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Desert Companion

Business: Steep thoughts

Dunk the bag, add sugar and sip, right? Not on your leaf, say these tea gurus

Juanny Romero would be the last person to tell you she’s a tea guru, because she understands better than most people what that truly means: thousands of years of knowledge and tradition, painstakingly practiced, recorded and transmitted from expert to apprentice, again and again.

But she’s certainly close. It’s Romero’s appreciation of this tradition, along with her genuine love of good tea, that make Sunrise Coffee a reliable go-to for a cuppa in Las Vegas — whether you prefer Camellia sinensis or some other botanical brew in that cup. Although better known for its joe, Sunrise carries a respectable collection of tea and tisanes (herbal teas), with a variety of blacks, greens, whites and herbals that even a true tea snob would agree hits all the major bases.

Touching on highlights of her tea selection, Romero says, “I’ve never had better oolong in my life. It comes from Taiwan, only picked above 10,000 feet. … We get single-estate Assam, and we know about the farm it comes from. … Our Summer Orchard, which is really popular, has to be steeped for 10 minutes, then left in the fridge overnight to slowly release the fruit flavors. ...”

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Even so-called non-gurus geek out sometimes.

Like any good apprentice, Romero gives credit for everything she knows to her teachers — in this case, tea suppliers. She gets her Japanese green teas, the Keiko brand, from Montreal-based Top Taste International, and blacks and other teas from Eco Prima, based in Elmsford, N.Y. Both specialize in organic and Fair Trade tea. While Sylvana Levesque and Anupa Mueller, respective heads of those companies, are great sources of knowledge, Romero says, her closest ally is Keith Ducko, owner of locally based Kachina Tea Company, who focuses on herbal blends.

“He’s a bastion of knowledge,” Romero says. “When he comes back from a trip, we’ll say, ‘Hey, what did you find out in China?’ and he’ll spend an afternoon telling us.”

Ducko, who says his most recent product development research was done on an Indian reservation near Window Rock, N.M., is a respiratory therapist at University Medical Center by day, and a tea blender by night. He got interested in tea while a student at New York University 20 years ago, when a biochemistry professor introduced him to it.

Today, in addition to Sunrise, Ducko supplies health care professionals with tea, making medicinal blends based on the healing properties of herbs. The business has been so successful, he says, that he plans to open his own tea shop soon, with Romero’s help.

“I put a lot of time and effort into the tea I blend myself,” Ducko says. “If I’m going to hand it over to a group of folks like the Sunrise Coffee people, I like to pay special attention to their knowing not only how to prepare it, but also the fundamental objective in making it appropriately — the customer’s consumption of it.”

Translation: When you order tea at Sunrise, don’t expect to be handed a super-hot paper cup with a string and paper tag hanging over the side. In proper tea preparation, the quantity of dry tea, temperature of the water and amount of time they steep together are not optional. A few degrees or a few seconds can make the difference between a smooth sip and a bitter pill to swallow. Every cup at Sunrise is carefully measured and timed, Romero says.

“If you come to our store, we’re going to show you the way we drink it and the way experts drink it,” says Romero. “We’re not going to let you do what you want — and sometimes people get offended, because they think they know tea — but you’re going to have a good experience.” — Heidi Kyser


Sunrise Coffee is located at 3130 E. Sunset Road, 433-3304; learn more about Kachina Tea Company at