Coffee lovers have their cafes, but what about those who savor tea instead?

ORLANDO — Everybody I know has their own favorite coffee shop. It’s their second home, the place I can always go to when I need to find them.
Coffee shops offer three great things — atmosphere (usually Bohemian), camaraderie, and, of course, superb coffee (if you know where to go to find it.) That’s why I know so many great coffee shops and have a hard time narrowing it down to one ultimate hangout. I’ve had so many great conversations, made so many great memories in these cafes.
It’s the drink that unites us.
Coffee is that universal drink that gives you a strong pick me up — in theory, anyway.  I still know a few people who insist they can drink 10 cups of coffee at night and go right to sleep.
I’m not one of them, which is why I tend to take in coffee shops in the morning. I’ve noticed, though, that the crowds tend to pick up much later — late afternoon into early evening.
it isn’t just that coffee shops are ideal places to get the best java. Coffee shops take on a life of their own, even as they expand their menus. The more Bohemian they are, the more you can expect two things: first, really good vegan plates, and second, special events being hosted there, including but not limited to poetry nights and even theatrical performances.
Now, what if you happen to like coffee, but you really, really much prefer tea?

Watch the tea brew at your table at Infusion Tea.

My advice: it would be hard not to imagine that we’d all find you comfortably settled in as a regular at Infusion Tea. This College Park institution is a dream come true for tea lovers, plus a exceptionally good spot for vegan meals and poetry nights.
Located at 1600 Edgewater Drive, Infusion Tea is the place to go where you can get in line and marvel at all the varieties of tea you have to choose from — not to mention taking you drink back to your table, then turning over the timer so it can brew for three to five minutes while you wait eagerly to savor it. The tea is always worth that wait, and there are jars of honey on every table calling out to you to make its way into the tea.  If coffee is the classic pick me up drink, tea may be the ideal relax-and-sip-it-slow drink.  Coffee winds you up … tea calms you down.
Infusion Tea is indeed a relaxing place, and there are really four spots inside this not very large cafe. You have the front counter, where you can order tea or sample some of Infusion Tea’s interesting and eclectic mix of meals.  

So many different flavors of tea to choose from at Infusion Tea ...


At that point, it would be hard not to imagine that we’d all find you comfortably settled in as a regular at Infusion Tea. This College park institution is a dream come true for tea lovers, plus a great spot for vegan meals and poetry nights.
Located at 1600 Edgewater Drive, Infusion Tea is the place to go so you can get in line and marvel at all the varieties of tea you get to choose from — not to mention taking you drink back to your table, then turning over the timer so it can brew for three to five minutes while you wait eagerly to savor it. The tea is always worth the wait, and there are jars of honey on every table waiting for you.  If coffee is the classic pick me up drink, tea may be the ideal relax and sip it slow drink.  Coffee winds you up, tea calms you down.
Infusion Tea is a relaxing place, and there really are about four spots inside this not very large cafe. You have the front counter, where you can order your tea or sample some of Infusion Tea’s interesting and eclectic mix of meals.  


There’s a vegan Gazpacho soup for $5.25, or a Raspberry Salad — organic field greens topped with candied walnuts, blue cheese crumbles, and dried cranberries, for $7.50. Another salad places roasted pears on greens, along with pecan crackers, for $8.
It wouldn’t be a true vegan spot without some whole wheat wraps ($8 each), including the Avocado Delight (organic avocado with hummus, sunflower seeds, tomato and spinich), or the Concorde (hummas, tabouleh, greens, sunflower seeds and balsamic glaze.)
Then you have the Tea Sandwiches — the Classic Cucumber ($7 for organic cucumber and cream cheese served tea-sandwich style) or the Sundried Special ($7.50, a sundried tomato spead). The Mediterranean Sandwich gives you spinach, roasted eggplant, pesto cream cheese and sundreid spread for $8.
How about Infusion Tea’s Platters, like the Gourmet Seasonal Fruit and Cheese plate ($9) with imported Irish Cheddar, Smoked Gouda and creamy Havarti served with fresh fruit and crostini? Or the Hummas, Pita and Veggies Vegan Platter ($6.75). Likewise, you get a choice of organic pizzas on multi-grain crusts for $8, including the MexiCali Pizza (refried beans and salsa topped with cheddar jack cheese, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, black olives, sour cream and cilantro) or the Goat Cheese Pizza (sundried tomatoes, goat cheese, mushrooms and pine nuts with fresh spinach.)  You may have arrived here looking for tea, but I suspect a lot of these meals are going to tempt you as well.

What to select from Infusion Tea's menu? The Mushroom Quesadilla is a good place to start.

