A TEA shop is to open in Henley next month — run by a coffee house owner.
Lorraine Hillier has taken on the lease of Askew Art in Duke Street, which closed last month.
The premises will be refurbished and will re-open as Upstairs Downstairs, selling about 45 different types of tea from around the world.
Miss Hillier, who has run the Hot Gossip coffee house in Friday Street for exactly six years, had been searching for a second venue in the town for about two years.
She said: “I have noticed a trend for people wanting to experiment with their tea.
“There is a whole generation that missed out on loose tea because they have grown up with teabags but people are now interested in drinking more specialist teas.
“At Hot Gossip I started with English Breakfast and Earl Grey and then I added to them. A lot of people were asking about different teas so I thought it would be a good idea to open another shop.
“Initially, I did see if I could incorporate it at Hot Gossip but I do not have the serving space to do that.” The vast majority of tea for sale at Upstairs Downstairs will be loose but some reusable silk teabags will also be sold.
Miss Hillier, who lives in River Terrace, Henley, has taken advice from a master tea taster and blender and has sourced several suppliers.
The ground floor retail space will be decorated like a scullery from the Thirties while the upstairs will have an Art Deco feel and customers will be able to sit down for a cup of tea and a snack. Miss Hiller plans to apply for a licence to serve Prosecco with high tea.
She said: “It will be different in style and products. Everything will be able to be tasted and bought in small packets for people to try at home.
“People will not need to spend lots of money on a specialist tea — you will still be able to get a normal builder’s tea.
“I will also be stocking tea for children because I have noticed that a couple of six or seven-year-olds come into Hot Gossip to have tea.”
Miss Hillier, who is town councillor, says she will employ up to six staff and hopes that she will be well supported.
“All businesses are a risk,” she said. “You have to do something a little bit different to attract people’s attention. You can’t just put things on the shelves and open the door.”
When Costa opens in Bell Street next month there will be nine coffee shops in the town centre but Miss Hillier says this could work in her favour.
She said: “In many ways Costa is not a bad thing. It will hit me at Hot Gossip, certainly in the beginning, but it will bring footfall from the Market Place. A lot of the independent traders are in the side streets so it is good Both shops will help to advertise each other.”
Miss Hillier said she had enjoying trying different teas to stock at the shop and her favourites are rose petal and green tea.
“I still like my coffee once a day but tea is really refreshing in summer and comforting and good for your health,” she said.
She has applied for change of use permission to allow the serving of “light refreshments” and tea tastings but no cooking. South Oxfordshire District Council will make a final decision by September 25.
The ground floor is likely to be open by the end of September with the first floor to follow, assuming planning permission is granted.
* The Casa Nostra Italian restaurant in Reading Road is to close on Sunday. A sign in the window from Signor Mirco Rado reads: “Thanks to all clients past and present. Ciao.”