By Herman Chan
The building at 2086 University Avenue has gone through many iterations, including a consignment store and a rug mart. Recently, David Lau and Diana Lui saw the potential to transform the tired space into a beautiful, sleek tea house. After a soft launch earlier this year, Asha Tea House in downtown Berkeley has officially made its debut.
For tea fanatics and design aficionados, it was worth the wait.
Lau and Lui combined their talents to bring their dream to fruition. Growing up as a Chinese-American in San Mateo, David says he always wanted to bring tea to the masses. The self-proclaimed “engineer turned food entrepreneur” says many people tend to think of his favorite drink with the stereotypical imagery of high tea with grandma, pinkies in the air. But tea, he claims, can be fun, hip modern and tasty.
Asha offers a wide array of high-quality teas to try: there’s oolong and matcha, herbal and fruit teas, and their bestselling Pearl boba tapioca milk teas. Their collection of loose-leaf teas are sourced from China, India, Japan, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Vietnam (available to buy from their online store), and they only use fresh fruit. Soon, food items like sandwiches will be added to the menu.
Lau and Lui realize that half the fun of drinking tea is the ambiance. A mechanical designer by trade, Lui’s attention to décor is clear from the second you walk in the door. The burnt shingles that line the under-counter walls are an homage to the cute Berkeley bungalows the pair fell in love with. They even blow-torched the shingles, inspired by the ancient Japanese art of charring wood as a way to strengthen it against the elements.
The long, elegant communal wood table that greets customers was designed and made by Lau and Lui. Reclaimed wood was used for the rear tables and the condiment stand is made from lava stone. The building’s soaring ceilings, albeit beautiful, appeared too “cavernous” to the pair. So, Lui designed some long cylindrical hanging lamps to bridge the space.
The effect is industrial yet classy. It looks particularly beautiful at night. In classic millennial fashion, these two food entrepreneurs blogged about their whole experience of creating Asha, taking us through demolition, to millwork and, finally, the café’s opening.
Asha Tea House is at 2086 University Avenue, Berkeley 94704. Hours: Mondays-Saturdays, 11:30am-10pm. Closed Sundays. Tel: (510) 549-9137.
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