GLADEWATER — January is hot tea month, but one Gladewater couple celebrates and reinvents the beverage all year long.
Venture anywhere near The Screen Door Antique Mall, 106 E. Commerce Ave., and it's common to see shopkeepers Lola and Mark May enjoying a cozy cup of their favorite brew.
They sell custom blends of teas, prepared fresh to enjoy immediately or packaged for at-home convenience later.
"Our teas are phenomenal," she said. "I have a micro blender (in Ohio). She blends them for me and sends them."
Tea varieties featured at the shop have no preservatives but plentiful amounts of dried leaves and flavorful fruits from cranberries to oranges.
There are 16 colorful varieties from which to choose.
They also sell roughly a dozen blends of coffee and cocoa, but the big draw in all kinds of weather seems to be the teas.
To compare these custom brews to some of those commonly found on store shelves is a lot like comparing steak to bologna … certainly each has their fans, but it's difficult to confuse the two.
The Mays arrived in Gladewater roughly a decade ago with a trailer loaded with furnishings and a desire to set down roots.
The former Oklahoma residents were among the families relocated from the former mining town of Picher, Oklahoma, after federal officials detected widespread lead contamination in several communities.
Cleanup efforts are ongoing in those areas and will likely continue for years, according to news reports.
The disheartened couple, upon leaving their old home, headed to Texas to be closer to family and decided to look around in East Texas for a place to call home.
"We didn't even know where Gladewater was," Mrs. May said. "We packed up anything that would fit in a 24-foot cattle trailer."
They decided to set up shop in Gladewater's Antiques District and try their hand at entrepreneurship.
May, who worked in the ministry during their time in Oklahoma, remembers his wife's idea to specialize in custom teas.
He remembered that his grandmother enjoyed heated versions of the beverage, but would it fly in East Texas, where sweet tea is king?
"My first thought was, ‘What kind of tea?'" he said. "My wife is really smart. I just let her go with it because her ideas usually work."
Demand for custom teas was slow at first, but quickly picked up steam via word of mouth.
Today, it can be difficult to keep surplus supplies of some varieties.
"The Lord has really blessed us," May said of the shop's growing success.
TEA TIME, ALL THE TIME
The couple's adventures in blended beverages are well researched, based largely on knowledge gained from personal overseas travel and specialized online classes.
She prefers Earl Grey varieties. He likes chai.
Both love an English blend, Cosmo, and there are plenty of people with similar tastes, it seems.
"People are always coming in saying, ‘I can't find it (good tea) around here," she said.
Like cooking steak, there's apparently a knack to making a good spot of tea.
Quality ingredients - such as good tasting water - and cooking temps are important for desirable results.
"It affects the taste of the tea," Mrs. May said.
For a near perfect cup of tea, heat the water until it is almost boiling and then set it aside for a few seconds.
"You either add tea or pour water over the tea," she said.
Within minutes, a rich, full-bodied beverage emerges, which can be served either hot or cold.
For those with inquiring minds, Mrs. May offers occasional tea-cupping classes to teach the proper techniques for enjoying tea: slurping and swishing.
"It's really fun," she said with a mischievous grin. "I tell them (students) to slurp and they about fall out of their chairs."
Walker Manor Bed and Breakfast owner Memori Ruesing is a fan of both the teas and coffees sold at Screen Door Antique Mall, the latter of which is available as ground or whole bean.
She generally serves overnight guests Mrs. May's version of blueberry pomegranate, opting for Southern Pecan coffee for many private parties and get-togethers.
"I'm not a foo-foo person when it comes to flavored teas," Ms. Ruesing said. "When people go to a bed and breakfast, they want to be pampered, and do something out of the ordinary. My guests are always saying, ‘This is so amazing' after they try the tea. I always send them over here because they have other flavors."
The couple said their teas are a good way to meet new friends, including many out-of-staters just passing through. To reach The Screen Door Antique Mall, call 903-985-1133 or visit them on Facebook.
"We like it when people come in and stay awhile," Mrs. May said. "This is what we always wanted."