Yesterday my girlfriend and I went to the teahouse in the Portland Classical Chinese Garden that is run by the Tao of Tea. I went hoping to find some good tea serves in a reasonable manner. I know I am picky (well, ok, very picky), but then, all tea addicts are picky. If you aren’t picky, you can’t make good tea. Discernment is key.
Anyway, I digress. We went in, and it was a nicely built building, with Chinese windows and ceiling, and authentic looking furniture, although the flooring is with some light coloured softwood, which will never happen in a building of this type. We took a seat on the second floor, and were given two menus. Of course, I skipped all the food and looked at the tea.
They served almost all exclusively Chinese tea, not surprisingly. I decided to order a “Maofeng Noir”, apparently a red version of your usual maofeng. My girlfriend decided on the “Frozen Summit”, which, of course, is just your regular Dongding oolong. Just when I was about to order though, I saw this special tea menu on the first page — and I saw a black tea called “Monkey King”. I asked the server if she knew anything more of the tea. The answer is negative, so, well, I ordered it.
The teas arrived. I should’ve taken a picture, but basically — hers came in a black yixing that’s about 150ml with a regular sized aroma cup and a drinking cup. Mine came in a 350ml to 400ml Yixing and a drinking cup that is only slightly larger than your regular cup.
You know what this means … the leaves are stewing in the water.
With black tea, this is not the greatest sin ever. After all, they do take a good bit of abuse and really don’t get that screwed up thanks to overbrewing. I asked for a larger drinking cup, so that the whole pot will drained with about 4 cups. Nevertheless, with my girlfriend’s cup it was hopeless. I could’ve asked for something else to put the tea in, but then it would just be a big cup and all that. Besides, by the time she would bring the big cup over, it would be way too late because the tea would’ve been stewing in the pot for a long time anyway. They put enough leaves in it so that it became rather toxic. My black was also exhausted by the time I got a second round of water. We ended up pretty much only drinking one round of tea.
Another funny thing — when she brought us the teas, she poured the first cup for my girlfriend. She used two hands — one hand holding the handle, and the other holding down the lid, except that…. she was holding the airhole of the pot, and she was rather confused as to why the pot wasn’t pouring much at all. When I pointed out that she was putting her hand over the airhole, she gave some lame excuse like “oh, hard to correct old habits…”. I must’ve appeared one of those smarmy know-it-all customers, hehehe
But it does point out one thing — my expectations were higher than usual at this place, because I know they know something about teas. I also know that they were trying to serve things authentically, but the end result was poor — they just simply didn’t pay enough attention to the details so that they avoided the problems of a usual Western style teahouse. At least at those places you have no illusions as to what kind of stuff they actually serve, but with the teahouse set up like this, some people might think they’re really drinking it the way it’s supposed to be, but when that Dongding oolong turns out bitter and nasty because it’s been sitting in the pot for 5 minutes…. you can turn off a LOT of people.
On a slightly related note — these guys have some interesting looking puerh, but no provenance and no real details. At $40 a piece, and no real way to sample it, it’s really hard to justify the prices…