It’s Tea Time
Michele Sorensen and Tea at 1024 are celebrating 20 years of offering guests a memorable destination in the heart of Honolulu to experience the indulgence of afternoon tea.
Brightly colored pink and blue, Tea at 1024 on Nu‘uanu Avenue is impossible to miss. And though the old adage “appearances aren’t everything” usually holds true, such is not the case here. Inside is just as vibrant.
But an hour or two spent inside Tea at 1024 is not merely about indulging in the old British pastime of sipping at fine brews while nibbling on delicately prepared sweet and savory creations. It’s about the entire experience — right down to fun hats patrons may don, and teacups they personally get to select to use with their meal.
As much as the act of afternoon tea is a time-honored ritual abroad, Tea at 1024 is an institution for that very experience here in Honolulu — and as the business prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary next month, owner Michele Sorensen couldn’t be more thrilled.
“I’m very, very happy,” she says of reaching the milestone. “It’s just been great to be doing it as long as I have been able to do it.”
Before her foray into all things tea, Sorensen was a longtime clothing designer with a boutique that was, in fact, in the very spot Tea at 1024 resides in today. Inspired by an idea she had to begin serving her clients a cuppa, one thing led to another, and Tea at 1024 was born.
At the time, Sorensen recalls, afternoon tea — in Hawai‘i, at least — had yet to really take off. Seizing the opportunity, she culled from her own experiences in places like China, Australia, and throughout the U.S. and Europe to cultivate the activity here.
“In a sense, I set the standard as far as what people can expect, and I’ve traveled around the world having tea,” she says, adding that Ashford Castle in Ireland has been her most memorable experience yet.
Her passion for it boils down to this: Afternoon tea provides an opportunity to engage in some good old-fashioned “civili-tea,” as Sorensen puts it.
“It’s a very thoughtful process,” she says. “I enjoy that it is just getting together with family and friends, and catching up.
“It’s such an old tradition,” she adds. “It’s just nice to just sit down and take a moment and enjoy it, and wherever you go around the world, it’s almost exactly the same thing.”
Today, her menu offers traditional fare for adults and children, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options. Sorensen also is working to refine items for vegans and those on the keto diet, too.
In addition to a house tea that features notes of raspberry and rose, patrons may also choose everything from English standards — think Earl Grey and Irish breakfast — to black-blended, green, oolong and white teas, as well as others from India and caffeine-free alternatives.
Throughout the years, Tea at 1024 also has expanded to include catering services for individuals and corporate gatherings, with the company setting up shop at the likes of Foster Botanical Garden and Queen Emma Summer Palace. In fact, back in 2012, Tea at 1024 served the Dalai Lama at ‘Iolani Palace when he stopped in Hawai‘i for his Pillars of Peace tour.
Other options the biz offers for afternoon tea fanatics: baskets that may be picked up that include everything needed to enjoy the experience elsewhere — ideal for dates and special occasions, or for loved ones who might be in the hospital and can’t make the journey there — a Pixie Tea Party and a Secret Garden Tea Party. The latter begins as a scavenger hunt of sorts with Sorensen sending out a map with the destination a couple of days prior to the event.
“It’s totally dress up; big hats, fancy dresses,” says Sorensen. “Everybody gets dressed up, and we do it at different locations. It’s a lot of fun and … you make new friends.”
Sorensen can think back to a time when, to keep up with customers, she’d jot down their addresses from personal checks and then send postcards in the mail. Things, of course, have changed quite a bit. Today, for instance, Sorensen utilizes email to share information to a Listserv that numbers more than 5,000.
More than the changing times, what it is really indicative of is the way Sorensen has allowed Tea at 1024 to flourish no matter the decade or technological tools within reach.
“I think one of the important things for any business, especially small businesses … you have to do everything,” says Sorensen, a grandmother of four and seven-time IRON-MAN finisher. “You have to learn about not only the serving part, but the marketing and all that stuff. I think that that’s really helped and sustained me over the years.”
The success Sorensen has achieved with Tea at 1024 has even captured the attention of a national audience — the biz was featured in an issue of TeaTime Magazine.
Perhaps more profound, though, is the way Sorensen has used all she has gained to build up the community that continues to support her. She conducts vision board classes, and recently became certified to help children in particular. She seeks to empower other women, and through an ‘Ōlelo community project called Tea Chat with The Tea Goddess, conducts interviews that highlight “ordinary people doing extraordinary things that impact the community one teacup at a time.” She partners with organizations like The Bella Project and Project Hawai‘i, and events like the Secret Garden Tea Party and four low-tea gatherings at Stage Restaurant each year support nonprofits.
So, ultimately, stopping in at Tea at 1024 means receiving an experience that contributes to an even greater one for others.
“That’s an important aspect … tying in the community into what we’re doing so that there’s a purpose beyond just coming in for tea,” says Sorensen.
For more information on Tea at 1024, visit teaat1024.net and find it on Facebook and YouTube, and find Sorensen on Instagram (@the_tea_ goddess).
Happy Birthday To You
Here’s something fun that Tea at 1024 does to help its customers celebrate their birthdays: free afternoon tea. All it requires is signing up for the biz’s emails to receive a birthday coupon — which also will ensure information is sent to the right place about any upcoming Secret Garden Tea Party and other events, too.