Nirvana Tea House & Cafe – Inviting the World to TeaJul 30, 2020 10:52AM ● By Nirvana Tea House
er 5,000 miles away from his birthplace in Ireland — Ed Williamson was offered something that reminded him of home: a cup of tea.
“My mother was always putting a pot of tea on,” says Williamson, owner of the newly opened Nirvana tea house and cafe in Millis. Tea, he says, was a door to open conversation. He found it was no different at 13,000 feet in the mountains of Bhutan. It was starting to storm when Williamson and his guide, Kencho Dorjee of Noble Dreams Tours and Treks, encountered three yak farmers — grandmother, mother, and daughter — who invited them into their tent-like home.
“There we were,” Williamson says, “sitting on a dirt floor, and they’re making us tea. Honestly, holding that cup, I teared up.”
The welcoming nature of these strangers is what inspired Williamson, months later, to open the tea house. Nirvana is a gathering place where tea can serve as a doorway to create community. The result is an experience like nothing else in Millis, or anywhere in the surrounding area. A rustic, peaceful space with an international character, Nirvana is a place where everyone is welcome. Williamson’s experience in Bhutan comes through in the colors, design, and feel of the space. Nirvana’s benches are upholstered with Bhutanese fabric, the walls bear photos and paintings from Bhutan and leaves from a Bodhi tree in India, and even the rugs hail from the office of the king of Bhutan. Tying it together is a mural, hand-painted by Jason Sawtelle of BlackBeak studios, depicting the rolling hills of a tea field.
Along with creating community, the focus of the tea house is to support the environment and farmers, both locally and globally. Choosing teas from responsible farms and putting together a plant-based menu was the first step.
“Part of our mission is people understanding the story of where these teas come from,” says Kelly Harris, one of Nirvana’s managers. During the selection process, the startup team tasted nearly 100 teas, narrowing it down to the 41 the tea house now offers. “We were very conscious of the farms we chose,” says Harris. “We wanted to know about the people growing it. We chose them for a reason. We have teas from Indonesia, China, India, Nepal, Taiwan, Colombia, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda— a broad range.” One source in China boasts a 2,700-year-old tea bush; another in India is elephant-friendly certified, leaving a path for wild elephants to cross its estate. Most of the teas are handpicked by eco-friendly, small-scale farmers.
Williamson explains that all tea leaves come from the same plant, but flavors differ “depending on the climate, elevation, rainfall, humidity, and season. It also varies based on how and when the leaves are picked, and the different ways it’s hand-processed.” Nirvana’s tea offerings include 11 types of loose-leaf tea: black, green, white, oolong, yellow, purple, Puer, Earl Grey, chai, Rooibos, and herbal. It also offers an array of iced teas and lattes.
The food menu includes a hearty, flavorful variety of sweet and savory bowls, salads and wraps, and a build-your-own Mediterranean platter. For a sweet treat, Nirvana offers tea-soaked dried fruits, tea cakes, and scones. On the weekend, visitors can enjoy light breakfast fare, including Nirvana’s signature banana malpua pancakes. The menu is fully plant-based and all but the baked goods are made in-house. “And everything tastes really good!” Williamson says. “[The managers] have done tremendous work. They make all the dressings and the baba ghanoush — we cook everything here.”
General manager Keith Maher says he, Harris, and manager Tamra Saegh worked to take the cafe where Ed wanted it to go. Making a positive global impact is integral to Nirvana’s vision, including the use of compostable and recyclable materials. The tea house partners with City Compost, which picks up its biodegradable waste each week, and with Tangerini’s Farm for its tea treats and fresh veggies. Williamson pays generous wages to his employees, so all tips will be donated to organizations that support human rights, the environment, and hunger relief.
“Most importantly,” says Williamson, “tea is what opens the door.”
Nirvana tea house & cafe is located at 969 Main Street, Millis. You can reach them at (508) 376-2333. Visit them from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, Saturday 8 a.m.-9 p.m., and Sunday 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Find them online at Nirvanateahousecafe.com.