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Who knew anyone grew tea in Hawaii? Sugar? Yes. Pineapple? Of course. Vanilla? Wow, yes. Tea? Really? Really!  The Experience Tea afternoon soiree, on Front St, in Issaquah, was another tasting in the World of Tea Series, sponsored by the NW Tea Festival

I have this friend Sam. We have lunch together every month or so. The talk is big business, small business, no business, and neuroscience. While conversing, we drink a lot of tea. 

Recently, we began having our own tea tastings, just the two of us. We gather teas with which we are not overly familiar, and try three or four, as an experiment. We try to keep an open mind. I have a little trouble when he shows up with pu’er tea. Most of them taste like dirt, although a few of the white pu’er’s are passable. I am still working on my drinking-dirt-is-yummy attitude.

Usually Sam and I like at least one of the teas. This month, it was an oolong, a green, and that white pu’er. None were great, but all were drinkable. Having a buddy helps with tea tasting. It gives you another perspective, and that person bring teas that you might not buy on your own. And, it continues the conversation.

In addition to the usual topics, we talk about tea, changing tea culture, tea businesses, and tea people. This has become so interesting that I have started having tea tastings with other friends as well. Instead of having a lunch date, we have a tea date, and we meet at a tea shop. Animated and snappy conversation ensues with adventures in tea.  

Most folks learn better with the buddy system. We bring our own perspective, and we honor the perspective that someone else brings as well. It opens possibilities for new choices, in tea and conversation. 

Several tea shops in the area sponsor tea tastings. It’s a great way to learn about tea from people who actually know something. But tea tastings with your pals aren’t bad, either. If you experiment with different kinds of tea, you discover your likes and dislikes. And you may not end up talking about your in-laws. There’s merit in that.


A TASTING TOUR OF NEPALESE TEAS
Hosted by Roberta Fuhr (Experience Tea)

On September 22nd, we explored the spectrum of teas grown and processed in Nepal. We tasted and experienced aromas of the teas while talking about their history and current trends. There were several teas to taste in this class--several of which were purchased while our source was on tour in Nepal and still with their original cultural packaging!
 


Who knew anyone grew tea in Hawaii? Sugar? Yes. Pineapple? Of course. Vanilla? Wow, yes. Tea? Really? Really!

The Experience Tea afternoon soiree, on Front St, in Issaquah, was another tasting in the World of Tea Series, sponsored by the NW Tea Festival group. If you want to increase your knowledge about tea, or add to known knowledge, the World of Tea Series is fabulous and fun. 

Now, about the Hawaiian teas: there are 17 tea gardens (farms) on the Big Island, plus one each on Maui and Kauai. It’s a new industry in the Islands, about 10 years old. Tea has been grown since the 1800’s. A tea tasting is a great place to learn about and experience new teas.

Roberta Fuhr, the whip-smart owner of Experience Tea, hosted a tasting of 8 Hawaiian grown teas, which included white, green, oolong, and black tea.  Roberta is good with research and detail, and her passion is educating tea drinkers, and non-tea drinkers, about the variety of teas available. You are sure to find something that you like, even if you are sure you hate tea. If you have any curiosity, Roberta will rise to the challenge of finding something you will like. She gives Tea Discovery Classes on a regular basis. You don’t have to feel uninformed about tasting something new. Just have fun.

We tasted a white tea that exhibited hints of pear, green teas that didn’t smell and taste like grass (for those who don’t want to drink their lawn), and black teas that tasted like butterscotch and smelled like spun sugar. 

When you get away from Lipton, you find new experiences. 

Roberta is a great educator with a shop full of teas to smell and taste. It’s a great way to share an experience. And Issaquah is NOT in Idaho. Go check it out.

Experience Tea,  195 Front St, Issaquah, Wa, 206-406-9838

http://experience-tea.com


THE ART OF GONGFU TEA
Hosted by Teahouse Kuan Yin

On April 21st, we experienced the wonders of brewing teas Gong Fu style - a style ubiquitous in Taiwan and common in China. Gong Fu Tea is a ritual of brewing tea that not only produces the most flavorful cup, but is also calming and meditative, promoting a holistic way of experiencing tea. Attendees learned about the history and techniques of Gong Fu tea, and why it is the perfect way to brew oolong and puerh teas. We demonstrated and explained the pieces behind this brewing style in an interactive process, as well as sampled a number of high quality Taiwanese oolong and Chinese puerh teas. 
 


Tea tasting is about sharing tea, sharing conversation, sharing the table. Expand your communication and get to know your neighbor. The second of the World of Tea series events, sponsored by the NW Tea Festival, took place at the TEAHOUSE KUAN YIN, in Seattle. Led by Alice Lee, it was an adventure through one Oolong and three Puerh teas. Alice is entertainment: telling stories, taking questions, enjoying herself along with the tea tasters. 

