Unlike most Americans, Danielle Spinola has never been a big fan of coffee. But she's always had a taste for tea.
"I've been a tea drinker my whole life," says Spinola, 34, of Allison Park. "I love the health benefits and the flavors you can get."
Inspired by a trip to tea-obsessed Shanghai, China, eight years ago -- "That's when I really got the taste of tea," she says -- the former sales and marketing professional dreamed of turning her passion for tea into a business. In 2007, Spinola did just that.
Tupelo Honey Teas, a Saturday vendor at the Strip District's Pittsburgh Public Market since September, sells a wide variety of loose-leaf teas -- herbal, green, black, chai, etc. -- including Spinola's signature blends.
Spinola purchases teas from four wholesalers around the country. Teas she considers "extraordinary" -- like South America's yerba mate -- she sells unaltered from the wholesalers. Others, however, are mixed with various herbs she purchases from Mountain Rose Herbs, in Oregon, to create custom Tupelo blends. "There's a ton of experimentation," she says.
One popular blend is Tupelo's Sleepyhead tea ($6 for a 2-oz. bag). It's Spinola's take on a popular tea commonly used as a sleep aid. While maintaining the tea's main ingredients of chamomile and spearmint, Spinola added the Hawaiian anti-anxiety herb kava kava, as well as valerian, a bitter herb. "You'll never see someone take a coffee bean and mix it with spearmint or chamomile," she says.
As an avid fan of both tea and sleep, I'm particularly fond of chamomile/spearmint mixes. But Tupelo's Sleepyhead tea is a new favorite. Whether it's the kava kava or the valerian, I can't tell, but it's one of the smoothest, most refreshing blends I've ever tasted.
Moroccan Mint ($7 for a 2-oz. bag) riffs on another popular blend which usually features just green tea and spearmint. Spinola's twist: peppermint. "If you mix spearmint and peppermint, it rounds out the mint flavor," says Spinola, sitting inside Bellevue's Affogato Coffee Bar sipping a chai blend she created exclusively for the coffee shop. "Peppermint is spicier, and spearmint is a little flatter."
Other Tupelo tea blends include Spiced Coconut Chai, Apple Spice and ... drumroll ... Pumpkin Pie. After steeping the spicy chai tea mix in boiling water, Spinola suggests stirring in agave nectar and pumpkin puree, and topping it off with whipped cream and cinnamon. "It's pumpkin pie in a cup," she says. "With less calories" than the popular dessert.