Newest addition to the Junction Center offers a fresh look into the world of tea

Jason Pfrommer

DeKALB | Babs and Coco’s Tea Emporium, 818 W. Lincoln Highway, is the latest addition to the Junction Center in DeKalb.

Upon being fed up with the hassle involved in driving into Chicago or making online purchases just to find a decent tea, Barbara “Babs” Bischoff decided to open her own unique location. With the help of her daughter Cora “Coco” Vasseur, Bischoff was finally able to make her dream a reality. The tea emporium has a selection of 100 teas, including blended teas that have hints of chocolate and banana, smoked tea and a tea that tastes like champagne.

Bischoff said her tea comes in from all over the world. Some of her importers are located in Chicago, California, New York and Naperville, Ill. Bill Todd, the importer based in Naperville, has a store front in Forest Park, Ill. and is a smaller importer, but has a variety of different blends to choose from. The teas themselves are actually imported from locations such as Argentina, China, India and Japan.

Vasseur said the selections of teas may be overwhelming for some patrons, and she wants customers to feel comfortable enough to ask as many questions as they need to in order to find the tea that is right for them.

Customers are encouraged to look at, smell and even ask for a sample cup of the tea they’re interested in before making their final purchases.

Bischoff and Vasseur’s love for tea and its history were the catalyst for the shop. They took classes to expand upon their knowledge of tea, and even trained under Bruce Richardson, owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas and Benjamin Press, and James Norwood Pratt, author of the Tea Dictionary and the Tea Lover’s Treasury.

Bischoff and Vasseur will soon offer their own classes for people who want to learn more about tea. Their first class, “Tea 101,” will be held from 1 to 3 p.m on July 30. This class overview all the different teas available at the shop and is designed to make guests feel less overwhelmed when it comes to choosing a tea.

There are also a few other classes, including cooking with tea, tea history lessons, a Darjeeling tasting and a class in which attendees can learn which teas British bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones enjoyed.

Vasseur said she would like to keep the classes free, using them as a way to broaden customers’ ideas of tea and to let customers know that the owners are open to suggestions.

Bischoff said all the teas she carries have been tested by both her and Vasseur, and they were in the process of creating some of their own recipes that would hopefully be on shelves by spring.

Bischoff said there were no plans at the moment to expand the store or to start any chains or franchises, but she does know that this location has been bringing her a lot of joy.

“It’s been an eye opener,” Bischoff said. I knew I’d have fun but I didn’t know I’d enjoy it this much.”