First tea was Oolong-Li Shan High Mountain Winter Harvest (a mouthful), the least full body of the four tasted. Light and floral tasting, it has a Spring flower smell. Through later infusions, it tasted of almonds and cashews, and no! I am not taking drugs and making this up! That was the consensus of the group.

We moved on to a raw Puerh, Mountain Mist Cake 2004. Ok, it’s Puerh time again, and not my favorite tea, but nobody asked me, so I kept quiet. Still, this wasn’t bad. It gets stronger, more astringent, more bitter, and darker with each infusion. Everyone liked it. Puerh is a developed taste, like Scotch. Or texting while driving.

Then a ripe Puerh;  Jin Ding 2009. Here the group began to split, some liking the stronger tea, others not so much. Although the two previous teas were light in color during the first infusion, this one was the color of mahogany. Each infusion brought it closer to coffee color. Taste characteristics were smoky, earthy like dried fig, and a slight leather taste. 

The fourth tasting was another ripe Puerh, Date Fragrance 2009. First infusion was dark, harboring a peat smell and feeling a little more gritty in the mouth. It also had tastes of leather, mushroom, dirt, and chocolate. Chocolate? And where’s the dates?

Alice Lee’s teahouse stocks traditional and exotic teas and accessories. Her shop sits right smack in the middle of Wallingford, a great place to stop for a pot of tea and a snacketto. No cups to go, you have to pause your life, sit down, relax, enjoy. Get over yourself; we’re already moving too fast in life. Slowing down is challenging, and refreshing. 

TEAHOUSE KUAN YIN, 1911 N 45th St, Seattle WA, 98103, 206-632-2055


If you grew up with Lipton Tea, you know that the most popular tea in the world in black tea, and the primary growing regions are India, China, and Sri Lanka, which used to be called Ceylon until 1972. We think of Ceylon tea, but not Sri Lanka tea. It just does not roll off the tongue. Dang! To develop black tea, the leaves are allowed to oxidize (exposed to air), thus darkening the leaves as well as adding flavor, color and body. Black tea has been around for, well, forever. 

What makes tea, tea? Tea is a plant, specifically the Camellia Sinensis plant. If your drink contains this, it is a tea. If it does not, it is a tisane. Herbal teas and rooibos teas are tisanes. Herbs, roots, flower petals, etc. No camellia sinensis. Tisanes flavor water, but lack the properties and benefits of teas. No matter. They certainly add to the taste of water, making it easier to guzzle more during the day. More water in the system means less wrinkles, and body systems run smoother. I am in favor of that, especially the wrinkle part.

Green tea, which primarily grows in China and Japan, accounts for 14% of tea drunk in the United States, according to TeaUSA. It certainly has become much more popular since my childhood with Lipton Tea. Tea leaves are heated or steamed directly after harvesting, thus halting the oxidation process. Green tea is filled with antioxidants and amino acids, primarily Theanine. It is this amino acid that increases the levels of GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are feel good drugs for your brain.

Oolong Tea hails from Taiwan and southeast China. The leaves are partially oxidized, then fired to halt oxidation. In strength and color, oolong tea is about half way between green and black tea. 

That leaves White Tea, which mostly comes from China. It is minimally processed, with no oxidation. The tea buds are plucked one day before they open, thus producing a slightly sweet, almost transparent taste. 

Ok, who has the job of knowing when to pluck tea buds? And if you are wrong, who drinks all the“bad”tea? 


Excerpt:

On Tuesday evening, I had the opportunity to attend the first World of Tea Series event of 2013, a Cheese and Tea Pairing workshop hosted by Perennial Tea Room and Brian Gilbert of Beecher's Handmade Cheese (both businesses are located in Seattle's famous Pike Place Market).

World of Tea Series: Cheese and Tea Pairing Workshop
 


Some friends took me to the Zen Dog Tea House, out in the Crown Hill neighborhood of Seattle. Zen Dog is the owner. Of course he is! 

It’s a strange  hippy-dippy, gypsy looking two story house with glowing orange lanterns hanging from the trees. Inside, it isn’t strange at all, but soothing, friendly, inviting, and eclectic. The business is part art gallery, frame shop, and a space for lunar gatherings. Maybe a little “out there”, but make no mistake, what it really is…is a knowledgeable tea house with Chinese white, green, red, oolong, pu-er, and Moon teas, which are blends by Zen Dog and his customers and friends. He hosts “tea dates”, which mean tastings, and tea parties with yoga talks. There were 6 or 8 people having a “tea date” when we arrived, so we went upstairs for our own tea tasting date in a room with tea, tea wares, and a great wood plank ceiling.

