Indulging the Senses

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On a corner of a quiet residential street in Northwest Portland, Oregon, a transformation awaits on the other side of an unassuming door. People enter this place harried and anxious, with tired eyes and dull complexions. Those leaving, however, look different: relaxed, refreshed, infused with a sense of well-being that’s rare to find these days.

This destination, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby shopping district, isn’t some mystic’s shop, although some might argue that the brews it offers are just as magical. Instead, it’s a place at the forefront of a health and beauty trend: tea spas. Inside Kiva Tea Spa, customers sip tea, tea-laced tonics, and lattes while savoring a menu of sweet and savory treats. Beyond the sunny seating area and well-curated shelves of health, beauty, and home goods, a door opens to the spa itself. Here, in a collection of candle-lit rooms, customers indulge in full-body and foot massages, aromatherapy treatments, facials, and more.

Kiva is one of many tea spas popping up around the country. Tea as a health elixir isn’t a new concept; indeed, it’s been one of the driving forces behind tea’s surge in popularity as baby boomers and millennials alike create healthy lifestyles and demand the products that support them. But now, more entrepreneurs are creatively coupling tea’s health benefits with soothing spa treatments as a way to nourish people from the inside out.

Soaking It In

The trend began more than 10 years ago in Asia, where spas in South Korea and Japan offer an array of tea-based treatments, paired with small cups of perfectly prepared tea. In some, you can even plunge into a pool of strong green tea, as at the popular Hakone Kowakien Yunessun spa resort in Japan, where entire hot tubs are filled with tea sourced from the foot of the Tanzawa and Hakone mountains. From there, the trend spread to Europe, where many spas offer a combination of fine teas and tea-based beauty treatments meant to enhance each aspect of an already rejuvenating experience.

In Portland, Kiva Tea Spa founder Kiva Lane builds upon that global background in artfully combining the ritual of tea with the rituals of self-care at her eponymously named gathering spot. When envisioning her shop, she drew on her time living in Qatar, where hospitality reigns supreme. Gatherings with her Middle Eastern friends revolved around drinking intensely spiced and sweetened teas while nibbling on an array of sweets. While in the U.S., everything is about speed and efficiency, building community is central to the Middle Eastern lifestyle, and food and drink play a key role in nurturing mind and spirit, along with body—all lessons Lane took to heart. Back home in the States, she took additional inspiration from Elixir Tonics, an L.A.-based shop where herbal practitioners mix up practical beverages for customers’ health complaints. These two experiences helped feed Lane’s vision of a tea spa where health and community gracefully intersect.

Center of Things

If tea is at the intersection of health, community, and beauty, then tea spas themselves are a vast array of spokes extending out from the center, drawing in people seeking health benefits, beauty boons, some indulgent personal time, and more. The scope of available options is wide, ranging from simple soaking tubs, massages, and cups of Mandarin Silk oolong at the Tea House Spa in Santa Cruz, California, to the extensive spa at Cavallo Point in San Francisco, where you can sip White Peony tea at the tea bar before embarking on a full-scale health and beauty journey with a nutritionist, hypnotherapist, acupuncturist, massage therapist, herbalist, or aesthetician.

Tea lends itself well to the product side of the spa experience, too. Its rich nutritional profile translates to nurturing healthy skin and hair. Green, white, and black teas are all loaded with antioxidants, which help rejuvenate skin cells. Bitter tannins put their astringency to work externally to tighten pores and refresh the skin. Tea’s reputation as an anti-inflammatory agent is well-deserved, as it soothes puffy eyes and reduces pesky swelling. The caffeine in green, white, black, and oolong teas stimulates circulation and promotes detoxification. Pairing tea leaves with their close relatives in the herb and spice world supercharges their health and beauty properties, too, making tea an attractive ingredient in nutritive masks, body scrubs, lotions, balms, gels, and the like.

Health to Go

It’s hard to resist taking some of this luxury home with you, and tea spas are happy to indulge that whim. At Kiva, customers can pack a bag with Art of Tea tins; a selection of tea tonics formulated by a local naturopath; infused oils, vinegars, and sea salts; and tea-infused lotions, lip balms, and creams. To top it off, candles, incense, and local potters’ tea pots and mugs can truly help you transport your spa experience to your own boudoir. Urbana Tea Spa in Charlotte, North Carolina, sells tea pots and tea brewing accessories to go with their 100 varieties of loose-leaf tea. Meanwhile, Bodhisattva Tea Spa in Metarie, Louisiana, offers up teas, tonics, herbs, spices, and raw honey.

With an endless variety of options to choose from, and more spas across the globe touting the benefits of tea for bolstering health and beauty inside and out, there’s a relaxing experience awaiting anyone who’s in need of a little refreshment. It’s no surprise that tea has taken a starring role at the spa, with its aura of ritual, its endless utility, and a nutritional résumé that complements and elevates the spa experience. All that remains is to find a magical destination of your own, slip inside, and let the tea wash away your cares.


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Kathleen Finn

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