The Stratford Place Plaza is quiet — too quiet.
Just beyond the five-point intersection on the west side of Winston-Salem, the restaurant and shopping center is known for high prices, but there’s at least one exception: Angelina’s Teas, next to Nawab Indian Cuisine in the far back left corner. In 2005, owner Wade Dibbert committed himself to offering high-quality teas from around the world to Twin City tea lovers at affordable prices and hasn’t looked back.
The idea came after hosting home tea parties to sell porcelain turned towards conversation about the tea.
“At the tea parties, I might sell one or two pieces of china, but everybody wanted to buy the tea I was using,” Dibbert said. “I sold one cup and saucer over the course of a weekend-long farmer’s market and a thousand dollars of tea. China wasn’t the right idea, so I opened up a tea shop.”
He named the business after his daughter, 4 years old at the time, and added a living room nook with a television (usually turned off these days).
“She would have playdates here,” Dibbert said. “Her and her friends would be playing hide-and-seek under the tables. She learned to ride her bike in here and to use a Pogo stick.”
Twelve years later, Angelina is a junior in high school and the store looks a little different. The living room area remains, but it’s surrounded by books and art for sale. Affordable to higher-end porcelain tea wares, including a standalone shelf dedicated to local potter and Sawtooth School of the Arts teacher Jackie Ooi, fill the middle of the large space. Visitors will also find gifts, cards, comic books, quilts and a number of tea-related gadgets.
Dibbert works with five suppliers from Metropolitan Teas out of Toronto, the largest tea supplier in North America, to a direct source of pu-erh tea, his favorite, from a High Point native who relocated to China a few years ago.
“I’m not gonna sell you stuff you don’t need and I don’t make false claims on teas,” Dibbert said. “Unless there’s real scientific proof a tea does something, I won’t say well, ‘You drink this tea for that,’ unless I know it will do that for everyone.”
Dibbert tends to stay near the counter space where patrons hang out on bar-style seats, sipping on their brew of choice, rather than rush new customers when they enter. He’s mighty matter-of-fact, too — it’s just that he’s Nebraskan; for customers looking to experiment, he’s eager to offer guidance. [pullquote]Learn more at angelinasteas.com.[/pullquote]
“People drink what they know, so the two best-selling teas are English Breakfast and Earl Grey,” Dibbert said. “You put those two together they equal almost all the other teas combined in sales.”
Angelina’s boasts a selection of more than 500, mostly loose-leaf teas with descriptions that include ingredients, so consumers can check for allergens. Dibbert will help create individualized mixtures of teas and while offering an education. He keeps a few hot and iced tea specials ready to serve for customers in a hurry, too.
“I’m from the Midwest, so iced tea isn’t supposed to have sugar in it,” Dibbert said. “My iced teas are sweetened but they’re not Southern-sweet. In the summer, one of the four options is always unsweetened.”
No matter your order, about a dozen types of honey on the bar are at your disposal: sunflower, blossom, spiced, local, Italian — you name it; if it’s not on the bar top, it’s among the even wider variety of raw honey stocked on the shelves. He offers white sugars and agave as an alternative, too.
To be clear, Angelina’s not a hip hangout and isn’t trying to be one, either. Clientele skews toward an older crowd, but with ample seating and free wifi it’s not a bad option for students who need library-level quiet but want to get away from campus. And it’s telling that Dibbert has maintained regulars for more than a decade, including a drawing group that comes every Saturday morning.
“My customers have become family,” Dibbert said.
Twelve years later, Dibbert is still experimenting with the space and (most importantly) the teas he sources, and he wants to help us experiment, too.