Take shelter at Scented Leaf
Scented Leaf, located on Park Avenue and University Boulevard, offers a host of tea selections alongside a menu of signature mixed teas. They also serve a small selection of pastries.
Monsoon season has arrived in Tucson. Thunderstorms loom over mountain ranges, bringing rain to break the summer heat.
Ocotillos have sprouted leaves and look more like sea kelp than the desert’s barbed wire. Clouds fill the sky, with Jacob’s ladders streaming down as candy-colored hues infuse dusk and dawn.
During these breaks from the heat, Tucsonans can once again take leisurely strolls, marking the return of a lesser-known season: people-watching.
From a corner of Scented Leaf Teahouse and Lounge, the flows of people along University Boulevard are like the tides coming in and going out.
Teenage girls emerge from Woops or Starbucks en masse, wearing cutoffs and tiny purses. Men with slicked-back hair and collared shirts park next to meters they’ll return to after grabbing lunch.
A group of older women cross Park Avenue, perhaps coming from an event on campus — each sports a variation of one uniform: short haircuts, capris and sensible shoes.
A few uniforms become evident among the patrons at Scented Leaf.
On this morning, a Wednesday, most customers wear trendy fast-fashion pieces, a work outfit (like a black apron or a Jimmy John’s delivery backpack) or exercise clothes — often branded with “Wildcat.”
At 11AM, the cafe’s grid-like layout reveals a gradient of behaviors. On one end of the cafe, two older women are deep in a conversation. On the other, younger, bespectacled women are engrossed in their laptops and smartphones. Their backs arc in a modern hunch, the posture often accommodating interaction between eyes and screens.
In between are two college students sitting diagonally from each other. They seem benevolent: as likely to strike up conversation as they are to open their textbooks. One greets a friend back from a semester in Japan with open arms, proceeding to discuss plans for housing next year with the measured excitement of a good R.A.
The furniture here at Scented Leaf is well-loved. Chairs’ cushions are upholstered with fake leather that has long since started to fray.
The cafe has an earth-toned aesthetic. Flower-like chandeliers hang above a taupe sectional, the kind of statement pieces geared toward coeds at Target or Ikea.
Bookshelves lean like ladders against muraled walls: One features café merchandise, while the other has potted plants and book titles ranging from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar" and Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima” to an anthology called “Tablet and Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East” and a business title named “Raving Fans: a Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service.”
The shelf below the books stores the cream and sugar and the thin striped straws for stirring. Beneath the sugar are copies of The Coffee News and some business cards of a violin teacher offering his services.
For weekend festivities, The Coffee News recommends “SUMMER BEACH PARTY” at a Marana water park “with tunes from DJ BIG WAVE DAVE.” The newsletter’s horoscope crowns Pisces with the luckiest number this month, 6.
Adjacent to this bookshelf is a narrow hallway, decorated with pocket-sized tables and barstools, accompanied by a line of blown-up, black-and-white film negatives.
What first appear to be generic images — a plane flying through clear skies, bikes leaned up against a bench — reveal details of the lives of those who pass through the café and this city.
Every aspect of Scented Leaf is laid-back: the mini Buddha statues, the big pillows on the sectional, the huge painting of a tree. These accoutrements reflect the welcoming attitude of the cafe. As monsoon season brings rain to Tucson, know Scented Leaf will shelter you from the storm.
Follow Ellice Lueders on Twitter.