If aliens landed today in Squirrel Hill, and they wanted to know what type of beverage the people of Earth preferred, they would almost certainly arrive at coffee or tea. You can find the purveyors of this fare at every corner from Forbes/Shady, down and around to Forward/Murray. At the corner of Murray/Beacon, they would find Dobra.
Step inside Dobra (1937 Murray Avenue, Pittsburgh), and your first impression will vary, depending on your attitude. Some will feel it's got perfect tea room ambiance, with its largely Eastern decor and quiet, cushioned, communal drinking space. Some will simply feel that it's trying too hard in a world where authenticity is at a premium. Whatever your initial impressions, the experience should always be your guide, and Dobra provides.
In addition to a depth and breadth of tea varieties difficult to match -- many of which are Certified Organic, if that's of interest to you -- Dobra concocts its own drinks. One local favorite is Staroborshov, which is iced oolong shaken with honey to create a froth and served in a pilsner glass. It creates a unique tea experience in a different way from most tea shops, in that it's not just about flavor and varieties. Variants in presentation are something we've come to expect from bars, and it might behoove other local shops to follow Dobra's lead and specify our experience. The counterweight to all this nuance is that Dobra's prices can come in higher than other shops, but it's clear to see where your extra coins have gone.
Your time at Dobra is your own. When you arrive, you're given a small bell and a menu, and you can meander into one of several spacious sub-rooms as you go back. To foster community and to save space, Dobra utilizes large seating areas with central tables. This means that on a crowded day, you will likely be drinking with strangers. Given the alternative at many shops, a series of closely cramped tables, this won't be too shocking -- unless you're conducting private business over your pu-erh. When you're ready, ring the bell, and an alert and knowledgeable staff member will be with you, shortly. When you're finished, don't expect anyone to chase you out. It's a welcome reprieve from the daily rush as time seems to operate on another level, inside.
Dobra is also on the indie edge of tech finance, in that it accepts plastic payments through Square. When you're ready, slide your card through the slot attached to their Tablet PC, sign with your finger, and enter if you wish into their paperless rewards program. Just five visits to redeem, and Square keeps track of it all for you. You'll absolutely want to return enough for your redemption; a quiet day in Dobra can have the calming effect of a meditation chamber, complete with a delicious beverage.
As the community surrounding Dobra grows, new events are popping up all the time -- from bellydancing to tarot readings to a local comics club. Dobra's Facebook page is actively updated and is a font of information about the stirrings within its humble exterior.
Overall, the experience at Dobra is unique among East End Pittsburgh tea rooms, making it worth at least one trip. With its variety of quality teas, array of special events, and temporally obfuscating ambiance, it's unlikely that your first trip will be your last.