In Anne Johnson’s native Kenya, she says, inviting a guest into your home is synonymous with drinking tea. Black tea, that is—with milk and sugar—served with snacks like tea sandwiches, samosas, cookies, and fruit.
“It doesn’t take five minutes—it becomes an hour, two-hour thing,” Johnson says. “It’s about connection. Regardless of how hot it is, you have to offer them tea.”
After she moved to Portland for college, Johnson began dating her now-husband, and they were looking for activities other than the usual dinner and a movie. That’s when Johnson realized the coffee-obsessed Pacific Northwest didn’t have many tea shops where guests could sit down for a leisurely chat and a cup of tea.
So Johnson decided to start her own tea company, called Mamancy Tea Co, an amalgamation of the names of her husband, Mark, her son, Matthew, herself, and her daughter, Mercy. She attended tea sommelier school in San Francisco and took chocolate-making courses so she could make truffles to accompany her teas. The company also has a giving-back component: 10 percent of Mamancy’s profits go to underprivileged women and children in Kenya. Since Mamancy started, Johnson has been donating to the Angel Centre for Abandoned Children, a Nairobi orphanage.
In December 2018, she opened the first location of Mamancy Tea in a Washington Square Mall kiosk. Now closed, it was an expensive marketing strategy, as Johnson calls it, to interact with passing shoppers and familiarize customers with her products.
In March, it looked like her dream of opening a sit-down tea café was finally going to come true in Beaverton, but the lockdown came just days before the planned opening. That put Johnson’s dreams of hosting full tea ceremonies inspired by tea-drinking cultures all over the world, including Britain, China, and Kenya, on hold indefinitely.
Though tea ceremonies are on hold, Mamancy Tea was still able to open with indoor and outdoor seating for customers to enjoy teas, chocolates, and boba. Johnson herself prefers black tea with milk and sugar, the way it’s traditionally drunk in Kenya due to British colonial influences; chai masala tea is another popular option. Some of her teas, like the Kenya Kilimanjaro black tea, are grown in Kenya, but Johnson also offers multiple types from different parts of the world, including green, white, oolong, herbal, rooibos, matcha, and mate.
Mamancy is also a boba shop, with the classic tapioca pearls available as well as popping boba in unconventional flavors like chocolate, coffee, pomegranate, and passionfruit. Customers can drink their boba in the shop, take it to go, or take home a make-your-own boba kit, which Johnson says is equally suited for kids, teenagers, or adults (the popping boba pairs particularly well with sangria, she says).
Artfully decorated truffles are on offer in flavors like blood orange and crème brûlée. Other truffles even incorporate some of Mamancy’s teas—Earl Gray, matcha, or masala chai—into the ganache.
Her tea ceremonies may be canceled for now, but Johnson has received plenty of interest for the day when she finally can host a tea ceremony—in fact, guests have filled up four sign-up sheets. And though opening during a pandemic has certainly been a challenge, Johnson says she’s heartened by the many customers interested in patronizing Black-owned businesses like Mamancy.
“Being a Black-owned business brought a lot of business from customers who are looking to support us,” Johnson said. “That gave us hope.”
Mamancy Tea, 3831 SW 117th Ave, Suite E, Beaverton, 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Mon–Sat, mamancytea.com