NORMAN — Larry and Tamara Rhoads have been in the tea business for over a decade.
They operate Inspirations Tea Room in Edmond along with Two Hearts Inn, a bed and breakfast in Edmond.
In 2010 they began searching for another metro location to add another business concept. Space was chosen in Norman’s Brookhaven Village Shopping Center and the store was named Teaoli.
They’re marking their first year of business in Norman this October. Teaoli is a retail outlet for a large variety of high quality loose tea leaves, specialty balsamic vinegars and many different kinds of extra virgin olive oils.
“We chose Brookhaven because it’s an established neighborhood and it seems like the demographics are well suited for this kind of store,” Larry Rhoads said. “Once someone tastes our products I don’t think there’s a limitation to the customer base.”
Part of Teaoli’s sales experience is encouraging customers to taste-test right there in there store. Bread bits and popcorn are used for sopping up balsamic vinegar blended with fig or lemon zest-infused olive oil. Tamara Rhoads is executive chef at their tea room and she experiments with combining the various flavors in her recipes. Think grilled shrimp that was first marinated in blood orange and Persian lime olive oils. “We help people pair-up balsamic vinegars with olive oils for different dishes,” Tamara Rhoads said.
Teaoli is allied with Veronica Foods based in Oakland, Calif. The Veronica folks are descended from Salvatore Esposito’s Italian immigrant family who has been in the olive oil business in America since 1924.
Today their focus is on premium product. The retail prices at Teaoli are higher than found at a typical grocery store. Packaging is upscale and high-end gift sets are available.
They have around 20 different kinds of fused, infused and varietal oils.
“The different kinds of trees and regions of the world bring a unique character to the flavors,” Larry Rhoads said.
A statement at the Veronica Foods website sagely indicates that every producer around the world is of the opinion that their olive oil is best.
“There are intensities of olive oil flavor ranging from mild to medium to robust,” Larry Rhoads said. “Some are peppery and they’re all unique. One of our most popular is Tuscan oil infused with garlic and basil.”
Balsamic vinegars are brought from Modena, Italy and often are aged longer than fine wines, some as long as 18 years. They’re used for marinating meats or vegetables before cooking and concocting home-made salad dressings.
Teaoli’s forte is making the acidic condiment distinctive with unlikely flavor combinations such as cinnamon-pear, blackberry-ginger and black cherry. There’s even dark chocolate balsamic vinegar.
Teaoli has dozens of il fustino around the store. They are small stainless steel tanks for storing vinegar and each has a spigot for drawing out the liquid for a little taste or filling a bottle to go.
More than thirty varieties of tea are sold by the ounce. They come from plantations in Thailand, India and South America. One or two choices are naturally caffeine-free. Oolong, black and green teas with exotic names such as “Chinese Mutan” and “Blue Sapphire” are in stock.
“Not so long ago the typical Oklahoma consumer was much less informed about tea than today,” Larry Rhoads said. “They were kind of limited to the box and the bag. As people have learned about the wide variety and better quality our customer base has grown tremendously.”