The Elden Street Tea Shop: Meet Owner Rachel Eisenfeld

What We Need Is a Good Cup of Tea

Many years ago, I was navigating a challenging life event when a dear friend pulled me into her kitchen and said, “What we need is a good cup of tea.” After a few minutes of fiddling at the stove, she joined me at the table. With a smile and great flourish, she filled two cups with steaming orange pekoe from a porcelain pot grandly adorned with a picture of Diana, Princess of Wales.

We shared a good laugh followed by conversation and a few tears, and when the pot was empty, I felt infinitely better. “Princess tea” became our code term thereafter for signaling each other about a troubled heart or the need to talk.

Elden Street Tea Shop

I recently sat down with Rachel Eisenfeld, owner of Herndon’s Elden Street Tea Shop, to talk about tea and its ability to forge friendships and bond a community.

“Tea houses are created for comfort, in good times and in bad,” says Eisenfeld, who opened the Elden Street Tea Shop in 2017. Originally operating as a Saturday pop-up at Herndon’s Art Space Gallery, she moved a block away to Pine Street in 2018 when the perfect 1920s bungalow became available for full-time use. Eisenfeld decided to keep the name Elden Street because it represents the heart of Herndon’s historic district.

Before COVID restrictions, the four rooms of the tiny tea cottage were in constant use: a room with couches and tables for conversation and board games, a room for afternoon teas complete with three-tier trays of scrumptious pastries and tea sandwiches, a room for the tea “library” that houses a fragrant assortment of loose black, green, and herbal teas, and a general room in the front for shopping and sitting.

The intimate nature of the small spaces has led Eisenfeld to postpone all indoor seating until the COVID situation improves, but she still serves from a door-front counter and has moved service and activities to the tented tea garden outback. Lights, a fire pit, and six portable heaters will keep patrons warm as the seasons change, and every table will have individual cup warmers, so the tea never gets cold. “Tea is great in cold weather,” says the optimistic Eisenfeld.


Americans and Camellia Sinensis

“The most interesting thing about tea,” says Eisenfeld, “is that all tea, except herbal, comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis.” Tea is grown worldwide, but according to Eisenfeld, the United States officially grows only about 400 acres of tea across the country in Mississippi, North Carolina, Hawaii, and Oregon.

This is because, unlike much of the world, Americans do not drink a lot of tea. “Tea is one of the least consumed beverages in the United States, but it is the second most consumed beverage (after water) in the rest of the world,” says Eisenfeld.
Elden Tea Shop stocks more than 65 curated teas – black, oolong, green, white, and herbal. Eisenfeld offers Tea 101 classes once a month for patrons who are new to tea and is always happy to answer customers’ questions.

Eisenfeld says Americans are catching on to tea, especially to the concept of tea houses where the community gathers. “Tea can chemically relax a person — it’s a stimulating beverage for a stimulating conversation,” grins Eisenfeld. “It’s the community that forms around tea that drew me in,” she says, adding that the shop replaces boxes of strategically placed tissues at least once a month because those conversations sometimes get emotional.

The Tea-rrifc Tea Community

Elden Street Tea has a steady base of loyal customers who come not only for the tea but for a range of social opportunities. Public, private, and themed afternoon teas with scones, pastries, clotted creams, and tea sandwiches were held regularly before COVID, but now they are temporarily available by appointment in the tea garden or via carry-out, with a Zoom virtual option for customers who are at high risk but still want to participate.

Eisenfeld is also working to keep the much-loved themed tea events going – such as book clubs, storytelling, crafts, games, knitting, and language and writers’ groups– and she will keep her website calendar updated as events are planned.

“Without our community, we wouldn’t be Elden Street Tea Shop,” says Eisenfeld. “We would just be a place that sells tea.”


Questions for the Tea Lady

Posh: Have you always sold tea?

RE: Before opening Elden Street Tea Shop, I worked for the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. I’m a certified pedorthist that makes custom foot orthotics and also modifies shoes. I did that for 13 years, the last seven at NIH. I loved the job, but I hated the commute, so I decided to try a new adventure closer to home.

Why did you choose Herndon to open a business?

I moved with my family from Atlanta to Winchester when I was 14 and ended up studying athletic training at Shenandoah University. I came to Northern Virginia to do my clinical, and I liked Herndon. It had the right vibe for a tea shop. My fiancé and I bought an older house in town. I can walk or ride my bike to work.

Elden Street Tea Shop is in a cool old building. Any stories about its history?

It’s almost 100 years old. In 1923, there was a big fire that burned down a lot of the historical section. The volunteer firefighters woke up the lady who owned this house and asked her if they could blow the house up to break the fire spread in order to save the church and neighborhoods past her property. Apparently, she said something like, “Yes, if it will save then town, then blow it up!” They blew it up and rebuilt on the same spot the same year. I love that story because women heroes are awesome.

Favorite teas?

I like lapsang souchong tea because it’s unique – really smoky. Customers like our Earl Grey tea, the Butter Beer tea, and our summer watermelon oolong and milk oolong are popular.

Community involvement/charities?

We give a portion of our profits to local charities, such as Food for Neighbors, Fighting Blindness in Reston, the Trevor Project. We also host a program with Food Loop – a company that collects and composts food waste for members who join for a monthly fee.

Plans for the future?

COVID has been difficult. Thanks to our customers and some federal funding and grants, we’ve been able to hold on so far. We’re trying to make the outdoor area appealing with live music and even wine with teainfused charcuterie. Before COVID, we were doing really well. I miss the ambiance we had inside, but COVID is temporary, and when it’s over, we will pick up where we left off.

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Elden Street Tea Shop
714 Pine Street,
Herndon, VA 20170
571-418-1863
eldenstreettea.com

DUE TO COVID, the shop has temporary/reduced hours:

CLOSED: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday

OPEN: Thursday 11-5, Friday 11-9, Saturday 10-9

 

Photos by Traci Medlock | The Lock & Co.