Zen Dog (of course he has a Department of Motor Vehicles name that isn’t Zen Dog) poured a yellow tea from the Anhui Province of China that was light and delicate. Yellow tea is somewhere between the almost no taste of white tea and the grass overtones of green tea. It was quite pleasant, with little caffeine. Next we tasted a tisane called Secret Garden, which is wild rose and osmanthus. It smelled divine, and tasted sweet and floral. It makes great iced tea.

Zen Dog introduced us to chocolates that he has made for the Tea House. The Intrigue Chocolates Company makes four bars for him. We tried two: Zen Dog Studio (with wild red rose buds), and Zen Dog Bite (with pu-er tea and black cardamon. The Bite bar was zingy and a compliment to tea.

A gentleman from the party downstairs offered me some Wild Purple Tip Pu-er tea. Didn’t I say that it was a friendly place. I don’t  like pu-er (tastes like dirt), but this was nice. Zen Dog thinks of himself as the antidote to Starbucks, and this tea had the punch of coffee without it being coffee. It was acidic without the sometimes bitterness.  The Wild Purple Tip Pu-er reminded me of why I also like coffee, and indeed, this tea if offered to people trying to cut back on coffee. 

One last tea rounded out the visit: Moonlight Pu-er, a white pu-er. Once again, no dirt taste, no earthy smell, just a light, pleasant drinkable tea. 

Don’t keep driving by the place; stop in, meet Zen Dog (really), share some tea, and relax. It’s the Zen Dog Tea House, 2015 NW 85th St, Seattle, Wa, 98117, 206-784-8289, www.teahousegallery.com.


 
It used to be that friends would give me perfumes that they didn’t like: they were either gifts to them, or they bought them, and decided the smell wasn’t right. That’s why you dab or spray in the store, then walk around for half an hour before you buy perfume.

No matter.

Now my friends give me teas that are not right for them. Any teas and all teas. When I see them, I receive treats; bags of tea that they don’t want. That’s how I came to be in possession of Vashon Lavender Herbal Tea, produced by 7-Strand Gardens, a tea and garden company on Vashon Island, in the Seattle area. 

The Vashon Lavender Herbal Tea is a tisane: that is, without tea leaves; no Camelia Sinensis. It’s an herbal: Lavender, Florence Fennel Stem Peppermint, Spearmint, Catmint, Monaco, Apple & Lemon Mint. There’s a lot of mint in it, which I like, and an overtone of lavender, for those people who love the taste.

I like the smell better than the taste. The mint is soothing for upset stomaches, the lavender is calming.

I enjoyed the tea iced, more so than hot. The refreshing mint flavor seemed to counterbalance the slight bitterness of lavender, which is an herb. Lavender is an acquired taste, like Scotch. 

It isn’t strictly tea, but for those who enjoy lavender tea, this is a nice mix.

7 Strand Gardens, Vashon Island, WA, 206-550-3914


Just around the corner from my accountant (yes, it’s tax season) sits Floating Leaves Tea, a small space owned by a woman with a huge, wants-you-to-know-about-tea heart.  Shiuwen Tai, a native of Taiwan, is introducing more Taiwanese Oolong tea into American culture. Besides the oolong, she sells green, black, white, and puerh tea, plus Yixing pots and gaiwans. The store is packed with tea and accessories.

Not only does Shiuwen sell Taiwanese and Chinese tea, she also guides a Taiwan Tea Tour. This is very cool, and the only shop that I have visited that hosts tea tours. Taking a small group to visit farms and farmers in Taiwan almost every year, the trip is nearly always sold out. This year’s tour travels 11 days in Taiwan, visiting farms to see how farmers grow, process, and appreciate tea. It’s a cultural experience for those of us who live in countries where tea is not grown so much. Visiting any foreign country is always enlightening, and makes the world a smaller and more intertwined place. Cross cultural understanding is the road to World Peace. And travel is a lot of fun.

Twice a month, Shiuwen hosts a tea club. It is according to your tea knowledge and interest. One tea club is more for novices to tea and it’s culture; the other club is for a more developed palate. There is something for everyone, whether you know a lot or a little about tea. Shiuwen is so engaging that I cannot imagine anyone feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed with her information and teaching style. 

Tea classes are on the horizon with the emphasis on tasting several teas with which you may not be familiar. That is the point of classes, is it not? To get out of your rut. Why stay with the same-o, same-o tea. In the company of your peers, you are more likely to try something different, with lots of comments from other tea sharers, and guidance from Shiuwen. 

I came home with some Baozhong Farmer’s Choice. A beautiful yellow green color when poured, it’s taste is light and ethereal. It’s an easy tea to drink all day. Now if I can just get the hang of that dang gaiwan that I bought….

Floating Leaves Tea,   www.floatingleaves.com

1704 NW Market St, Seattle, WA 98107,   206-276-9542


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