A Chat with Grassphere Tea Shop

 Grassphere to me, is like The Elephant House to J.K Rowling.

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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。

因為喜歡,連接下產品拍攝的工作的時候,第一個想到的場地就是他們;也藉著這次機會,在社群網站上向他們提出短篇訪談的主意,在他們的友善回覆下,這篇文章就這麼誕生了。今天,就讓我們用和以往不一樣的方式,去了解我的口袋名單吧。

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▸ 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

▸在甚麼樣的情況下決定創造「小草 作」這個空間?是什麼樣的理想呢?

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。

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▸ 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. 

▸很喜歡店裡的裝潢、擺設和環境,與我們聊聊店裡風格的發想以及靈感來源。

小草作希望藉由香草茶飲、餐點、甜點等媒介,能傳達給大家一種自然安心感。在設計上,我們並沒有刻意選定任何一種的風格來規劃整體氛圍,反之更是一種說不出什麼風格的樣子(笑),其實就是我們自己喜歡的樣子而已,那大概是一種具有溫度但又簡約、乾淨、俐落的生活方式。

在這樣的設想下,我們選用了一些布材質與木材質的桌椅、選用了一些鋁料的集線槽、選用了相對單一樣式的餐飲用具、選用一些能記錄我們生活過程的相片、搬一些家裡的書到店裡、再用一些植物與花卉做搭配,這是我們平常生活的樣子,因此也把這種樣子帶到店裡。

目前來小草作的朋友,有人說小草作有點輕工業風、有些小日式風格、有些小清新樣子,或覺的只是很簡單的樣子。每個人來小草作所看到的樣子都不太一樣、隨心所欲,自由自在,也是很自由放鬆的感受。小草作的自然簡約概念希望可以透過這個店舖呈現的樣子讓來店裡的朋友都能接受到。因此這間店是以我們平常生活的樣子為主。希望讓小草作是個能穿透看到戶外綠意更貼近自然的空間,光線,自然的進來,溫度,自然的產生,不刻意營造任何風格,這是我們喜歡的、一般的生活的樣子。

整體空間材質的應用上,選擇了簡單的水泥、木頭、鐵件與玻璃。不做過多裝飾,是我們的概念,但看似簡單的事情其實不簡單,材質運用上的處理、施工期間的執行細節都在在影響了整體空間的細緻度,希望透過我們對於細節的注重,能讓來小草作的朋友也能感受到簡單中的細緻,自然所帶來的自在。在餐飲部份,我們一樣希望提供消費者一個自然新鮮乾淨的飲食體驗,所在在吧台設計我們規劃為一般的高度,不加隔屏的方式,讓我們在製作餐飲的過程能完全被消費者看到,這是我們希望能提供給大家的安心感。

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▸ 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

Grassphere

 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! 

▸不賣咖啡只賣茶飲是你們最大的特色之一,會選擇這麼做的原因是什麼呢?

「怎麼沒賣咖啡。」一直是從開店至今小草作最常聽到的提問,很多朋友喜歡喝咖啡,我們也不例外。沒賣咖啡這件事其實對於我們的營收一直造成很大的影響,很多客人開心的進來,但聽到沒賣咖啡,大多數都會選擇離開,我們知道咖啡除了是種飲品外,更是種生活上的習慣或是工作上的陪伴。

但會做這個決定,是要回歸最開始,畢竟我們一開始是在城市的屋頂上種植香草的。一開始我們就是想把香草作物所具有的自然與療癒帶給大家,所以才開設了「小草作」。我們熟悉並試著運用香草作物入菜入茶,我們希望將擅長的事情做好,以讓來小草作的朋友都能開心的帶回些什麼,也許是覺的好吃,也許是覺的舒服。

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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。

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▸ 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?

現在出現在小草作招牌與牆上的圖象Logo是我們最早期的設計。因為我們雖然以「城市」為我們的發展的起點,但卻是以傳統農法自己培植作物,回到大自然最原始,讓香草作物接受肥沃的土壤、充足的太陽、雨水與空氣,期待可以以最順應自然的方式讓作物生活著。因此,我們在Logo的圖像裡,結合了「土壤」「作物」及「陽光」的意像,並整體以一個指紋的圖騰呈現,傳達的是我們以自己的雙手培育的概念。

(logo image via Grassphere Facebook)

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▸ 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 :)

▸簡單的和我們介紹一下你們的香草和手工果醬。

我們一開始是在城市閒置屋頂上以自有技術種植香草作物(補),以傳統自然方式種植不噴灑任何農藥並希望在新鮮採摘後能製成我們平時所食所飲的原料,中間做過很多嘗試,比如利用迷迭香製成迷迭香雞腿排、利用薰衣草製成薰衣草糖、或結合各式有機茶葉製成具有三種不同療效的香草茶飲,當然還有結合水果所製成的果醬及抹醬。

這邊,就來講講問題中的「手工果醬」。我們利用不同香草搭配各式水果製成了店內用的幾款手工果醬(ex.玫瑰天竺葵蘋果果醬)來製成水果冰茶,希望可以帶給消費者除了「糖漿製品」以外的自然選擇,果醬熬煮費時也需要長時間待在較熱的空間,但做出來的冰茶呈現的自然味道,是許多運用香料製成的飲品所無法創造出來的口感,所以我們覺的很值的這樣做。現在,香草冰茶已經成為小草作在夏天的熱門飲品,我也會繼續開發一些新口味:)

補充:很多人問我們說我們怎麼在台灣種「香草」,大家印象中的「香草」=「Vanilla」,但我們的作物其實是一種本身帶有香氣的香草作物(Herbl ),有點類似東方常使用的藥草,帶了點香氣更帶了些療效,主要多生長在歐洲大陸,在台灣種植的作物品種多是已經過馴化的品種,例如甜薰衣草、玫瑰天竺葵、檸檬草等。這些香草本身所散發出來的自然香氣常常會顛覆大家對於「香草茶or花草茶」的刻板印象,是一種不刻意不做作的新鮮自然味道。

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▸ 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. 

▸最後,與我們聊聊從創業到現在,最有成就感的一件事。

小草作從成立到現在一年多,雖然經營上實在很辛苦,但看著加入我們這個團隊的夥伴越來越多,從最初的三個人,到現在的10個人,我們心裡上覺得其實很開心。大家加入這個團隊都是出自於對自己未來的一種想法執行,在看不到未來可能會有豐渥的報酬之下,大家其實都是願意為一個共同的理想付出。另外,看著不管是來店裡(民生社區店舖)或是透過網路上購買或支持我們香草茶飲的朋友們越來越多,這都是支持我們這個團隊繼續前進的力量。

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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 

台北市的咖啡廳,說真的已經數不清,但很少喝咖啡的我,似乎永遠就是日式煎茶或是伯爵茶這兩個選擇,畢竟熱巧克力也不能天天喝。第一次到小草作的時候,真的很開心,因為茶飲的選擇好豐富,讓我每次都想試試不一樣的。個人最偏好的就是「薰衣草鍋煮奶茶」,淡淡的薰衣草香配上濃郁的鍋煮奶,溫潤順口,在來一份烤得香香酥酥的帕里尼三明治或鹹派,一份完美的週末早午餐就這麼完成了!或許是我那不喝咖啡的私心在作祟,不過假日有空,不仿到小草作體驗一場健康清新的美食之旅吧!

-Tiffany

Info: No. 175, Yanshou St, Songshan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 105 台北市松山區延壽街175號