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Coffee enthusiasts open tea house

Quality is king, insist the owners of Seventh Tea Bar, who also own Portola Coffee Lab.

By Bradley Zint

8:24 PM PST, January 2, 2013

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Source it well and they will come.

That's been a philosophy and a brewing way of life for Jeff and Christa Duggan, owners of Portola Coffee Lab in Costa Mesa.

Now the coffee-making pair are taking their approach to the tea world with the opening of Seventh Tea Bar.

"We feel like if you source a high enough quality coffee, roast it and serve it fresh, then there's so many wonderful, natural flavors," Jeff Duggan said. "It wouldn't make sense to add anything artificial. That's kind of how we're going with the tea as well."

Seventh Tea Bar takes its name after one of the traditional Chinese "seven necessities": tea. They're dubbing the bar's decor "Victorian modern," with both classic and modern twists.

"The history of tea is much richer than that of coffee," Jeff Duggan said. "It goes way back even further than coffee. I respect that 100%."

The new business venture is the Duggans' third within two years. They opened Theorem — an intimate, reservations-only coffee bar — in September and Portola in May 2011. All three are within the OC Mart Mix on Hyland Avenue, making the Duggans' business-to-business commute just mere steps.

Eleven employees were hired to work the tea bar, with two more expected, Christa Duggan said.

In addition to offering as many as 50 teas, some of them seasonal, Seventh Tea Bar will also serve food. During the soft opening Wednesday, however, the dining area wasn't quite finished; they're hoping to have it done by the weekend.

Chef Katherine Louis was hired to create the menu, which includes organic and locally sourced products for the offerings that include tea sandwiches, breads and spreads, said Christa Duggan.

The teas are considered "single estate," meaning their origin is traceable right down to the farm, the farmers and the farmers' practices, she said. They don't offer tea blends yet, but if they do, they want to do the blending in-house with their own exacting techniques.

Portola had offered tea, Christa Duggan said, but the tea wasn't given the amount of attention they would've liked.

"With it combined, it gets watered down," she said. "So we really wanted to separate and give the attention tea deserves."

Seventh Tea Bar will utilize both traditional and nontraditional brewing methods, the latter of which includes the Alpha Dominche brewer.

"We're really excited about this machine because we're going to be one of the first tea houses to have this machine on the West Coast," she said.

The Duggans see the tea bar as a natural extension of their coffee business. Customers want to go beyond just the "tea ceremony," Jeff Duggan said.

"Nowadays, people want something that tastes fantastic," he said. "It's cool that they can sit down and do this and whatnot, but if the cup isn't the best thing that they've tasted, it waters the whole experience down."

Quality is king, the duo stressed.

"The bottom line is we're focusing on the quality of the cup. Period. And that's driving everything," Jeff Duggan said. "Tradition we respect, and you'll see elements of tradition. But that is not what is driving our process and procedures.

"In other words, we're opening the playbook."

bradley.zint@latimes.com

Twitter: @bradleyzint