Walk down Witherspoon and take a left. You will see some bright, cheerful signs hand written in neon paint on a window, right next to a stair leading down to a café underground. Infini-T reminds me a little of a treasure cove, a little bit dark inside, with heavyset wood tables furniture and lots of miscellaneous, exotic décor adorning the shelves, walls and ceiling. Natural sunlight lights the entrance of the café, with a cozy interior occupied by groups of people sitting in antique tables. All of these different aspects of the café create a wonderfully welcoming atmosphere.
Mary Fritschie started infini-T two and a half years ago. She decided to take a break from the corporate world to be a more supportive mother of her children, and to be a mother fulfilling her passion to run a “truly solid community business” where different backgrounds could blend and everyone could feel comfortable. A first generation American herself, Mary said that she “always felt perhaps [she] was not truly quite American.” With Dutch parents, she grew up on tea, and this inspired her to open a tea café. “Living in Princeton, I felt that we don’t see the campus very often,” she explained, saying that her goal was to create a place that everyone in the community, including students, could feel comfortable.
Infini-T is firmly rooted in her political views—Mary says she wanted a place that was comfortable for her customers, but also globally sustainable. This is why all ingredients used for infini-T comes from fair-trade farms, and why all the tea leaves come from ethical tea plantations. Mary and her family personally visit every tea plantation they buy from, making sure that their labor is ethical and globally sustainable. The tea plantations that make infini-T’s tea in India, for example, guarantees its employees pensions and housing after retirement, and even has a private school free for children of employees. Particularly passionate about women’s issues, Mary also tries to buy from women to support women both domestically and internationally through her business. She animatedly told me about the tea plantations in Rwanda, where war has left many of the women in charge of the plantations. This is her next destination of travel, where she will go with her daughter to discuss tea business.
“First dates are always so cute,” Mary gushed as she talked about how these goals have been made reality in the two years since she opened the café. First dates, marriage proposals (some of people who met at infini-T for the first time), mothers and children—the people this cafe attracts shows that infini-T truly has become integrated into the Princeton community. But one story she told me about the university students struck me in particular. The interior of infini-T always changes with Mary and her family’s travels; when they find something pretty or interesting, they bring it to the shop to adorn the shelves and walls. Recently, however, the layout of the tables has also been undergoing a lot of change. The heavy wooden antiques are still there, but new white, smaller tables have been added, adding a newer, brighter vibe to the café. According to Mary, one day, a group of economics majors and ORFE majors who were regular customers came in with measuring tape and some paper. They then gave her a proposal that would let her keep all of her antiques, but would also let more customers sit down so that no one would be kept waiting without a seat. Now, with an outlet every 5 feet of the shop, infini-T is even more student friendly.
Mary’s stories about different customers and baristas and cooks who make the tea, coffee and food are a very good indicator of her success, but even more striking than that was how she stopped to greet and chat with so many customers during our interview, and her friendship with all of the baristas and cooks who work at the café. “I have the best team,” Mary said proudly as she explained that infini-T baristas come in trained, and are mostly all tea aficionados that educate themselves so they can concoct any tea customers ask for with tea leaves directly imported from tea plantations overseas and herbs and spices personally purchased from markets around the world. Even if you don’t know what exactly you want, the barista will make you what you want if you specify what you’re looking for—caffeinated, fruity, helping heal colds, or even all of the above. Some customer favorites include:
- Moroccan mint: A refreshing tea made with fresh mint leaves seeped with hot water and a little sugar.
- Chrysanthemum and Gogi berry: A non-caffeinated tea with the natural sweetness of gogi berries (that you can ask to be put in whole into your cup!).
Infini-T’s food is also wholesome and fresh, using only fresh ingredients in season. The menu mostly comes from what the staff feels like cooking on a certain day. Last week’s hit was an asparagus, spinach, and zucchini soup that one of the workers suggested they make with the fresh, in-season asparagus they had. In fact, Mary suggests that if you are at infini-T but do not feel eating anything on the menu, try to guess what ingredients they have and request something that can be made from those ingredients. Perhaps it is this flexibility and willingness to meet its customers’ needs that make infini-T such a welcoming place for all, and why Mary has succeeded in creating a business truly integrated with the community.