Bringing unique taste from afar

She’s Mrs. Coffee and he’s Mr. Tea.

She’s Mrs. Coffee and he’s Mr. Tea.

Different in background and taste, Athena and Ian Robbins are a complementary couple – a combination of warm hospitality, good humor and sound expertise.

These passionate connoisseurs also roast and brew unique varieties of worldly organic coffees and teas that unmistakably arouse the exploratory palate.

“Tea is more than having a drink, it’s an experience,” Ian said in his rich and relaxed Australian accent. “We want this to be a destination, where people can come by as customers and leave as friends.”

Coffee Island – Tea & Imports is not intended to be a café, but a spot to shop and learn, taste and go. The shop, a recently renovated hamlet tucked along Auburn’s East Main Street, offers a lineup of fresh custom-roasted gourmet organic coffees and a large selection of specialty loose-leaf teas.

Along one wall are rows of unique gold canisters containing a wide variety of traditional and exotic flavored loose-leaf teas imported primarily from Germany but made from all over the world. Robbins’ menu includes 64 teas from around the globe, ranging from caffeine-free herbals, Ayurvedic and fruit teas to red South African Rooibos teas.

And there is no limit to the imagination and scope of incoming beverages. The Robbins intend to expand the inventory over time, perhaps to as many as 500 tea possibilities and 50 coffee flavors.

“We try to ask our customers if they like their drink on the mild, medium or bold side,” Athena said. “Then we make the adjustment. We try to tailor it to them before they leave.”

Curious customers stay long enough to banter and explore as their drinks mature with the seeping richness of the grounds/leaves.

“Usually before they leave, they are ready for a second one,” Athena added.

Part of business is having fun while teaching others the significance and value of healthy organic coffee and tea benefits, Athena emphasized. The Robbins not only spread the gospel, but are willing to extend helpful tips when selecting the right beverage preference to go and various preparation instructions for how they can achieve the same quality when made at home.

“I’m a tea dummy, tell me all about it,” say many customers.

Ian starts by asking questions and getting a better understanding about their coffee/tea experience.

The Robbins, who call

Sumner home, have come long and far.

Ian, born and raised in Australia, built an extensive career in the industry. He worked for one of the largest tea companies Down Under as a taster, buyer and blender. He also worked and jointly managed large internationally renowned coffee and tea plantations in Papua New Guinea for 18 years, living amongst the natives and learning many of their tribal customs and ancient practices.

Athena, meanwhile, was born in the Philippines with a mixed heritage of European Spanish and Filipina. She migrated to the U.S. when she was 6, the eldest of five siblings, and grew up in San Diego.

Her diverse culture and family background includes culinary arts, design, engineering, research and business.

Ian, who immigrated here in 2006, and Athena, who has lived in the area for 11 years, met through e-commerce, formed a compatible relationship and eventually married. Encouraged by wholesale sales and online e-commerce, the couple wanted to try a local retail outlet.

So far, it has been a good fit. They have played off each other’s strengths.

“Athena’s desire to produce and roast her own brand of premium, gourmet, organic coffees was an excellent match for my desire to do similar with expanding an extensive range of premium loose-leaf teas,” Ian said.

For the Robbins, business brings pleasure and a chance to closely meet new friends and build a good customer base.

“It’s like playing Ping Pong, and the customers are the ball,” Athena said. “They don’t know whether to side with Ian or with me. It’s so funny when we play with the customers. It’s just plain fun getting them to smile, breaking the ice and getting them to be themselves, letting loose and feeling welcomed.”