There’s the section with the tables — be sure to get there early to grab one, because on some nights they fill up fast — and behind it, a gift shop. It’s operated by the Artistree Co-Op, offering locally grown art, jewelry and gifts. These are actually two separate businesses, but they operate under one roof.
And finally, near the window, you have an open microphone, where Infusion Tea hosts poetry nights and intersting Spoken Word events, bringing out artists, philosophers, writers and other Bohemian types for a stimulating talk. If the tea is really good, chances are it will be even more stimulating to experience.
I know of so many really good coffee shops that narrowing it down to one seems impossible — although the ones with the most interesting and eclectic blends of Joe always tend to win me over. Right now I can’t seem to resist Dunkin Donuts’ raspberry or coconut coffee.
But when it comes to great tea, I find it hard to top Infusion Tea’s mix of an appealing drink, interesting artwork to check out (or buy, which I have), tasty meals and inviting atmosphere, particularly on poetry nights.  Tea shops need not feel inferior to their friends operating coffee shops; this is one cafe that has quite a lot to offer.
To learn more about Infusion Tea, call 407-999-5255 or log on to To learn more about Artistree Co-Op, call 407-999-5251 or log on to

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Spoken Word poetry is alive and well in Orlando

ORLANDO – The journey starts in Orlando, but it quickly heads elsewhere … first a taxi in Mumbai … then a beach in Hawaii … finally the Atomic Bomb Dome in Japan …

It’s a tour around the world, all done over a cup of coffee or with a Panini on the side.  It’s a tour that comes courtesy of Swami, a world traveler who brings his experiences, impressions and questions about the places he visits back to Orlando, just in time for Soft Exposure.

Swami gets ready to describe his world travels during the Soft Exposure Reading Series & Open Mic at Infusion Tea.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming out tonight and indulging me,” Swami said to the crowd that had gathered at the tables surrounding the open microphone at Infusion Tea on Edgewater Drive.

The Bohemian-style cafe, with its Herbed Cream Cheese Sandwiches and vegan platters, seemed the perfect location for another very Bohemian tradition: a poetry night.

“Orlando is a wonderful town,” said Frankie Messina, an original co-founder of the poetry readings, known officially as the Soft Exposure Reading Series and Open Mic, and the guest host for the evening.  “It has a lot of poetry nights. We just kind of rounded it out and called it Soft Exposure.”

Infusion Tea is the kind of Bohemian coffee house that has poetry nights.

Spoken word artistry is often traced back to the 1950s and the Beats who met in urban coffeehouses to share their poetry, often words that never got published.  A similar Spoken Word movement started in the late 1980s known as “poetry slams,” where spoken word artists would square off together on stage, often engaging in political protests. Coffee shops remain a prime venue for these performers.

Swami brought with him to the Soft Exposure night some shared memories of his trips around the world, with stops in Mumbai, the North Shore of Oahu, and Hiroshima.

“He’s basically a renaissance guy,” Messina said, noting that Swami has worked as an animator, writer, and filmmaker, in addition to being part of a group known as CouchSurfing – people who travel across the globe, hosting one another, often times by providing a sleeping space on their couch – hence the name.

“It’s basically a world-wide network of traveling spirits,” Swami said. “It’s really an amazing way to get to know some amazing people, by sleeping on their couch.”

Those couches have enabled Swami, at age 49, to keep on traveling – and to bring back with him the anecdotes he uses for his Spoken Word poetry.  Bohemia in the Deep South? Absolutely, Messina said, adding that with growth comes plenty of rich diversity.

“In the last 18 years, Orlando has really grown around me,” Messina said. That’s one reason why he created the Web site, or Apartment E, a movement to encourage people to express themselves. As the Web site notes, Apartment E is all about finding your voice and making it heard.

Frankie Messina organizes the Soft Exposure Reading Series to let people express themselves in front of an open microphone -- and a crowd.

“APARTMENT E IS ‘YOU’,” Messina writes on the site.  “It is that place inside of you that you want to share with the world.  Define it, create it … and then share it!”

Spoken Word poetry nights like Soft Exposure allow people to do just that, and it gave Swami a forum for his travel journal.

“Swami has been compelled to express and share,” Messina said, noting that the artist’s favorite activities include “hanging out at Bohemian coffee houses, petting cats, and striving to help others achieve their potential.”

And don’t forget visiting new locations, Swami reminded him, which is why one of his Spoken Word poems was called “In My Backpack” – encouraging people to climb into his backpack and join him for the world tour.

“Yes, you can stow away in my backpack,” Swami said.  “Come with me to foreign lands. Live your dreams.”

Swami has done just that, even when the dreams get a little bit rocky, such as in “Mad Ride Through Mumbai.”

“This was written about a mad taxi ride from the airport to my hotel in Mumbai,” he said, adding that Taxi 2108 was “small, very small; old, very old; and fast, very fast,” operated by a driver who seemed oblivious to other cars, or even pedestrians.

“Does this guy know what he’s doing?” Swami asked.  “Apparently, he thinks he owns the road.  Apparently, the lane markings are mere suggestions.”

