A Chat with Grassphere Tea Shop
Grassphere to me, is like The Elephant House to J.K Rowling.
I don't care how lame it sounds, but one of the highlights of my life is discovering new cafes and food places. The first time I wrote about Grasspherehere was six months ago. However, Grassphere is not just some place I discovered, its a place I kept going back to. My work place in Taipei, most of my articles here on TLG are actually written there. Grassphere to me, is like The Elephant House to J.K Rowling. Yeah, how dare me, comparing myself with the mother Harry Potter.
I've been a tea person for the past 23 years, and will probably still be for the next 50 or so. Grassphere is a well-decorated cafe with amazing food and dessert, it just doesn't sell coffee. Quite a big deal for me, a good one though. I first read about the cafe through Taiwanese blogger MillyQ. I love the fact that, unlike many other cafes I visited, where my tea choices are limited to one little section on the menu, here, I have so many pages to look at. Finally, someone heard my inner voice. As special as this place to be, I've decided to ask for an interview. Definitely my pleasure. Read on.
因為幾年前的一些個人經歷，開始正視自己的飲食，一個健康的身體，才能有美好的心情，才更有力氣追逐自己的目標；瘦不瘦倒不追求，健康最重要。第一次發現小草作是透過台灣部落客 MillyQ 的介紹，被他們「不賣咖啡」被深深吸引住，口味逐漸清淡的我，心理暗自欣喜，終於有人注意到我們這些少數族群的需求。在民生社區那咖啡廳林立的老宅區，飄出了淡淡的茶香和香草香，讓人忍不住停下腳步、多看兩眼。踏入門口，溫暖的陽光灑從落地窗灑進來，不自覺地就為這個地方加了好多分，「清新、健康、溫暖」是我在那裡度過第一個週末午後的小心得，至今也未變。
▸ Under what circumstances was Grassphere born? What was the idea?
Before discussing the store itself, lets talk about the brand first. Prior opening the store, we were just planting a variety of herbs on the rooftop. Without any pesticides, all of our herbs are made naturally. Basically, our goal is to create a space that combines modern urban culture with traditional agriculture. After a while, we came up with the idea of a herbal tea shop, hoping to reach out to more people with our tea leaves. Therefore, in 2014, Grassphere was born. Just like the word itself, Grass and sphere, a peaceful green space in the concrete city jungle. A place for people to escape from their busy life, a change of scenery. We searched for a while for the perfect venue, and decided to settle with the corner of Minsheng Community. We love the areas's historical background, as well as the sense of relaxation created by the beautiful street blocks. This is the definitely the perfect place for Grassphere.
要講「小草作」的店舖前，我們想先談談為何有「小草 作 Grassphere」這個品牌的想法。我們一開始是在城市閒置屋頂上以自有技術種植香草，以傳統自然方式種植不噴灑任何農藥，並新鮮採摘製成香草茶飲，期待透過結合都市的閒置空間能讓傳統農業有個不同發展面貌並使其再生。當在城市屋頂種植一段時間後，我們興起了想開間香草茶飲店的想法，覺得這樣的新鮮自然應該可以讓更多人知道並且嚐到。因此，我們於2014年成立了一個名為「小草 作 Grassphere」的品牌。「Grassphere」為「Grass（草與綠意）」與「Sphere（空間場域）」的合併字，期待小草作能在水泥叢林的城市創造更多綠意空間，讓被忙碌生活壓迫的人們，能有更多空間總是響往沐浴在充滿自然綠意的氛圍之中，體驗療癒放鬆的舒適，希望Grassphere就是理想中那個地方。我們看了許多地方，後來落腳在民生社區的一個角落。民生社區的歷史背景與街廓規劃讓人覺的綠意盎然且當走進這區所體驗到的放鬆感是最吸引我們的地方，所以我們選擇將小草作開設在這兒。
▸ We love the interior, the decoration and environment of the store. Please walk us through the inspiration.
We want to deliver a sense of comfort through our herbal tea, our meals, and our dessert. As for the design, we actually didn't think much, in fact, we still can't identify a particular style for the store, but it is definitely a style we all like. Something cozy, clean and simple, it's more of a lifestyle, perhaps. We used both cloth and wood for our tables sets, we used a number of aluminium collections, a couple of our own photography, a bunch of books from our own house, and then spiced everything up with plants and flowers, this is our usual way of life, and we wanted to bring it into the store.
So far, we've heard our customers describe our interior as semi-industrial, Japanese interior, and of course, minimalism. Everyone sees Grassphere in a different way, and thats okay, as natural and simplicity being our brand spirit, all we want for our visitors, is for them to enjoy a certain level of freedom and relaxation. In Grassphere, nothing is created deliberately, everything is naturally produced. Just like life in general.
