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Tea Raspados and Mexico’s Finest Coffees Can Be Found at This New Mexican American-Owned Cafe in the Piñata District

1:38 PM PST on November 16, 2020

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]a Teteria Cafe is a new shop in the Piñata District made up of three parts, coffee, tea, and clothing. And one part passion. It’s the partnership of Chuy Tovar, who has an unbridled passion for Mexican coffee, Jesus Chaidez, who has a background in traditional Chinese tea, and Michael Aguilar, who has a background in the garment industry.

Tovar has a reputation in the coffee community for being the only plug in town for some of Mexico’s finest and best single-origin coffees via Guadalajara’s Café Estelar. But more importantly, he takes time to chat about what you’re drinking. His focus is not to shame for not ordering the right thing. Instead, he wants to make it easier for his audience to understand what goes into a cup. That same unpretentious dedication is found in the way Chaidez makes tea. “It’s really cool to have Jesse by my side because we’re sharpening each other,” says Tovar.

Chaidez started his journey with tea at Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco, the first traditional Chinese tea house in the US. At Imperial, Chaidez trained with owner Roy Fong, tea master, and author of The Great Teas of China. But getting the job there wasn’t easy. “They don’t hire a lot of Mexicans at traditional tea houses,” Chaidez laughs.

Tea and coffee share similarities but also have massive differences. For one tea is a hell of a lot older, it dates back 5000 years while early accounts of coffee consumption are in the 15th century. Where they overlap is in the preparation. Each coffee and tea requires its own set of adjustments to get the best extraction. “There’s so many parallels to the way that I brew gongfu tea, it’s a very seamless integration of the two. But we need to bridge people first,” explain Chaidez, “The raspado lends itself to that. A raspado de jasmine might get you in drinking tea without sugar or even anything.”

One of the main attractions at La Teteria is the tea raspados. The Norikura raspado starts with fluffy ice shavings in a cup with matcha tea as the base, then it's topped with genmaicha (Japanese brown rice and green tea), sea moss balls, and a thick drizzle of Lechera (sweetened condensed milk, a staple in Mexico). 

The raspado started off as a bar trick Chaidez would do at parties. Being the tea enthusiast he is, he always makes sure that you can still taste the tea. The result is lighter than a traditional raspado, the earthy matcha flavor combined with the nutty roasted rice of the genmaicha is balanced with the creamy sweetness of the Lechera. The tea raspado marries Chaidez’s passion for tea and his childhood memories of chasing down the raspado cart. 

La Teteria offers true connection, in a time where that feels like a distant memory.

One of Chaidez’s other trademarks is the blending of tea with herbs and other flavor enhancers. His most popular blend is the “Sweet Chariot” that mixes palo brazil (wood bark) with a jasmine green tea. The tea blends are also used as natural dyes for Aguilar's clothing line MYM Organics.

While other tea enthusiasts might scoff at the idea of blending tea, Chaidez is more concerned with how flavors complement each other through blending. While tea does have a history of being ceremonial, it can also come in the shape of a tea latte, ice cream, a tea blend, and now, a raspado.

Bridging the gap has been essential to Tovar’s work with coffee. Whether it was at Primera Taza or El Café, Tovar always takes the time to talk about the coffee he’s serving. He’s long had a policy of making $6 pour-overs for any coffee (regardless of price), as a way to introduce people to high-quality coffees. The gatekeeping in coffee culture is often a barrier to entry. “It starts with education,” says Tovar.

All of the coffees by Café Estelar that Chuy brews are biodynamic, a holistic style of farming that focuses on creating vitality in the soil. Tovar continues to work with Estelar because of the transparent ways they do business. Like introducing him to the farmers and visiting Fincas to see how coffee is processed. “They're paying living wages,” says Tovar, “[which is] cutting out the middleman, and cutting out these processes that don’t benefit anybody but corporations.”

The pandemic messed with the way that we connect with people. It’s hard to replicate the connections of an in-person conversation. La Teteria values that connection. It’s easy to forget the simple pleasure of hearing someone talk about their passion. And it makes for a better experience knowing how much goes into each cup of coffee or tea.

“We’re happy to share our knowledge, I want a dialogue. I'm not here to monologue, that way people come in and ask us,” Chaidez explains.

In the front of the shop they have a window for people who want to grab a cup and go but they also offer private tastings by appointment, where they really get to showcase what they’re about. In these tastings, Chaidez and Tovar explain the story behind each particular coffee bean and tea leaf, from its origin to how it was produced. Each tasting is about the experience of drinking but also the connection between the audience and brewer. La Teteria offers true connection, in a time where that feels like a distant memory.

Address: 774 Gladys Ave, LA 90021.
Hours: 8-2 PM, Monday-Friday


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