But Swami survived that ride, and was able to move on to the beaches of Oahu, where his passion for surfing – always difficult to achieve growing up 150 miles from the beach in Maryland – was realized.

“Relatively speaking, Florida does not have the best waves in the world. Hawaii does,” he said.

His path also took him to Hiroshima, where he visited the Atomic Bomb Dome.

“I decided to ask some Japanese people about it,” he recalled, then recounted how he stopped a young woman who worked as a teacher.

“Her English was not the best, but she was willing to sit with me for a while,” Swami said.

He asked the woman what the Atomic Bomb Dome meant to her, and she responded, “A symbol of peace.”

“I said what was on my mind – a symbol of destruction,” he said.  “She was looking to the future, while I was looking to the past.  I said ‘I hope I too can come to see it as a symbol of peace.’ “

He also encouraged people to start their own journeys and see where they end up.

“Go from observer to participant,” Swami said.  “Start walking to nowhere, anywhere. See where it might take you.”

Infusion Tea has Poetry Night at 6:30 p.m. on Fridays. Call 407-999-5255 to learn more.

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From colorful Poinsettias to plenty of mulch, Landscape Nursery Inc. does it all.

ORLANDO – Like a lot of people who love flowers, Gail Hess is always concerned when a major cold spell is coming on.

Even one night can do a lot of damage to her plants, she noted.

“It can happen in one evening,” Hess said.  “It has to be freezing.  A frost doesn’t normally kill them.  A hard freeze does.”

That’s why Hess takes extra care to be sure her plants stay warm on those rare nights when Florida temperatures drop below 32 degrees. But she has a more challenging task than a lot of others, since her garden covers 26 acres.

Gail Hess shows the few remaining poinsettias that haven't sold this holiday season at Landscape Nursery Inc., which she's operated since 1983.

“It takes a while for you to notice your plants are dead,” Hess said.  “I’d cut them back, but I’d wait until the cold is over.  I would just leave them alone for now.  There’s a lot of plant material that will come back, and people don’t realize that, that they just have to wait.”

Hess has had quite a while to learn about what plants need to grow and thrive. Since 1983, she’s operated Landscape Nursery Inc., located at 1955 S. Apopka-Vineland Road in Orlando. Right now, not surprisingly, her front office is covered with poinsettias – but with Christmas just days away, they’re selling fast.

“We’re almost out of poinsettias,” she said. “Our tables were filled with poinsettias. Now they’re mostly sold out.”

That may have been because of the huge sign under one of her tents – “Open to the Public – Poinsettias are Ready,” inviting customers to check out the row after row, table after table, of red, white and pink poinsettias.  A lot of the tables and rows, though, are bare now.

“We have sold a ton of the big ones,” Hess said.  “People like to put them on their front porch.”

Poinsettias also make a great plant for your own garden, as they turn from red to green after the holidays, Hess said.

“You can plant them in your yard and they will come back year after year,” she said.  “Just remember they need darkness at night, a spot where there is no light whatsoever in the evening.”

Her employees – 20 altogether – have stayed busy protecting their plants from the cold spell that arrived on Sunday, Dec. 12, and has brought overnight freezing temperatures to a region more used to 80 degrees in December.

“The cold creates problems for everybody,” she said.  “We have employees who come in and we have to make sure the plastic (covering the tents) is secured. And we have some heaters and fans that we use.”

Hess knows a thing or two about cold winters. She moved to Orlando in 1979 from Wisconsin, although it wasn’t the promise of tropical winters that brought her here. Instead, she was in search of a better business climate.

“The corporate taxes in Wisconsin were the highest in the union,” she said.

Hess has done well over the years operating a nursery in a state where growth has meant a lot of new residential and commercial construction work, and with it the need for landscaping projects to beautify the new properties. 

Customers are invited to come check out the rows of pink, white and red poinsettias at Landscape Nursery Inc.

“We sell all over the state, so we deliver all over the state,’ she said.  “We employ our own drivers and have a couple of mechanics, and we try to be a one stop shop for landscapers.  We grow our own plant material – a lot of others don’t. Most everything we sell is grown here. We buy in some trees and different items. We do the mulches and rocks and compost soil.”

It helps that landscaping is regulated in Orange County through so-called Arbor laws – designed to prevent a builder from abandoning a landscaping project once it’s been started.

“They have to have the landscaping done before you get your occupancy permit,” Hess said. “Years before, they could get their occupancy permit first, and some of the builders wouldn’t finish the landscaping work.  So now we have Arbor laws.”

Landscape Nursery did quite well when the residential housing construction boom was underway, but even with the collapse of the housing market, Hess said a lot of homeowners still hire landscaping firms and private landscaping contractors to create a beautiful yard for them – and those landscapers need the materials for the job.

“We don’t do the actual landscaping work, but we sell to the landscapers,” she said.

Landscape Nursery Inc. is open Mondays through Fridays from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, call 407-298-1703 or 1-800-330-1703.

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