Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

A closer look at Dobra Tea’s multi-cultural experience

Dobra's tea wall contains lots of teas from around the world.
Matthew Craig
Dobra's tea wall contains lots of teas from around the world.

Posted on December 10, 2016 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Dionne Smith and Cara DeRose

A popular destination for Portland’s tea drinkers, Dobrá Tea, which is located on 89 Exchange St. and is one of eight Dobrá Tea tea rooms in the United States, differs from the bustling city outside its walls. For owners Ellen Kanner and Ray Marcotte, the tea-drinking experience isn’t solely about the tea. The experience is also about inspiring tranquility in the tea drinker. With the right ambience, a tea room can afford its patrons that tranquility, and although it’s situated in Maine’s busiest urban center, Dobrá Tea manages to do just that.

The Portland tea room’s furnishings include plush, Moroccan-styled elevated seating, as well as small tables patrons can gather around. Dobrá Tea’s earthy hues, paired with the customary, slow-tempoed instrumental songs musicians often come in to perform, invite patrons to unwind, to enjoy their tea in sips rather than in gulps, while the aromas of sundry oolong, herbal and green teas mingle in the air.

Dobrá Tea is a tea room nonpareil, and its ambience, which Marcotte and Kanner would describe as “Asian style and bohemian,” a fusion of myriad cultures, speaks to the couple’s interest in exposing patrons to unfamiliar cultures, both through the decor and through their teas, which are from countries like China, Japan, India and Taiwan.

“Americans have this preconceived notion that you drink tea when you’re sick or you drink English breakfast tea and you add a lot of milk to it or cream, because it’s bitter,” Marcotte said. “A big part of what we’re trying to do here is educate the public about more Eastern-style tea.”

Inspired by the United State’s first Dobrá Tea room in Burlington, VT, the couple decided to quit their jobs in New Hampshire, to become landlords and, in 2011, to open their own Dobrá Tea in Portland, Maine.

“One of our goals when we opened [Dobrá Tea] was to have a community space,” Kanner said. “We have art and music and provide something different as an alternative to going out to nightclubs. I lived in Portland in the 90s, and there was no alternative [to going out to nightclubs]. I wish there had been.”

“There are not a lot of places where you can come in, have a dessert, have tea,” Marcotte added, “and leave without having paid a lot of money to have a nice experience.”

Beyond Dobrá Tea’s ambience, another major key to Kanner’s and Marcotte’s success has been to procure top-quality teas for their patrons. To do this, they source their tea from two men who live in the Czech Republicwhere, once the country’s borders opened up after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Dobrá Tea (or Dobrá čajovna, meaning “good tearoom” in Czech) franchise originated in Prague in 1993who arrange to go on annual spring tea trips with Kanner, Marcotte and the proprietors of other Dobrá Tea tea rooms located across Europe and the United States. The trip destinations are usually determined in the late autumn. This year’s trip, for instance, will be to meet tea producers and farmers in India and Nepal.

About how their teas are brewed, Marcotte noted that Dobrá Tea has an extensive brewing chart that employees have to learn. Different teas, to taste just right, require different brewing temperatures and steeping times. Great care is taken to ensure that employees are trained to prepare these various teas fastidiously, with employees needing to go through three months of training, to pass three subsequent quizzes and to pass a final practicum.

Kanner noted that it seems as though younger generations “tend to go for tea and the experience [of drinking tea in a tea room]” while older generations tend to prefer coffee. According to research, millennials, she said, often choose tea over coffee. Marcotte attributed this trend to an American culture preoccupied with keeping busy.

“Our culture is so sped up,” Marcotte said. “I think people are looking for something to help them slow down.”

Dobra Tea is open from 10am to 9pm every weekday, they are open an hour later on Friday’s and Saturday’s. They are also open on Sunday’s from 10am to 7pm. There is a large window of opportunity every day to enjoy perfectly brewed tea.


An earlier version of this article had the incorrect names of the owners. This error, and other technical edits, were made after the publication of the article. 

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