Caranda Martin carefully tells each of his customers when they come in for their morning coffee where the beans, flavors and even milk came from. To him, each cup has a journey.
Since it’s opening last week, Serengeti Teas and Spices, located at 2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd., is quickly becoming a Harlem hotspot. Owned by Martin, a chef and chemist, the shop cafe features over 400 teas from around the world, mostly Africa.
A native of Liberia, Martin tugs at the roots of his grandmother who was an herbalist. He grew up learning about holistic living and working on his family’s farms. His teachings led him to work for several chefs and in hospitality including working with Chef Marcus Samuelson of Harlem’s Red Rooster
His dream became reality when he created a place to give a taste of Africa to the palate.
“Africa is the one of the largest producers of tea,” he said. “By the end of the year, Kenya will be one of the largest tea producers in the world.”
Serengeti Teas and Spices works with small harvesters in Africa and South America. The menu includes teas, chai, and cold beverages. Teas can be bought loose leaf or pre-packed coming from Kenya Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda, Cameroon. Ghana. India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Drinks on the menu include Bushman Honey Espresso, Pomegranate Hibiscus, green tea with rosehips and King Tut Wild Lemonade with sea salt from Kenya.
Martin said that while tea shops are mostly downtown, he wanted to bring the experience to uptown residence. While Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts might be in abundance in Harlem, Martin said his cafe offers something different. The area’s last tea spot, the Harlem Tea Room, closed in 2008.
“My goal was to bring Africa to a community that had a direct relationship with Africa,” Martin said. “We wanted to position ourselves as authentic. I’ve lived in Harlem for 20 years and I wanted to give back to a community that has shown me so much hospitality. There is no other place I would have opened my first shop.”
Along with great teas for the palate to explore, spices are also available for customers to but. Among them are African curry, smoked paprika from Spain, Tunisian turmeric and Wild African hot chile.
Those looking to sit and eat have the choice of pastries from Balthasar to go with their tea or coffee. Also available on the menu are smoked lentils, braised meats, stews and vegetarian and vegan items. Serengeti also serves up preserves made on sight including a ginger, pineapple chutney and a popular apricot, rosemary and buckwheat honey preserve.
“As Africans we always have has a relationship with African American,” said Martin. “Harlem is where I feel most at home and I felt I could contribute to a need.”