Amy Truong and Lani Gobaleza bonded over tea while studying abroad in Japan. When they moved back to the US, they missed the quiet, unassuming tea shops located on nearly every corner in Japan. The couple started Paru in May 2017, naming it after Japanese pronunciations of the words pearl and pal. The brick-and-mortar Paru Tea Bar opened on Cañon Street in Point Loma in 2019, with Truong serving as tea educator and master blender, and Gobaleza as creative director.
Paru serves specialty teas with a focus on Asian teas, all inspired by Truong and Gobaleza’s travels and family roots. Truong’s parents are originally from Vietnam and she was born in Los Angeles. The family moved to Paris when she was young, inspiring the European-style herbal blends that the store offers today.
There are two approaches to tea-making at Paru: first, working with smaller, family-owned tea gardens to customize roasts, and second, blending teas to build and enhance their unique flavor profiles. The honey orchid oolong, a tea style only produced in the southern Guandong province north of Hong Kong, is Truong’s favorite. It’s the relationships built with tea farmers that result in unique twists on teas that have been grown, roasted, and steeped for generations.
“Sometimes I have an idea and I bring it to the tea master,” Truong says, “and he either says ‘Oh, no, that might taste horrible,’ or it’s a new idea that they’ve actually never thought about and they’ll try it and then he’s like, ‘Ooh, that tastes really good.’”
The second approach is blending teas and flavors. Truong thinks of an inspiring food dish and builds layers of flavor, like for the signature Pandan Waffle tea. The roasted toasty note simulates a waffle fresh out of an iron, and Truong uses sticky rice, dried coconut chips, and dates to sweeten it and mimic the Vietnamese dessert. Truong and the Paru team do not use artificial sweeteners.
“Most of the challenge is getting a great natural sweetness,” says Truong. “A lot of people love sweetened teas and we try to bring in other elements to do it in a dried form. That’s a challenging and fun part of the job.”
Chamomile was her favorite tea as a child, but it gets pigeonholed as a tea for when one is sick. She wanted to make it more exciting and fun, so she blends chamomile flowers with buttery pea flowers that turn it a vibrant blue hue in the cup. Lavender and rose add additional flower power to create Blue Chamomile, a tea that is a far
cry from its subtle forefather.
Paru did a takeover at An’s Dry Cleaning and Blue Chamomile is still on the gelateria’s menu as a stand-out flavor.
“A lot of tea blends mask the flavor of the tea,” Truong says. “For us, we want to highlight it and accentuate a lot of the notes. It’s a lot of [research and development] and process and scribbles in my notebook, but that’s my favorite part of the job.”
Throughout the pandemic, she was grateful to have the support of the San Diego community. Tea served as a comfort for many during the lockdown. Paru offered virtual shopping appointments, a monthly tea subscription ($25–30 per month), and virtual tastings for individuals, parties, and corporate get-togethers.
“We love getting to know our customers and want to make everyone feel welcome as an LGBTQ+ and minority-owned business,” Truong says of her relationships with farmers and customers. “(It’s the) people that matter most.”
7441 Girard Ave., La Jolla and 3034 Cañon St., San Diego
Camellia sinensis, the plant used to make white, yellow, green, oolong, and black teas, originated in north Burma and southwest China. Tea was used as a medicinal beverage in the Yunnan province of China, where the oldest cultivated tea tree (3,200 years) lives to this day. Tea was carried by Portuguese priests and merchants from China to Europe in the 1500s and was popularized in England in the 1600s. Today, tea is the second most consumed beverage after water, solidifying its place above coffee and craft beer.
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704 J St., San Diego and 2911 El Cajon Blvd., San Diego
This place is perfect if someone in your crew wants a pour-over and another wants an herbal tea. In addition to teas on tap, they offer about five varieties of loose leaf teas at a time from Taiwan, including Red Peony. Try a sparkling tea of chamomile, spearmint, berry leaf, and Cascade hops.
4966 Santa Monica Ave., Suite C, San Diego
Seasonal teas are the name of the game here. Best-sellers are GABA Oolong, with notes of apricot and dried berries, and Wild Mountain Red, a mix of sugar cane, honey, and strawberry fruit leather flavors. Try Qi Yun GABA Oolong, the latest tea from two- to three-year-old trees, handpicked in spring 2021. Each tea purchase at Mad Monk supports artisan farmers and sustainable growing practices around the world. TEMPORARILY CLOSED but tea can be ordered online.
2770 Historic Decatur Rd., Suite 103, San Diego
Owner Cheryl Graf’s first job as a teenager was serving afternoon tea at an English-style guesthouse and gardens in Orange County. Today, she sells over 100 organic, handpicked teas in various styles and flavors at her shop in Liberty Station. Get the Garden Spa Blend with rose, chamomile, and lavender.
Sam Tall from City Farmers Nursery walks us through the essential tea plants to grow in the San Diego region.