Ithaca, N.Y. — A new tea shop opened on the Ithaca Commons in late September.

Owner Chris Bonn says Caravan Serai Tea will give Ithacans a fresh array of tea flavors beyond the traditional British Earl Gray and east Asian offerings.

“We have a mix of teas from around the world that other stores don’t have,” Bonn said in an interview Friday afternoon. “It’s international.”

Chris Bonn. (Jeff Stein/IthacaVoice)

A quick view of the options bears this out.

Among continents, only Australia and Antarctica appear not to have made the cut — the menu spans from “Moroccan Mint” to South American Mate to Chinese “black Pekoe” and “Formosa Oolong.”

And yes, there is Earl Gray.

Caravan Serai Tea — on the 100 block of the Commons — is named after Caravanserai, the roadside inn where travelers could rest along the famed Silk Road trade route linking the European world to the east.

It was a haven for those looking for a break from wearying journeys, according to Bonn.

Bonn looks out at the construction right outside his door. He says he thinks the name choice is apt.

“Right now, we’re scraping by,” Bonn says. “But things are going to get better.”

The journey

About seven years ago, Bonn was working in customer service at Laguardia Airport in New York City when he met a woman from Thailand.

Bonn decided to stay with her in Thailand. They were married a few years later.

“I went there to visit, and I didn’t leave,” Bonn said.

As the three-month trip turned into a year-long venture, Bonn fell in love with more than just the woman.

“The country is absolutely beautiful; the food’s great; the people are nice,” he says.

The experience opened Bonn up to new cultures, new habits of living — and, of course, new types of tea.

Return to CNY

Bonn is a Syracuse native who recently returned home after his stay in Thailand.

“When I got back here I was speaking with someone … I said it’d be a great idea to open a tea shop, but where? Not in Syracuse,” Bonn said.

The following weeks were a flurry of work — getting the permits from the city, buying the right equipment, making sure the teas were ready to go.

Bonn said his dream is to eventually open a new tea farm in Thailand. Much of the currently imported tea, he says, is made by poorly treated immigrants from Myanmar.

His hope is to one day fly to and from Thailand to manage the farms and several tea shops from around the Central New York and Southern Tier area.

But as Caravan Serai Tea’s Oct. 16 ribbon-cutting ceremony approaches, Bonn said he’s mostly focused on getting his customers to do what he did — and expand their tea palettes.

“Try something they’ve never heard before, that just sounds exotic,” he said. “You might like it.”


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.