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You can travel the world for some exotic tastes, or you can visit the Old Barrel Tea & Spice Company in Mesilla. With teas and international spices carrying the flavors of South Africa, South America, Japan and Serbia to a little store in southern New Mexico, every visit becomes an adventure.
But the true flavor of this little company, founded in Ruidoso, is all about the southwest. An all-woman owned franchise with seven locations, the Mesilla store was opened in July 2017 by Morgan Switzer. It was the fourth after Ruidoso, Cloudcroft and Albuquerque. Now, there are Old Barrels in Colorado and Arizona, as well.
“I’ve always wanted to own a tea shop,” Switzer said. “I’ve always gone to tea shops with girlfriends. Growing up, we would have tea parties. When we graduated from high school, we had a high tea.”
So, when she was contemplating a new business venture, thinking about opening her own tea shop, Switzer turned so her friends in Ruidoso and found everything she needed in their company.
“I love tea, I love wellness, I love honey,” she said. “Talking with them, it made sense to work with their company. They had years of figuring out what worked and what didn’t. They make sure their sources are fair trade. And they were becoming a recognizable brand.”
Employee Crystal Franklin started as a customer at the Mesilla store when it was still on Calle del Santiago. Now the store has moved to 2290 Calle De Parian, and Franklin has had a job there for two years.
“I came here as customer for spices and still use them to this day,” she said.
Switzer said the store has a focus on wellness and having fun.
“It’s about just enjoying wonderful flavors, new creations and all the good effects of teas, tea things, raw unfiltered honeys and, of course, spices,” she said. “We all like to cook and play around with different things. So, it’s just taking a fun approach to a healthy lifestyle that is approachable.”
Loose leaf tea has been around for thousands of years, she said. The store sees a lot of people who have never tried loose-leaf tea before, so Switzer and her employees walk them through it and make it approachable.
“We want to make everyone who comes in to feel welcome and warm,” she said. “Obviously we have a website, but we want people to call us or visit us so we can talk to them. We go through brewing tips and tell them if they go home and have questions please call us.”
One of Switzer’s contributions to the creation of tea mixes was the inclusion of pecans.
“I wanted to do something with pecans because we are in pecan country, so we came up with a pecan-pie puerh, which we debuted at the very first pecan festival,” she said. “It was fantastic, everybody loved it. It has actual pieces of pecan, so it’s just a really delicious and decadent tea.”
Switzer said because it’s a puerh, the tea is great for reducing inflammation and helping with digestion.
In 2020, the most popular tea overall in the stores was be Lavender Crème Brûlée. She said it has a rooibos base and no caffeine, “so if you have a sweet tooth right before you go to bed at night, this is something that you can enjoy and feel guilt-free, it has no calories, and it’s not going to keep you up.”
“Another popular is our prickly pear inspired by our desert vibes,” she said. “It’s just a really nice, fresh, bright tea we really enjoy. None of our teas come sweetened in any form or fashion, they are truly just the raw ingredients.”
Switzer said the company tries to work with as many New Mexico providers as possible. The shop carries offerings from Lincoln County lavender farms, as well as green and red chile powders from Hatch and honey from Mesilla, as well as spices, mugs, mug rugs and greeting cards, “offering local craftspeople a venue that they might not be able have otherwise,” she said.
Of course, the story has all kinds of kettles and teapots, tea sets and individual tea brewing systems. It also offers blended oils and prickly pear syrup, “perfect for a margarita, pancakes, everything,” Switzer said.
Find Mesilla Old Barrell Tea Company on Facebook.