and meet the building’s owner. They quickly realized both the space and the community would be a good fit.

“In a city where people are constantly looking for the alternative, we’re striving to be a complete alternative to the regular dining experience,” Joel Jukiro said.

Dobrá Tea Northampton is the seventh United States store in the Dobrá chain. The franchise was started in the late 1980s in Czechoslovakia when a group of tea smugglers called the Society of Tea Devotees was formed to smuggle good teas into Prague from East Germany. The first Bohemian-style tearoom, Dobrá Cajovna, opened in Prague in 1993. A decade later, the concept spread to the United States with the opening of the first tearoom in Burlington.

Dobrá is open daily from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Dobrá hosts live entertainment including musicians, belly dancers and speakers, and intends to offer tea classes focusing on tea and tea culture.

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