Kansas City’s air is thick with revolution and restoration, contemplated Nika Cotton.
“In the social and cultural climate, it’s really a time that people are rising up. The systems are changing. We’re talking about the abolition of police departments, the abolition of the industrial prison system — really exciting things,” Cotton said amid a flurry of additional excitement she brewed herself — the launch of her Troost-steeped tea shop, Soulcentricitea.
It’s a business Cotton, a life-long tea lover — but never a snob, she said — has long dreamed of opening and one that’s finally found the kettle whistling, ready to pour in a culture that thirsts for community-oriented spaces, she added.
“At my heart, I’m an organizer,” Cotton said with conviction, eager to build an environment that empowers its customer-base with every saucer served.
“I’m really grateful because a lot of people have really shown up to support [me.] It’s been amazing to see the outpouring of community,” she said of the endeavour, which officially launched Wednesday in the former Blip Roasters space within the Wonder Shops + Flats at 1106 E 30th St.
“It’s really close to my heart to be able to provide a space for organizers to be able to come together,” she said of plans for the space, which will also house a “zine” library and eventually open its doors for poetry and social justice-focused events when the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic lift.
“I had this idea that I really wanted to create a space that centered activism and Black women’s issues — and people have kind of gravitated to it,” Cotton continued.
“I’ve seen the outpouring of people who just heard about it and were like, ‘Oh, I’ve been looking for somewhere to be able to host this event,’ or, ‘These are things that we wanted to do,’ and so it’s definitely a need in the community.”
Click here to further explore the Soulcentricitea concept.
Check out a peek inside Soulcentricitea below, then keep reading.
Calm amid uncertainty
Oolonging for community, Cotton — who runs Soulcentricitea solo — has also made sure anyone who steps up to the tea shop’s counter (or curb amid the lingering pandemic) is met with plenty of variety.
Soulcentricitea currently offers 54 teas that can be served hot, cold, or brewed into lattes; a snow cone creation that blends herbal tea and honey known as a “tea ice,” and tea sorbets.
“I’m definitely a tea fanatic, all things tea,” Cotton said in between pre-opening background conversations with the Kansas City Missouri Health Department and other helping hands, a hustle that indicated the depth of the final throes to launch her dream business.
“I like the flavorful ones, so a lot of the things that are on my menu are the different flavored teas. … My favorite right now is the turmeric golden chai.”
Chasing chai? Click here to explore other hidden gems in the niche tea shop space.
The shop’s full menu will be rounded out with baked goods from Spicy Moon Foods and an assortment of Blip Roasters coffees and lattes, Cotton said, specifically highlighting a serendipitous partnership with the former tenants of the Troost location — which she’d long had her eye on.
“A year ago, when I was starting to look for tea shops I had checked [out the Wonder space] just to see what was available in the area. One of the biggest reasons that I didn’t move here is because Blip was already here and so it would have been redundant to have a tea shop and a coffee shop in the same location,” she explained.
When Blip Roasters chose to vacate the location at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the developer of the Wonder building and Ian Davis, Blip Roasters founder, reached out to Cotton to talk tea.
“I was a little hesitant because of COVID, initially. But I sat down and thought about it, looked at some of the statistics and information, and decided I would go ahead and sign a lease.”
Sip of resurgence
No stranger to the small business blend — having formally launched Soulcentricitea as a gift shop on 41st and Troost in 2017 — committing to the prominent Troost location (which sits just across the street from Ruby Jean’s Juicery) was a show of community Cotton said she couldn’t let pass her by.
“Troost used to be a very booming business corridor. I remember hearing stories from my aunt about going to department stores on Troost; there was a movie theatre down on Troost,” she recalled of past bustle on the east side.
“[Now] It’s kind of like a renaissance — a reemergence of something that used to be a really great space, but it’s kind of become something not so great and that’s being restored again. So that’s beautiful! And I feel like that’s the theme of Soulcentricitea.”
With restoration at its core, Cotton hopes the tea shop can harness the power of positivity to fight years of blight and negative stereotypes that have been tied to the neighborhood, sip by sip.
“It’s really beautiful that the reemergence and the resurgence of Troost gets to take into account the history,” she said. “It’s just been really, really empowering and humbling, I think, to see people wanting something like this to be here and be willing to support it and give me their encouragement.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.