“Vancouver is kind of known for being a coffee town,” says Michael Leckie, founder of Leckie Studio Architecture + Design. “People here are very serious about coffee.” But Cha Le, a Yaletown tea shop designed by the firm, is carving out a new niche in the city.
Positioned at the corner of Davie and Hamilton, the shop’s enviable location was selected with the help of the architects, who were brought into the project after the shop’s owners hired creative agency Glasfurd & Walker to do design the branding and packaging for its premium, single-origin teas.
Having already collaborated with Leckie Studio on a number of local spots – including Small Victory Bakery just around the corner – Glasfurd & Walker recommended them to design the store’s interior.
“We actually spent a fair amount of time working with the clients to find the right space,” Leckie says, of the hunt for the location. The exposure provided by the corner space, the proximity to public transit, and the elevated frontage, which will allow the cafe to expand to include a large patio, sold all parties on the spot in Yaletown, an area which has been undergoing a bit of a revival over the past few years.
The 674-square-foot space was completely gutted, new washrooms added and a distinct new material palette introduced. “We really wanted to create a street presence through the use of a really warm material,” Leckie says of the choice to clad the interior in Baltic birch plywood. “Even though it’s a very plain material, the idea was to take the plywood and transform it through a very careful and thoughtful coordination and degree of detailing.”
Beyond the materiality, the architect considered the various purposes the interior needed to serve. “We needed to display product, and we needed storage. So we elected to work with a 12-by-12-inch grid, and we took that one module and deployed it across the space. Everything is coordinated to work into it: the lighting, the size of the containers, the display.” The matrix makes a very subtle reference to the idea of an apothecary, only with a modern twist. Which is just how the proprietors serve up the tea.
With the plywood forming the ceiling and walls, the firm needed to add some space for real star of the room: the high-tech team brewing equipment. The MOD4, from U.S. brand Alpha Dominche is an app-controlled, full-immersion brewing system that guarantees the exact right water temperature for each of the shop’s teas. Even your favourite coffee shop can be hit or miss, the coffee tasting perfect some days, and burnt or too strong others. But Alpha Dominche machines allow each teamaster to brew the exact same cup of tea, each and every time.
They also create quite a visual spectacle, with four glass cylinders bubbling away at the touch of a button. It’s like a space-age take on the tea kettle, made a lot more fun and a whole lot smarter. A great tool for engaging customers, the brew station is the perfect place for the teamasters to share their knowledge of the tradition, culture, and origins of tea. And it also makes it very clear: this is not your grandma’s tea shop.