Since Aug. 14, Mary Fritschie has spent most of her time running around, refilling tea pots, baking lavender biscuits and instructing her waiters and waitresses on how to brew tea.
“Steep the hibiscus for four minutes,” she told one of her workers. “But no more.”
Fritschie and Mike Carnevale—the owners and general managers of the Infini-T Cafe and Spice Souk—are best friends and tea experts. The idea of opening a tea house surfaced when they were making dinner together one night.
“Mary and I used to cook together a lot. We’d look through cookbooks, go out and buy the ingredients, and just cook,” Carnevale said. “And the idea of the tea house probably came from one of those nights.”
He said that they were both looking to do something else with their lives. Carnevale was a tax lawyer; Fritschie worked for a venture capital firm.
Making a tea house was the perfect idea. Fritschie had been drinking tea her entire life—her family drank tea every day. Carnevale, while not a tea drinker by nature, is into collecting wines, which, he says, requires similar skills as tea collecting. And he fell in love with the Middle and Far East while traveling—the smells, the tastes, the colors.
Occasionally they’d talk about “their tea house” in the car, going shopping, going to the movies. But then there came a point where they weren’t just dreaming about it—they were doing it.
“One of us probably said ‘let’s do it!’,” Carnevale said. “And we pulled it together from there.”
A year and a half and many tea taste tests, trips to Dubai and India and antique-shopping sprints later, the Infini-T Cafe and Spice Souk opened at 4 Hulfish St., next to La Jolie Salon and across from Halo Pub ice cream.
A souk is a marketplace, and the same is true at Infini-T cafe; customers may purchase the teas and spices to take home with them.
It’s not uncommon for people to smell the scent of chai that emanates from the place and descend the concrete steps into Infini-T, where a billowing cloth ceiling, wooden furniture and cups of deliciously smelling tea await them.
Glass tubs that line the walls encase spices and teas: rosebud, jasmine, hibiscus, lavender and myrrh. A tub of cinnamon sticks sits on a wood shelf. Customers are hugged by the smell of the 40-50 spices that Carnevale and Fritschie have collected during their travels.
Fritschie is wont to take a tub of spice and bring it around for people to smell.
“Doesn’t that smell beautiful?” she asks. “Just beautiful.”
Fritschie’s “favorite favorite” spice are her rosebuds. Every morning she drinks the first flush darjeeling tea with two rosebuds from her stash.
“And Mike always drinks the Oloong,” she said.
Francesca Collins, a professor in Princeton’s writing program, comes to Infini-T for the chai. She said that it’s almost difficult to describe the place.
“I don’t want to say quirky because everybody says quirky,” she said. “But the owners and the operations are quirky.”
Every chair in Infini-T is comfortable. Sitting in the chairs is an experience: the chairs that are only six inches above the floor, situated around a tea table, the hard wooden chairs in the back room (perfect for doing work), the cushions in the corner with books and the unimpressive wood chair near the entrance, whose seat is slightly curved. That’s Fritschie’s chair, even if she hasn’t used it much so far.
The tea house seems to be part of another world. It’s a place of calm in a city of busy college students, busy people, busy kids.
One day a man and his pregnant wife walked down the steps into the tea house. They drank their tea and went home, and as the woman was walking up the stairs she told her husband that the place made her feel calm—something she hadn’t been for the past few months.
The next day the man came in and asked Fritschie to bottle up the smell of the place for him.
She obliged. She packaged her chai mix in a bottle and sent the man back to his wife. That was his pre-baby present for her.
“And I thought that was a huge compliment,” Fritschie said.
Infini-T cafe is located at 4 Hulfish St. in Princeton and is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. Phone: (609) 712-3921.