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At Seven Cups tea house, owners Austin and Zhuping Hodge connect specialty tea growers in China directly with sippers in Tucson.

By Renée Downing Photography by Jeff Smith

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t ucson Boulevard on Sixth Street, tucked into the solid row of small shops facing Rincon Market, is the closest thing in Tucson to the Harry Potter novels’ Diagon Alley—a gateway into a vast, dramatic reality hidden in plain sight. This unlikely door to another dimension is Seven Cups Tea House, serving fine Chinese tea and snacks and selling bulk tea and teaware since 2004. For everyone who’s driven by and noticed it but never stopped, the persistent green awning in a strip where businesses regularly come and go presents a mystery: How could so rarified an enterprise have survived 10 years? Through a brutal recession? In Tucson? Anyone who’s been through the door has glimpsed a significant part of the answer. Not for nothing has Seven Cups won a double Best of Tucson—Best Tea Service and Best Bulk Tea Selection—every year since it opened. Further afield, it’s garnered a slew of national and international honors, including being named one of the best places to drink tea in America by Travel+Leisure. (The other shops cited in the 2012 list are in Boulder, New York City, San Francisco, Portland, and Washington, D.C.) Of course, Seven Cups is lovely—it’s simply the nicest place in town to meet a friend and talk or sit and read. (Some of your fellow Tucsonans visit Seven Cups every day.) But there are larger answers to the question of its success, all of which open up onto the great world behind it. To begin with, according to Austin Hodge—who along with his wife, Zhuping Hodge, and manager Andrew McNeill, runs Seven Cups—you must understand a bit about tea, the world’s most popular beverage. ust east of

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