As my tea drinking approached (and probably passed) obsessive levels, I began to try different teas from different vendors. I was quickly amazed by the options available. I was (and still am) getting samples by the dozen, buying cakes of the teas that I really like. I soon amassed several kilograms of tea in my collection. I became interested in what other people were drinking, and what they thought about it. I started reading blogs, watching podcasts, reading reviews on steepster, instagram and reddit. I basically dove into a rabbit hole. In this strange new tea world, I started to hear about tea festivals. My work schedule at the time prevented me from getting away long enough to go to one... until I finally finished a project. All of a sudden, and with very little notice, I was able to take a couple weeks off, for the first time in years. This was about 10 days before the Northwest Tea Festival. So I planned around that. I had been doing a little bit of research into visiting tea houses (I had thought that this project was going to end a few weeks sooner than it actually did), and had come up with just a couple that I really wanted to hit. The first was in Santa Cruz. But before I left, I had tea with Adam Yasmin in Echo Park. Adam is a wealth of tea knowlege, and a pleasure to be around. We had a nice long tea session, and great conversation. People being brought together by tea, that's what this is about.
Hidden Peak Teahouse - this was a special experience for me. Perhaps I will do an entire post just on this visit in the near future, but it was the first stop on my trip, and the first time I ever tried a 30 year old sheng. I spent most of a day here, and greatly enjoyed it. I can't wait to go back!
From there I sent to San Francisco, where I stopped at several tea houses. I liked them all, had some good teas, and some good conversation, but the one that stood out to me as a place where I could really just chill for a while and drink some tea was Teance in Berkeley.
From there it was time to head on to Seattle... For the festival. The Northwest Tea Festival was my kind of place. It was a seriously eclectic. Like someone mixed the pieces from 4 or 5 different puzzles together, then put them together and magically the pieces all fit. They definitely don't look like they belong together, but none the less, they fit perfectly. There are so many different types of tea, from so many parts of the world, thus, there are so many different types of tea drinker... all coming together to do exactly that. Some people were there in costume. Some people were there in the full regalia of their tea culture (different from a costume... kind of), and there were just regular people in regular clothes. Hipsters, homemakers, handmaidens and homies, everybody was there! I could easily go off on some sort of pseudo-poetic tangent about how my whole life I have felt like a misfit puzzle piece, and how comforting it felt to be apart of this patchwork of mismatched puzzle pieces, but I will spare you that and just say that I really felt at home in this strange group.
At the festival, I spent quite a bit of time at the Crimson Lotus booth having tea with Glen. The tea and the conversation were delightful. I got to meet Oolong Owl at the CLT booth, and Then Had tea with Jeffery at Denong. I felt like I was meeting the celebrities of the tea world, I even got to say "hi" to James Norwood Pratt. I had a great time. The day after, I went to the Crimson Lotus Tea headquarters, and drank some more tea with Glenn and Lamu. These small friendly tea sessions are amazing. This is human connection at its best in my opinion. This is what I want.
From there I went to Tacoma for a bit to hang with family, and then on to Portland. What a great city for tea Portland is! My first stop was Qi Fine Teas (when they get a website I will link it). I really enjoyed my stop there, as the owner kept pouring tea after tea. It was a great start to my Portland visit. The next day I had tea with Tea Monk Po at Heavens Tea. This was an amazing private session. Po has a very special space, and I felt great connection and really loved the sit we had. From there I went to Fly Awake which is a really cool setup. This is where I started thinking that a tea house might be something I could realistically do. Fly Awake is a great setup for just hanging out, socializing, reading a book, trying different teas, etc. As a side note, if I were to do this again, I would go see Po and Fly Awake on different days, I had alot of powerful tea that day! The next day (the final day of my trip) I went to the Chinese gardens (and the tea house there) and then the Japanese gardens (had tea there too). To end the day I had tea with Forest and Melanie of Zuo Wang Tea. Again, this was an intimate tea session in their home, where once again I got to feel the sacred space that happens when people share tea. During our conversation, I shared with them that I had enjoyed my trip around having tea with people so much, I wished I could figure out how to do that for a living.
The next day I flew home. It was a beautiful trip, and I loved every minute of it. The problem is, there is nowhere that I know of in LA where I can have this tea house experience. Denong Tea in Pasadena comes close, and definitely recommend going there, but I want something just a little bit different.
Here's what I'm thinking: I want really cool ambiance, but it must be functional. I want earth tones, elements of fire, water, clay and, of course leaves (wood is cool too). I want people to be able to sit down and order tea in a teapot or gaiwan and be able to pour their own tea gong fu style, with as many refills as they want. I want them to be able to choose from a wide variety of teas, especially puers. I think you should be able to have 3, 7 or 10 grams of tea in your 100 mL vessel as you choose. I want there to be interesting and delicious food items available. I want there to be books to read. There should always be cool music playing. I want a daily cold brewed sheng on tap, as well as a daily hot boiled shou as to-go offerings. I want shelves of beautiful tea ware for sale. I might tolerate macha, but you are probably going to have to whisk it yourself. No boba, absolutely not. in the early mornings and/or evenings we will have small tea ceremonies and/or private sessions. I want this to be a truely special place where we can hold ceremonial space together, or just pop in for a quick hot cup of shou and a cookie to go, or sit and read,o pour tea and ponder, or just chill. Maybe I'll sell tee shirts too.