A modern tea shop that blends the flavors of East Asian countries with visual art and handmade ceramics is open in Little Italy. Living Water Tea House, a cafe with imported teas, Chinese puff pastries, and art, aims to provide a serene retreat for city dwellers at 1453 W. Taylor Street. It formerly housed bubble tea spot Tbaar.
“Living Water,” or “活水,” represents a biblical reference and a flow of unlimited creativity, according to owner Cosette Liu. A native of Shanghai, she visited a number of East Asian tea farms and selected her favorite offerings to share with customers in Chicago. Choices include Japanese matcha, Taiwanese Dong Ding oolong, and pu’erh tea — a fermented style of tea from the Yunnan province in China.
Liu has concocted various beverages to best highlight the qualities of different pu’erh teas, such as a “Supreme Raw Pu-erh Milk Tea,” chrysanthemum pu-erh soda, and a “7581 Pu-erh Latte.” Customers will also find cheese foam, a frothy layer of milk and cream cheese that tops cold tea drinks. It’s been gaining popularity in America in recent years.
Living Water also features su, which Liu describes as a Chinese puff pastry that originated in the Tang Dynasty. The cafe’s crispy and flakey pastries come in three varieties: salted egg yolk, pineapple, and taro.
A printmaker and ceramicist, Liu pays special attention to teaware and displays her collection of glazed, handmade pieces made using a classical Chinese pottery firing technique. She’s integrated ceramics from a several artists into the overall aesthetic with a light wood wall display, which slips seamlessly into the shop’s calm, organic sensibility. Liu also works with paper and has crafted seemingly weightless light fixtures that hang from the ceiling. Living Water can currently seat five inside with social distancing, and a handful of customers can sit at outside tables, too.
The pandemic caused some product shipment delays as many of Liu’s teas come directly from China, and “third places,” or neighborhood gathering places outside of work or home, have struggled with ongoing restrictions and shrinking customer contingents. Liu decided to press on and open the shop in an effort to provide some comfort and pleasure in the midst of an uncertain time. She hopes the tea house will add more Asian representation to the area through the menu and through cultural events. East Asian Americans have experienced a surge in harassment and racism associated with COVID-19 since March.
Living Water Tea House, 1453 W. Taylor Street, Open 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.