The inception of Jeddah’s Tea is a quintessential underdog story. In 2018, Morgan Siegel, along with her now ex-husband Wael Suliman, started Jeddah’s Tea with a $250 loan from her mother to vend at Durham’s annual Juneteenth celebration. Siegel and Suliman were so strapped for cash at the time that, according to their Kickstarter campaign, “The morning of the event, we were literally looking under our dressers, rummaging through our pockets and taking our kids' older clothes to consignment stores so that we could afford change and ice.”
The stand was a hit. In the months that followed, Jeddah’s began selling tea to local coffee shops and eventually opened a pop-up shop at The Pinhook, as well as a series of subsequent pop-ups throughout the Triangle. With the help of the community, including the Kickstarter campaign that generated over $20,000, Jeddah’s flagship store in the heart of downtown Durham had its soft opening this past Saturday, coinciding with CenterFest Arts Festival.
When I sat down with Siegel at the new tearoom, she emphasized her gratitude for the community’s help.
“It took a lot of work and a lot of community support to get me to this space,” Siegel said. “We had a really successful Kickstarter. There are many organizations that had our back, people in our corner, so Durham really has felt like a warm hug since I’ve been here. I’m excited to have a future here and raise my kids here and just be in Durham because it has been such a great community.”
She also unpacked the meaning behind the tearoom’s name.
“Jeddah is actually [Suliman’s] grandmother,” Siegel said. “She had a tea shop in Northern Somalia, in Hargeisa. We wanted to pay homage to her. She was a force; she was an entrepreneur in a time that was really difficult, in a space that was really difficult, [as] a single mother.”
Jeddah’s offers over 40 varieties of tea, including house specialties like the Dallo Blend, a Somali black tea with cardamom, cloves, ginger, black peppercorns and cinnamon, and Lavender Rooibos, a South African redbush tea blended with lavender. The shop is currently selling five of those 40 teas — Dallo Blend, Maghribi Mint, Shahy Nana, Hibiscus Chamomile and Lavender Rooibos — in one-ounce tins to take home. Sourcing the tea is an important part of the process, one that Siegel takes seriously.
“I source directly,” Siegel said. “It is really important to me to ensure that we are serving fair trade, organic, pesticide-free [tea], and the conditions of the people working on these farms are adequate because in agriculture there is so much pseudo-slavery. We don’t want to be part of it, so that’s why it is important to have at least a secondary connection to the farm, with a person you directly know and trust.”
While most coffee shops relegate tea drinkers to London fogs and chai lattes, Jeddah’s can make any of its teas into a latte, and the Indonesian black tea latte was possibly the best tea latte I have ever had. For food options, Jeddah’s offers pastries from the acclaimed East Durham Bake Shop and a French-Algerian baker based in Morrisville.
Jeddah’s Tea is located in the old Herald Sun building downtown, two doors down from The Parlour ice cream shop and neighbors with soon-to-open Zen Succulent. The space is simply stunning, outfitted to look like an old-world teahouse by the local design firm Nomadic Trading Company. The centrally-placed long communal table and purposeful lack of Wi-Fi help Jeddah’s achieve one of its main goals of fostering community, inspired by the sense of community Suliman’s grandmother was able to create at her tea shop in Somalia, and later Saudi Arabia after fleeing the Somali Civil War.
“I see us providing a space for people to gather,” Siegel said. “We can foster communication and dialogue between people who may not otherwise have conversation. Why not do it over a cup of good tea?”
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