Tea in an Alleyway at SLO's "Secret Garden"
No one ever truly commits themselves to adulthood strictly enough to not take interest in a secret garden. Sure, maybe you don’t spend all your time fantasizing about magic yet discovered, but if you begin to hear murmurs of a secret garden located right under your nose, you take note. Anyone with an inkling of delight in mystique or adventure would do as such.
Kirstin Sherritt has a big appetite for mystique and adventure; she also has quite the taste for tea. Combining the two in an alleyway setting, she created The Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop, perhaps the best kept secret in all of San Luis Obispo.
Sherritt opened The Secret Garden over 13 years ago, yet still speaks of it with an adoration most assume exclusive to the honeymoon phase. With the smile of an old friend and a warmth equal to the last cup of tea she brewed, Sherritt seems at home in this hidden apothecary. Only accessible creekside, walk a step too quick and you’ll miss the small sign beckoning you to turn off the main walkway and into the narrow alley.
Central American Inspiration
Taking that turn off the assumed path puts you in the spirit of Sherritt herself, a Cal Poly grad who opted to farm-hop around Central America after graduation instead of starting a traditional job. She spent most of her time working at Finca Ipe, a farm in Costa Rica, where her already known love of herbs grew. She claims that exploring local, outdoor markets overflowing with plant medicine led her to become "romanced with herbalism."
The Secret Garden was created to provide a similar, open-air market experience without leaving SLO. Staying true to Central American markets, The Secret Garden originally offered raw herbs exclusively. Expanding beyond the initial concept, Sherritt soon started to blend the herbs herself, selling them as specialty loose leaf teas. A mixologist in her own right, she deals with wholesome tonics instead of suave liquors. Now over 65 unique, organic tea blends are available to purchase and bring home to brew. The quantity of tea-filled mason jars lining this alleyway turned shop would send even the most casual Pinterest user into a full-blown frenzy.
Sherritt states that when creating a new tea blend she focuses on a “primary action,” which is the intentional effect, a “secondary action,” which is the general supporting effect, and “activators,” which help catalyze the formula-- usually spices such as ginger or cinnamon. These custom blends range from four to seven dollars an ounce, which will brew about 8 to 15 cups of tea.
Skimming the jar-brimmed shelves will result in spotting standard blends, such as “Daily Detox,” to delightfully unexpected gems such as “BSO ‘Baller Status Only’” and “Tantric Tea for Him.” Most blends start off as a custom request from an individual or business, earning their spot on a shelf once deemed appealing to general shoppers.
A Tea for the End of the World
Though Sherritt knows every blend by heart and believes they all have their own memorable “historical landing spot,” only one tea can earn the title of whackiest blend. “Galactic Spice Grove,” one of the most popular teas, was created in 2012 after a particularly unusual request.
An “ecstatic dance group” named YUM was throwing an end of the world dance party for 12/12/12 -- a time when the Mayan calendar ending seemed to justify such a gathering -- and requested a custom-made tea to be their featured drink. Sherritt made a blend which contained herbs such as damiana, a South American aphrodisiac commonly taken before going out to dance, and kava kava, a Fijian herb that is known to “enhance sociability and increase conversation without malice.” Sherritt made sure to describe kava kava in this exact language; a native Polynesian herbalist she once met told her no other description of the herb was quite as accurate.
A Secret to Be Shared
Open seven days a week, rain or shine, The Secret Garden Organic Herb Shop has many more stories hidden in its blends, waiting to be heard. With a chandelier suspended from a tree branch due to a lack of ceiling, an alleyway wall doused in color and plenty of botanicals (in and out of jars), one cannot help but find the name of such a place fitting. There’s a secret garden in SLO, and for those who enjoy mystique and adventure, or perhaps just a great cup of tea, it’s the best secret to know.