Founder of Sip Tea Lounge, Nicole Basso, grew up in a coffee-drinking American-Italian household. Though she still likes her coffee, she likes tea better. Despite having black coffee and espresso every day, Nicole’s grandmother had tea every night before going to bed too. Nicole always refused her grandmother’s offer to join in this ritual. The tea was generally the true tea of Red Rose or Tetley, in bags, mixed with an herbal tisane from fresh ginger root, which was brewed on the stove.
Nicole grew out of the teen years and went to college, attending Skidmore as an undergraduate and leaving with a degree in Art History. She then went on to graduate school at The University of Iowa and got a Masters in the same. Nicole enjoyed Japanese cuisine before going to college, and she began to develop a greater interest and taste for Japanese green tea in graduate school. During this time, she also found drinking tea soothing.
After college, Nicole worked in several museums and art galleries. First at The Heckscher Museum of Art in Huntington. Then at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, then for Pace Master Prints. She eventually left Pace to work for an internet start-up and met her husband around 1997.
Nicole’s husband Toshi also enjoys tea. When the two of them moved from New York to San Francisco in 2002, Nicole began going to tea houses. A friend introduced her to Samovar, a particular favorite. It was there that Nicole started sampling and experiencing a wider variety of teas from several tea growing regions.
At the time that her tea hobby was growing, Nicole was also working at Google in Mountain View, California. She would bring the tea to work and brew the leaves in the office with an infuser cup purchased for that purpose. Over the years, Nicole continued to learn more about various teas.
After deciding to relocate back to New York in 2004, and remaining at Google for several more years, Nicole left the company in 2007. At that time, she began helping at the local farmer’s market in Huntington, New York. Her interests shifted and she began researching the topic of locally grown, organic food and herbs, and this led to a deepening interest in growing methods and origins of true tea from the Camellia sinensis plant. After a few years assisting Golden Earthworm at the market, Nicole knew she wanted to do something to bring the tea that she enjoyed to other folks. Brian, from the market, encouraged her to try sharing the tea at the market. She eventually had her own stand as a tea vendor.
In 2009, while Nicole’s interest in the origins of food and tea was continuing to grow on the local level, she went with her husband to India to attend a wedding of some dear friends. It was southern India. It was beautiful. It inspired her to create a website and start sharing the tea.
After testing the concept at the market, Nicole learned there was a local customer base that was interested in high quality teas.
In 2012, Nicole and Toshi visited China to learn about Pu Er tea, tea processing, farming and brewing. It was eye-opening. The passion and hard work that went into every part of tea making, from leaf to cup, was overwhelmingly apparent. It is this picture of tea that Nicole tries to share with others everyday.
Shortly after returning from China, Sip Tea Lounge was opened in Huntington, New York. Though the tea lounge closed in July of 2016, Nicole’s passion for tea remains strong and constant. She continues to develop her tea knowledge and share it with others by holding tea classes and tastings, participating in pop-up tea events, and discovering new tea sources. Nicole hopes to open another tea lounge when the time is right and she looks forward to presenting more classes in partnership with Che Sabalja that combine the cultural experiences of tea with regional art lessons from the various tea growing areas.