In an earlier post, I mentioned that I might do an entire post on the Hidden Peak Teahouse, as this was an amazing experience for me. This is that post. In September 2018, I went to Seattle for the Northwest Tea Festival. Along the way there and back, I stopped by as many tea houses as I could. Hidden Peak was the first. That morning I flew out of LAX to the San Jose airport. While waiting for my flight, I had a little gong fu session in the airport. I thought that was quirky and fun, so I did it again on the plane, and on the bus ride to the train station, and at the train station, and on the train... Sometimes I might not know when to quit.
From there, I had one final bus ride... I did not know what I was in for! This bus ride took me to Santa Cruz via the 17, which winds its way through some beautiful areas... but it really winds, and the bus driver (this surely being his regular route) took those turns fast. Not knowing that this was going to be the case, I was just sitting there, mildly oblivious, looking at the pictures of all my gong fu sessions along the way... until I felt that queasy feeling, cold sweat and hot ears the first signs of motion sickness coming on fast. This trip had my attention! I sat up and faced the front of the bus, knowing my only hope to make it to my destination without puking was to keep my eyes on the road. This allowed me to take in the beautiful scenery, quelled my motion sickness, and allowed me to be mildly terrified at the speed this bus was traveling on this mountain road.
We arrived safely in Santa Cruz. I checked into my hotel, dropped my bag, and headed off to wander around Santa Cruz. There is something special for me about the beginning of a trip. This feeling of freedom and anticipation for things to come. This feeling was intensified for me, because I had not yet planned the second half of my trip, and I didn't even have plans yet for that evening. Somehow I had misread the website for Hidden Peak, and was under the (incorrect) impression that they were not open on Mondays, I was only in Santa Cruz for the tea house, and it was Monday evening, so aimless wandering around an unfamiliar city was on the agenda! Exciting. I had walked about half a mile from my hotel when I realized I did not have my gaiwan with me, so I could not take gong-fu-around-Santa-Cruz. I briefly considered going back for it, but decided that I probably had enough gong fuing around for one day.
As I roamed, enjoying being in a new place with no agenda, I decided to put eyes on the tea house, just so I knew exactly where it was. When I got there, to my surprise, it was open! I walked in and started talking with David, the owner. I told him about my tea journey, which was starting with a visit to his shop, and my intention to spend most of the following day there. As we talked, he mentioned that he does not sell or consume young sheng (which is probably at least 85% of the tea I drink at the moment). When I inquired as to why, and his response was "do you have time for this conversation?" of course I do.
As he poured a really nice shou for us, he explained that in his experience, and school of thought, young sheng was not ready for consumption, that most shengs are not mature enough to drink until around 30 years of age, and that's why shou puer exists, not to imitate an aged sheng, but to have a drinkable version of puer, that can be ready in months instead of decades. At this point I mentioned that the oldest sheng I had tried to date was 2002. He decided that this was a situation he could and would change. Caution to the reader, flowery descriptions ahead...
He went into the back and returned with a tiny clay teapot, and two thimble sized cups, all antiques if I remember correctly. He told me that in the pot was some of the Human brick, a 1980's sheng (contains no actual humans, I'm relatively sure). He poured me a thimble size cup full, and I took a smell. Rich aromas, unfamiliar to me filled my nose, dark and sweet. I took a sip. The first flavor that jumped out at me was that of autumn leaves. I tasted dried fruit, like raisins or cherries, all of a sudden, shou puer made a little more sense to me. This was similar in the darkness of shou, and I could feel the warmth throughout my body like a shou, but the flavors seemed much brighter, better defined. He poured a second thimble full and started describing some of the effects that I was experiencing, as I was experiencing them. I could feel the tea from my head to my toes, normally I feel a young sheng in my chest and shoulders, and shou in my belly, but this was a full body experience. Colors seemed a little bit brighter, objects in my view seemed a bit more defined, and imbued with some sort of life force, or spirit. My thoughts seemed a bit more profound. Suddenly I was on sacred ground.
I left hidden peak feeling deeply thoughtful, but at the same time with a relaxed lightness. I walked the night streets of Santa Cruz feeling good from head to toe.
The next morning I returned and had a seat at one of their many draining tables. I turned my phone off and put it away, as this is a digital free zone. I sat there for 5 or 6 hours, and drank 3 different teas. I enjoyed some of the snack foods on their menu, and visited their restroom several times. I looked at various books from their library. One had pictures of people all over the world making and drinking tea in many of the various ways that people make and drink their tea. I would thumb through this book, pick a picture, have a couple cups with that person (well their image anyway), and then find another. There was a Banksy book. I thought this was a pinnacle. Reading a book about an amazing street artist (full of pictures), while drinking amazing tea, with my phone off. How can it get any better?
This visit was a turning point for me. Like it was here that I first started to realize that LA really needs a bad ass tea house, AND tea house with LA vibe would be amazing. Here are the elements I want to incorporate from hidden peak: draining tables, really good snack foods, books, music, tea served in a tea pot or a gaiwan or in a to-go cup, a great selection of tea ware for sale, and a menu of amazing teas. There are obviously items I would do differently in my tea house. First of all, I want to serve young sheng, I love the stuff. Also, as much as I loved that that was a digital free zone, I don't have the balls to incorporate that into my vision yet. LA needs a digital free zone, badly, and a gong fu tea house is a logical place for that to be... notice I said "a" gong fu tea house... not "the" gong fu tea house. I think the digital free zone would be a very worthy follow up project, as in: if the tea house does really well, and we decide to open another location - that second location could be declared digifree (or something like that). I'm just not ready to burden the original concept with this type of rule. The feelings that I experienced after drinking that first tea are the basic elements I want the tea house to have. Thoughtful in a deep way, yet light and fun at the same time.
If you are ever anywhere near Santa Cruz, or feel like taking a trip to somewhere really special, put Hidden Peak on your list. I definitely plan on going back.