In 2002, Matthew Lee quit his high tech job to open a gelato and espresso shop in Central Austin called Teo Espresso, Gelato & Bella Vita. In the beginning, there were naysayers who doubted that Lee would be successful. “What do you know about gelato?” he remembers hearing.
But the truth is, he did know something about gelato, even then. Lee trained in Italy with renowned gelato makers, like Antonio Lisciandro, considered the best gelato maker in Florence. His knowledge and skill has continued to grow over the past decade of Teo’s existence. Today, he can effortlessly spout off the history of his tasty treat, while explaining the differences between the gelato in Italy’s various regions (given Lee’s Florentine training, Teo gelato is the Central Italian type, with mid-level fat content).
Lee also doesn’t hesitate to explain what sets his gelato apart from competitors in Austin. For example, Central Market uses an instant base from powder, while Teo makes their gelato base from scratch using specialty machinery. “I have a passion for pure taste. I don’t like junk,” Lee added during our interview.
What’s Good at Teo Gelato
Over the years, Teo has accumulated over 500 gelato recipes. Cookies & Cream is the most popular gelato flavor at Teo. Salted Caramel is also very popular, and Peanut Butter Nutella, Chocolate, Vanilla and Strawberry are always stocked and available to customers.
Lee can’t pick a favorite flavor, explaining that Almond Joy, Dark Chocolate, Peanut Butter Nutella, Salted Caramel, Captain Crunch with Strawberry, and Popcorn are all flavors that he enjoys.
If you didn’t notice from the list above, Teo has some unique gelato flavors, and they’re always in the process creating new ones. The shop’s offering at the 2013 Austin Food & Wine Festival was Blue Cheese gelato, which they served with a chunk of fresh baguette. Yes, it was amazing.
I personally love Tartufo al Bacio (dark chocolate hazelnut), and the olive oil flavor that they created for Texas Hill Country Olive Company is out of this world.
But take note: Teo serves up more than gelato. Their espresso drinks are high-quality, with an authentic Italian influence. I’ve had their cappuccino, hot chocolate, Honey Vanilla Latte, and Medici Bacicino (frappe). All delicious!
Teo has complimentary Wi-Fi and a spacious outdoor patio with some shade. There’s even an outdoor fireplace for mythical cold Austin days! They also keep daily issues of Austin-American Statesman, The New York Times, and usually some other papers on hand, so you can catch up on your news.
Beyond 38th Street
Teo’s gelato can be found at locations all over Austin, including Mozart’s Coffee Roasters on Lake Austin Blvd. and Monkey Nest Coffee on Burnet. You can also find them on Saturdays at the downtown farmers’ market in Republic Square.
This is Teo’s tenth year, and it looks like expansion is in their future. “We hope to be in South Austin within a year,” Lee told us.
With a dedication to authenticity and quality, I’m sure Teo will be around for decades to come. I look forward to cheering them on along the way.
Where is your favorite gelato in Austin?