The history of this building, as well as the lovely owner Chris Tafoya, are worthy of their own article! Chris owns both the tea shop as well as the building that it is connected to, Trafoya & Son Pottery.
History of the Tea House: There is a small plaque out front which merely calls this building the “San Diego House”. Despite its vague name, it has some great history attached to it, the most notable being that this is the structure of the first black-owned business in California!
His name was Allen Light and he was born in 1805. Allen’s story had been buried away (literally) until 1948 when a couple of maintenance workers were installing a heater inside the Machado y Silvas house and found Light’s documents.
The papers revealed a lot about Light’s life which included him being a mariner who had hunted sea otters, owned a saloon (where the tea shop sits today) and gaining Mexican citizenship. You can learn more about his life here.
American Coffee House & Tea Today: Today you can purchase teas from all over the world! Chris is very particular about where his teas come from and talks very passionately about them. If he’s not too busy when you visit, ask him about them. He is a wealth of knowledge! For instance, the lavender flowers come from France, matcha tea from Japan, rooibos from South Africa, the green teas from China, etc.
He says it’s very important to purchase teas and herbs from where they originate from and a climate in which they thrive the best. There are hundreds of tea selections at the shop including over 100 certified organic teas.
Chris noted that most teas are organic whether or not they state it because the caffeine in the plant is a natural pest repellent. I’d like to note that real tea comes from the camelia sinensis plant which produces black, green and white teas.
They do not only carry tea here though! That is just what I am most passionate about which is why I am rambling on about it. They also have a great selection of coffee beans, also from various regions around the world. Chris is an avid coffee drinker so I trust the beans are of equal quality to the teas!
History of Trafoya & Son Pottery: Chris also owns the pottery shop which is connected to the tea house. This shop is registered as an historic building known as La Casa de Machado Y Wrightington.
This adobe house was built in 1830 by the family of Juana de Dios Machado. She lived here with her husband, Thomas Wrightington for over 50 years, caring for the sick and serving the Catholic Church. Her husband was a shoemaker. Chris also happens to be related to her!
Pottery shop today: Today the shop is brimming with beautiful and authentic Mexican items: blankets, pottery, jewelry, clothing, paintings and so much more! It is such a beautiful shop! Some of the artwork in the shop was created by Chris himself! Look out for the papier-mâché Dia de los Muertos pieces, as several were created by him!
About the owner: Chris Trafoya is a true gem himself with deep ties to California. Both of his parents are Native American, his mother of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians and his father growing up on the White Apache Indian reservation. His heritage has played a great part in his life and artwork.
These days Chris likes to work on papier-mâché sculptures (some of which can be seen in his shop), but he also specializes in jewelry-making of both modern and traditional Native-American designs.
During his travels he visited many different reservations where he gained great inspiration from their cultural differences. He has shown and sold his jewelry at many art shows, conferences, etc. including a juried show at the Smithsonian national Native American museum in New York City!
Chris has several family members buried at El Campo Santo Cemetery which is also in Old Town, including Agustín V. Zamorano, who is most noted for being the first person to bring a printing press to California. His daughter, Maria Josefa Zamorano is also buried here.
Some of my tea selections that day: Coconut Chai (black), Rooibos Paradise (red) and ‘Om’ Ayurvedic (herbal) tea and the photo on the right is what it looks like when it’s brewing!
Some shots of the pottery shop which is connected to the tea shop: