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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? 


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,

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,

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

My sister teaches 5th grade. Those children are about 10 years old, and they have a lot of imagination, energy, and the attention span of a gnat. Every year, she teaches about the American Revolution, and she begins with a challenge to the hyper-active kids about uses for tea bags. She arrives with English Breakfast tea bags (this is a hint of what’s coming) and the kids work in groups to invent novel and interesting uses for the  tea. They may include the actual packaging. They are not allowed to use the obvious, which is, making a hot or cold drink, with or without honey and lemon.

Ok children…….ready?


Here are the 5th graders barely plausible uses for tea bags:

  1. a pillow for your pet mouse
  2. use the inside aluminum packaging to signal when you are stuck in    the mountains taking your 92 year old grandma on a hike, and you have lost your way. Oh, where are those boy scouts?
  3. yo-yo replacement string
  4. cat litter. You will need more than one bag of tea unless it is LARGE.
  5. cleaning windows. Once again, you may need more than one bag, unless you are really efficient. 
  6. air freshener. Really????
  7. a lasso for a mouse. Is the mouse being lassoed or is the mouse  the perpetrator, lassoing his fellow mice?
  8. half a pair of earrings
  9. toothpaste, or is that teeth-paste? That’s a sister joke. 
  10.  use the tea bag string to floss your teeth.

Then my sister announces one last use for bags of tea: overthrowing a government, and with that, she begins her chapter on the American Revolution and the Boston Tea Party.

…Dempsey, with thanks to my sister Gin and her 5th graders, who didn’t realize that I would steal their story

Since Pu-er is a black tea, and one that I didn’t  care for until very recently, I wanted to see how it fared against other black teas that I like and regularly drink. Hence my own tea tasting soiree, involving the new Purple Tip Pu-er, Kusmi Tea, a Congou, and an Earl Grey Black Tea.

Let the tastings begin. Right away I noticed that there was, indeed, a difference, which put to rest the notion that all black teas are similar. Or maybe my taste buds are becoming more sophisticated. You think? 

The Earl Grey Black Tea, from Choice Organic Teas was, to me, the most astringent, the driest. It is a tea with a lot of flavor, boldness and smells wonderfully of bergamot oil, which I like. Preferring stronger teas in the morning, and something to wake up my taste buds, the Earl Grey does that pleasantly, without being English Breakfast Tea, which is generally too dry and slightly bitter for my taste. Interesting, because I prefer rocket fuel for coffee, but not the equivalent of French Roast for tea. 

Next came the Congou, from the Perennial Tea Room. It’s taste was a little softer, but still fairly bold. It’s another morning tea for me.  From there, I moved on to the Kusmi Tea, from the Tea Lady, in Olympia. This is what I normally drink in the morning when I don’t want to make a decision that early. It’s smooth, with a lot of flavor, no bitterness, and that bergamot smell that I like, along with some citrus.  

Finally I tried the Purple Tip Pu-er again. Last week, I didn’t like Pu-er………”tastes like dirt”. But this week, I have grown accustomed to it, and found it to be the smoothest and most subtle of the black teas that I tried. This is a nice afternoon tea. 

You can find all four teas in the Puget Sound area, at enjoyable tea shops. Perhaps you will try your own tea tasting soiree. Contrast/comparison is a great teacher for a pleasant afternoon.  

Zen Dog Tea House; Purple Tip Pu-er:

Tea Lady, Olympia, Wa;  Kusmi Tea:

Perennial Tea Room, Congou;

Choice Organic Teas, Earl Grey Black Tea;

It was a cold and stormy day. What a great morning for tea in a warm space with entertaining and lively pals. I found this at the Burien Tea Tasting Club at Phoenix Tea, in Burien, on Saturday from 10-12 noon.  It was two hours of conversation and tea tastings. Time slips away, one elegant sip at a time.   

We sampled eight teas from the Darjeeling area of India and one from the Assam area. We smelled the tea, tasted the tea, discussed the tea, contrasted the second and third infusion with the first. I learned a lot about tea, and infusions. The owners, Brett and Cinabar (great name), know tea, and are not pretentious about sharing their knowledge. 

Each tea from Darjeeling was different one from another. Who thinks up these names? Moonshine Darjeeling, for instance. No, it’s not alcohol, it’s a white tea. The first infusion was subtle, with little color, smell, or taste, but the second infusion was darker and smelled like sage with a little more taste. The third infusion was also dark, and it had a sweet smell. I liked the tea, all three variations. At home, I don’t tend to do multiple infusions, but it’s nice to know that I can, and the flavor and smell may change each time. Ok, I am frivolous with tea infusions, using them for one infusion, then discarding that tea in favor of another. I don’t want to drink the same tea all day. Next year I am going to be in the second grade! 

The other Darjeeling that I liked was Glenburn Darjeeling Autumn Oolong. It kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It could be the name of a favorite aunt: Glenburn Darjeeling Autumn Oolong. Regardless, it had a little licorice taste that was pleasant and sweet. I like dry wines, but I like sweet teas. 

You can buy both teas, and many others, at Phoenix Tea, 902 Southwest 152nd Street, Burien, WA 98166, (206) 495-7330