The Tea Smith owner Tim Smith searches out loose-leaf teas from all over the world—and he says he has to consciously limit himself as he fills the shops' stock of about 150 teas. But it wasn't long ago that Tim didn't even like tea. "I thought tea was brown water and a bag," he confesses.
It took a gift for his wife to change that. "I was traveling for business, it was around Valentine's day, and I was married long enough to know that you don't come home empty-handed," he says. So he bought her some loose-leaf tea and the right accessories to brew it. "She made me try it, and it was surprising," he says. "It was not that stuff in a bag. It had some character and some taste to it."
He began researching, and realized that tea—already the world’s most widely consumed beverage after water—was experiencing a resurgence in the United States. While many tea spots have British or Japanese themes, Tim decided to open a tea shops with a "comfortable contemporary" vibe, where people could enjoy hot, iced, and bubble teas with friends. For at-home brewing, visitors can shop for classic teas such as Earl Grey, sample more unusual flavors such as the “Iron Goddess of Mercy” (an oolong), or browse seasonal blends such as pumpkin spice, cranberry cream, and fireside chat. The shops also stocks travel tea mugs, teapots equipped with infuser baskets, and unglazed Chinese YiXing clay pots that enhance the tea’s flavor.
Tim knows that many people who walk into the shop are unfamiliar with loose-leaf tea and may not be sure what they'll like—which is why he only hires tea enthusiasts. "Part of their training is to come in and drink each of the teas, and make notes on the flavor profiles," he says. That way, the staff can recommend blends suited to each customer's palate, rather than having to analyze a Rorschach tea-blot test. In addition to events including an annual blending contest, they also run periodic Tea 101 sessions that introduce attendees to the "history, the myths, the legends, and the lore of tea," says Tim.
Across four decades and three generations, the Hoenselaar family has prepared its signature bone-in hams the same way—marinating them in secret spices and smoking them at length over a special blend of hardwood chips. At each of HoneyBaked Ham Co.'s 400 locations, specialized machinery invented by founder Harry J. Hoenselaar himself carves each haunch into a perfect, thin-cut spiral. Slices then fill sandwiches such as the croissant-swaddled Ham Classic, or join other meats on the likes of the toasted Ham & Turkey Bella, which hoists swiss cheese, banana peppers, and balsamic vinaigrette between cibatta bread. The correlation between pork consumption and out-of-control parties has not slipped past the notice of the HoneyBaked chefs, who also offer catering platters and party trays for 10 or more people.
Twelve years ago, Frank and Amy Faust bought a 6-acre plot of land in the Loess Hills countryside with the intention of building themselves a log cabin. Instead, they found themselves sidetracked by a new dream—starting a winery. At Sugar Clay Winery, the Fausts now produce up to 10,000 gallons of wine each year, yet, as they told KETV-7, they still take the time to cork each bottle by hand. Visitors can introduce themselves to 14 of Sugar Clay’s proprietary varietals in the tasting room, such as the sangria-esque Loess Hills blush or a four-grape ambrosia blanc whose flavors morph from apple to butterscotch and almond with each sip. Outside, shaded decks house guests peering out on views of sloping valleys soundtracked by a chorus of birds hiding among the surrounding cedars. A fire pit warms sippers during crisper nights or on afternoons when a tour group of refrigerators shows up, and live musicians fill the air with notes from dulcimers and acoustic guitars.
In 2000, a group of farmers decided to diversify their crop production by planting twirling wine grapes into the rolling Midwestern hills. The initial smattering of vines quickly grew into a 4-acre vineyard and led to the launch of Silver Hills Vineyards & Winery, a small operation intent on crafting 100% Nebraska wines. The vintners’ Midwestern pride can be seen in their choice of ingredients—all wines are made with fruit grown at local vineyards and tattooed with the state motto—as well as their choice of decor: the outdoor tasting deck is shaped like Nebraska.
Silver Hills produces red, white, rosé, and berry wines, which visitors can sample during the vineyards’ limited hours on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Bottle labels display woodcuts by John Schirmer, a resident of neighboring Iowa who has carved wood professionally for more than 35 years.
Winery owners Randy, Kelly, and Nate Meyer are so passionate about winemaking that they've designed their entire vineyard to symbolize it—each phase of the buildings' architecture reflects a different step in the winemaking process. A planter crafted from locally harvested limestone marks the entrance to the winery and supports arbors symbolizing trellised grape bushes in the vineyards. The arbors extend through the earth-toned Chancellor Hall, where a towering cathedral ceiling laced with heavy beams can shelter more than 200 guests at once. Inside, light streams in through towering windows overlooking the vineyard, as well as through heavy double doors leading out to a patio and courtyard, where the same arbor continues to form a roof and shield wines from straw-wielding helicopter pilots. Outside, 16 acres of vineyards house rows of Midwest varietals such as Vignoles, St. Vincent, Frontenac, and Catawba. Staffers pluck vines entwined on trellised rows and carry their bushels into a processing building, where they unload pounds of fruit into imported presses and custom-made fermentation tanks. These grapes age into wines in a room designed in the shape of a barrel, which represents the winemaking and fermentation process as well as the winemakers' fear of being trapped inside a barrel. The Meyers also use the wines in these barrels to reflect their love for the region; they've named many of the dry and semidry wines for weather phenomena associated with Tornado Alley.
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