The main materials we used are cement, wood, iron and lots of glass pieces. The most important thing is to not overdecorate, and this is not as easy as it sounds. Every single detail through the entire decorating process directly affects the delicateness of the space. We hope our customers can feel the meticulous of simplicity. As for the food and drinks, we want to provide a fresh and natural dining experience. The reason why we choose to go for an open kitchen, is because we want our customers to see the food preparation process, so that they know how the food was made, and feel confident about the things we serve.
▸ One of your most identical characteristic is that you only serve tea (which is kind of rare), please tell us the reason behind it.
"Why don't you serve coffee?" is probably the question we get asked the most. There's a bunch of coffee lovers out there, in fact, we are also one of them. And not serving coffee has indeed cause quite an effect on our sales. A lot of costumers choose to leave the store when they realised that we don't sell coffee. We are fully aware that coffee is part of many people's lives, moreover, it is also a habit, even a partner during work.
The reason why we made this decision, is because we don't want to change our goal and idea in the beginning. After all, we did start the business by planting herbs on the rooftop, and this is also how
started. We are very familiar with herbs and teas, and we try our best to bring them into our dishes, to our lives even. We want those who visited us, can go home with good memories, and to do so, we need to focus on our specialty. The herbs.
It's been over a year since we launched, and we didn't just bring herbs into our tea, we received a SGS certificate, meaning customers can enjoy the tea without any concern. The quiche we serve also comes with our herbs, and our customers really enjoyed them. As for coffee, we still haven't figure out a way to combine it with the herbs, so that's why it hasn't appear on the menu yet. There are already a lot of coffee experts in Minsheng Community, so let's all just do what we are good at!
小草作成立到現在一年多一些，我們將香草運用到茶飲，也同時取得SGS的310無農藥驗出的認證，讓消費者可以更放心的喝茶 ; 我們把香草加到鹹派，讓來小草作的朋友都覺的這裡的鹹派好好吃，這是我們盡力在做的事，至於咖啡，我們因為不會做，也還不知道如何把香草與咖啡做個完美結合，所以這個品項一直都沒有在小草作的菜單裡出現。民生社區裡，做到好做到專精的店家已有很多，所以就各自專精做擅長的事囉。
▸ Your logo is very unique, where does the inspiration come from?
The logo you see on the store sign and wall is our earliest design. Although 'urban culture' is our starting point, our concept is still based on traditional agriculture, bringing crops into our lifestyle. In order to get the herbs, you need a good soil base, plenty of sun, rain and clean air. Therefore, in our logo, we combined the symbols of soil, crops and sun, and then transformed the image into something like a fingerprint, to deliver the concept that the herbs our made from our own hands.
▸你們的品牌 logo 非常特別，可以和我們談談背後的設計故事嗎？
(logo image via Grassphere Facebook)
▸ Tell us a little bit about your herbs and homemade jam.
As what we mentioned previously, the business started by us producing our own herbs (crops). We want to do things in the most traditional and natural way, so of course, we avoided pesticides of all kinds, hoping that all the herbs we hand picked can be further brought in to our food and drinks. We did a lot of experimenting, for example, making chicken fillet with rosemary, producing lavender sugar, as well as any sorts of herbal tea.
Now lets talk about our jams. We use different kinds of fruit and herbs to make the variety of jam we serve in the store (example: Rose Geranium apple jam). Our homemade jams will be then made into the fruit ice tea on the menu. We want to give customers a natural selection other than artificial syrup products.
Making jam indeed takes a lot of time (long periods of boiling and cooking), but the natural flavour that comes with it is irreplaceable. Now, the ice herbal tea is one of the most popular drinks during summer, and we will keep working on new flavours :)
▸ Lastly, tell us something that you're extremely proud of since you started the business.
It's been a year since we launched Grassphere, of course, the business part was never easy, but seeing our team grow from only three people to the group of ten now, is definitely something we're extremely happy about. Though there may not be high revenues, but joining the team means all of us are working hard to reach the same goal, the same ideal. Also, apart from the team, we are also seeing a significant growth on customers, not just by visiting our actual store, but also those who bought our herbal tea via Pinkoi. These are defintely the strength and motivation to keep us going.
People have been asking me how is it that I've lived in Melbourne for over 5 years, still end up leaving without the coffee habit. You see, there is hot chocolate, chai tea lattes (which I violently drink everyday), and my undying love for herbal tea. As soon as I saw the menu of Grassphere for the first time, I knew I'll come back, again and again. Most of my Taipei days are spent here, doing writing and photo editing, I even prepared my application for London here. And wow, it's been 6 six months. Time does fly. Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the interview. I promise I'll be back with more stories like this.
Dear Grassphere, I'm leaving Taiwan in a few hours, and I think I miss you already
Info: No. 175, Yanshou St, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 105 台北市松山區延壽街175號