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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — January 30, 2004


Tea house boasts
many unique aspects

Strega presents homegrown art
and the art of tea

Express Staff Writer

In a coffee culture gone berserk, the art of tea drinking has often and sadly taken a back seat. However, tea, or the beverage made from pouring hot water over dried plants, herbs and legumes is nearly as ancient as recorded time.

Kayla and Kim Harrison at the uniquely designed counter in Strega. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Tea was first discovered in China in 2737 B.C. and in A.D. 350 the first description of drinking tea was written in a Chinese dictionary.

Attempting to rectify this historical oversight here in the Wood River Valley is Kim Harrison, who with her family, has remodeled and opened Strega, a teahouse and bistro, in Ketchum.

Strega—"witch" in Italian— boasts many unique aspects, above and beyond the 60 types of organic teas served.

Upon entering the remodeled former home on 1st Street in Ketchum, on what is known informally as gallery row, one notices a mammoth, whimsically sculpted counter.

Harrison, an artist in several genres, constructed this singular piece by making the bones of it out of wood and then adding wood, tarpaper, chicken wire, two coats of cement and sculpture plaster on the front. It not only bends as an L around the work area but also is the main architectural feature of the tea house.

On the front of the ship’s bow-like counter is a three dimensional tea bush, with inlaid metal features: leaves, artichokes, butterflies, dragon flies, roses and berries that roam all over the bush as well as the counter. A mosaic of the Strega logo designed by Harrison is inlaid in the center of the floor of this room. Harrison, who has done many mosaics and artistic features in her home as well, shrugs off the accomplishment. An art director, she graduated from the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles, where she met her husband Michael, an industrial designer.

"I know how to use materials and make whatever you can think of, or else Michael can," she said.

Harrison, who started and designed the Sacred Cow Yoga Studio with Mariel Hemingway, was also the artistic director of Spiegel School of Performing Arts that later morphed into Sun Valley Ballet School.

Because her children have been home schooled for approximately six years, they worked alongside Harrison for three months to remodel and prepare Strega for its December 2003 opening. Shane, 16, and Kayla, 15, work at Strega as barristos and take English and Algebra classes through the College of Southern Idaho.

Kim Harrison waits on customers in a sunny corner of the cafe. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Kayla describes the experience of creating Strega as an education in construction, finances, design, and how to run a business. Shane and another home schooled student, Beau Bergdahl, laid the pavers, built the rustic fence and gate that surrounds the house and did much of the landscaping, construction and painting. "Everyone knows basically everything about how to run the place now," Harrison said.

Strega also houses the Iconoclast Newsstand & Annex. Here one can buy periodicals as well as cult comics, vintage tomes and current McSweeney’s and The Believer: two noncommercial magazines for and about writers.

In other words, it’s all very comfortable, easy going, kind of European in feel and everything from the tea to the food is organic. One can often find a flock of hardworking kids, in the kitchen, at the counter and doing their homework in the café.

Harrison makes a bistro type dish for dinner nightly, and serves carefully chosen wines and brews.

The tables and chairs are comfortable and commodious with a clean and unfettered look complementing the homemade food and exotic array of teas. Among the more fanciful and unique teas is one from one of the largest tea bush in the world. In China, this is a tourist attraction, Harrison said.

She also carried Queen Victoria’s Flower tea, which as it steeps releases small flowers that float out of the tied together bundle of leaves, which resembles a chrysanthemum.

Harrison is happy to discuss all the teas attributes, both healthful, taste wise and decorative such as Tibetan rhodiola pods, Pai Mu Tan green tea wheels, White Monkey Paw, Yerba Matte and several rooibus. Many of these teas are rolled and shaped, creating various styles, tastes and grades. This process also adds to the uniqueness of the final product, viewed as the art of tea. During these refinements, the valuable whole leaves are removed from lower quality tea dust and fannings.

Harrison has a contact who’s a long time friend and partner of her husband’s, in China, Tian Long, who exports these teas directly to her.

There’s the art of tea, the art of Kim and there’s the art of Strega, which acts as a gallery to display the work of others.

Currently photos of Spain by Michelle Schwartz hang throughout, as well as featured bronze sculptures by Timi Saviers.

Soon, happenings—musical and otherwise—will be begin appearing at Strega.

One afternoon last week in the all age friendly teahouse, teenagers gathered after school; a six year old was celebrating a birthday; and a group of post skiing ladies had rolled down their one piece ski suits, shaken their hair out of their hats and were happily sipping tea. Ahhh.



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