Reginald Quarles, the owner of Teatopia (2619 1/2 Cherokee Street, 314-669-1464), has always loved tea — though it’s only recently that he found out what it actually tastes like.
“I have always been into tea, but I used to drown it in so much sugar,” Quarles laughs. “Over time, though, I started drinking it as-is, and then it became much more of a spiritual act to me.”
Quarles can’t point to any singular event that made him quit his job as a mental health critical incident professional in favor of Teatopia, but he connects a few disparate moments as leading up to the transition. After his mother died in a car accident, Quarles got deep into philosophy and spirituality, and noticed that tea was complementary to his newfound path. As he began practicing mindfulness, he noticed how the simple preparation of tea is like a meditation and that when he prepared tea for others, he could have a small, yet significant, impact of their lives.
Quarles was having an impact even before Teatopia. For his previous job with a mental health insurance company, Quarles was responsible for deploying counselors to people who had experienced traumatic events like a shooting or robbery. He enjoyed the job because he feels called to help people, but he eventually began to feel that there could be another way to do that.
Quarles quit his job and traveled the country, visiting tea shops and learning everything he could about the beverage and its traditions. After happening upon a “For Lease” sign in the window of what used to be the Little Dipper sandwich shop on Cherokee Street, he knew he’d found his spot.
At Teatopia, Quarles lives by his motto “Brewing better lives, one leaf at a time,” making sure that he creates a welcoming and inclusive space for everyone, from the die-hard tea drinker to someone who has never had a cup of the beverage in their life. “I think the history of tea is kind of odd because it was always for high-class people,” muses Quarles. “But I want to provide it to everyone. I think people often turn away from tea because they feel it’s inaccessible, but I have a calm and relaxing setup so that everyone can come in and enjoy it.”
To that end, Quarles prides himself in not having his shop set up like a traditional Asian or Victorian-style teahouse — not that there’d be much room for any of that in the tiny storefront. It’s just Quarles, his blends and the warm smile he extends to everyone who comes inside.
“My ultimate goal is to improve people’s lives and make them feel better,” Quarles says. “So many people are going through battles that no one knows about and they need a positive interaction. Helping them helps the community because if you extend kindness to them, then they will pay it forward.”
Quarles took a break from bettering lives one cup at a time to share his thoughts on the St. Louis food and beverage scene, his obsession with vegan chocolate and why he’s still open to finding his food crush.
What is one thing people don’t know about you that you wish they did?
That my ultimate goal is to leave a smile on their face through each and every encounter.