A look within an encyclopedic shop for all things tea in the Village District.
by: Lori D. R. Wiggins / photography by Eamon Queeney
Step inside Tin Roof Teas in the Village District and you’ll find shelves full of everything you can imagine related to tea: sugar, spoons, and beeswax products, plus an array of filters, storage tins, infusers, and cups of all styles.
There are teapots — clay Yixing prized by Chinese tea connoisseurs, Japanese Kyusu for brewing green tea, cast-iron Iwachu that go straight onto the stove — and honey, too, locally harvested and infused with a range of flavors, from vanilla to ghost pepper.
And, of course, there’s tea, lots and lots of it — much of it stocked librarystyle behind the counter. Tin Roof offers more than 250 types of tea, ranging from black, green, and white to oolongs, fruits, and rooibos. There are herbal teas, ayurvedic teas, and wellness teas; there are seasonal teas. More than 30 of Tin Roof’s teas have been named World Tea Expo Winners, a nod of excellence from North America’s largest industry trade show.
Almost half of Tin Roof’s teas are blended in-house with fresh leaves and herbs. Rip Van Winkle, for instance, blends chamomile, peppermint, lavender, and rose to ease the mind; Einstein’s Equation offers a mental boost with ginkgo leaf, rosemary, ginger, and gotu kola. Guayusa offers energy; kava kava promotes rest and relief from anxiety.
“Only a handful of teas we have here can you find anywhere else in the area,” says owner Ryan Hinson, who champions the benefits of green tea as a detoxifier, metabolism booster, and coffee alternative. “Most of the world has coffee in the morning, tea throughout the day.”
“Tea is fascinating,” Hinson says. “It’s great health-wise, too.” But before Hinson could teach others about tea’s benefits, he taught himself — not just about its range of flavors, but about tea’s art, history, science, and culture.
“I had trouble sleeping,” says Hinson. “So I started like everybody else: at the grocery store.” Then he delved into higher-end brands, and started reading books about tea, buying and trying loose leaves. He chatted with his brother Richard about what he’d learned and how much more he wanted to know — and share.
That was 14 years ago. Within two years, the Hinson brothers went from researching tea to attending the World Tea Expo and opening their own German teahouse-style shop in Raleigh. Their first outpost was a franchise, but Hinson wanted more control over what they’d stock. (“We were missing a lot of stuff folks were looking for,” he says.) So they set out on their own, establishing Tin Roof Teas in 2009. The business settled into one Village District location over 11 years and moved across the plaza about a year ago.
Tin Roof’s clientele is as varied as the offerings inside. Tea connoisseurs of all stripes and ages — older women, college students, men “heavy into fitness” — make up the regulars. Hinson notices that patrons with Chinese and Indian roots come in often, bringing along a cultural appreciation of the store’s knowledge and selection of hard-to-find teas. “As our reputation has grown, so has our pull in terms of nationalities,” says Hinson. First-time customers enter as novices and leave as enthusiasts, with bags of loose-leaf tea and all the accessories to brew at home.
And that’s the goal: to teach tea, steeped in all its elements of cozywarmth and wellness. “Tea is wide open — in its varieties, flavors, caffeine, herbs,” says Hinson. “It’s just a good option, period.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of WALTER magazine.