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From Tech to Tea

Anh-Minh Le | May 31, 2016 | Food & Drink Story Eat and Drink

In winter 2015, Mercedes Mapua was working at LG, putting her industrial design degree from San Jose State to use on projects such as the Smart TV. But a team-building exercise with her colleagues—a mixology class—had the unexpected side effect of planting the seed for a later entrepreneurial effort.

Earlier this year, with some additional mixology training under her belt, Mapua opened Teaquation. Her knack for playing with ingredients and flavors is manifested in a menu of tea-based beverages that also relies heavily on fresh fruit. “It just clicked,” Mapua says matter-of-factly of her decision to launch a business that literally combines her affinity for tea with her “love of complex but great-tasting cocktails.”

Situated on El Camino Real in Redwood City—directly across the street from the Barnes & Noble at Sequoia Station—the months-old spot offers an unexpected respite on the busy thoroughfare. The rustic-modern interior includes a large chalkboard wall with colorful lettering highlighting some of the menu’s merits (fresh fruit, made in-house, all-natural, no preservatives), while reddish-orange metal stools provide a visual punch against the dark wood and concrete finishes.

Mapua’s design eye is perhaps most evident in Teaquation’s beautifully crafted cocktails, all of which are nonalcoholic ($4 to $6). There’s the Orange-n-Black—a version of Thai iced tea, and the cafe’s most popular libation—that is garnished with housemade coconut whipped cream and a cinnamon stick. The Sunset Boulevard, which layers pureed pineapple, orange juice, coconut milk, and green and hibiscus teas, is reminiscent of a postcard-perfect moment. For those who have trouble picking just one drink, Mapua recently started offering flights: $12 will get you four 4-ounce glasses, presented on a wood plank.

All of the recipes are developed by Mapua, who jokes that her husband serves as her guinea pig. “I get inspiration from Pinterest and drinks that I try at restaurants and bars,” she says. For example, the Man of Steel—a mix of orange juice, pineapple, ginger beer and green tea—is a riff on a Moscow Mule.

Mapua is constantly experimenting. So far, and a bit surprisingly, the Pink Cadillac is her favorite. “I used to not like grapefruit in anything,” she notes. “But I learned that there are ways to make grapefruit work with your palate. When you get that dance of flavors—between sweet and bitter—it becomes very addictive. And that’s how I try to make all of my fruit combinations.” Judging from the many regulars to her cafe, mission accomplished.

Teaquation, 1036 El Camino Real, Redwood City

Originally published in the May issue of Silicon Valley

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