Monday June 26, 2006

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…


Comments

Monday June 26, 2006 — 5 Comments

  1. This is where your girlfriend should call up her Powers of Taitai (which she surely has been honing over her time in Beijing) and demand either a refund or another go. It would be interesting to see how that would go down in Portland.

  2. Marshaln, you’re a tea snob! 🙂  But I’m with you on this one.  It’s a shame that a business parading as an authentic Chinese tea house does not even know the basics of serving their own teas appropriately.  They should at least know how not to overbrew a tea.  Leaving the leaves in a yixing pot?  That’s like serving it English style, only with a yixing!  Blocking the airhole?  C’mon, they don’t even train their staffs?!  So I don’t think your high expectation was the main cause for your dissapointment because even ME, who is not as picky as YOU, would find it annoying 🙂

    A side story: I’m not a wine snob, mind you, but my usual gripe is when a nice posh restaurant serves their white wines too cold (fridge-40 F-cold) and their red wines too warm (room-75 F-temperature).  Once I was at an expensive Italian hangout when I ordered a nice bottle of red wine for the family.  The bottle came out as warm as the beautiful weather outside, which was around 90F…way too warm for a red wine.  So I politely asked for an ice bucket to cool down the wine to a nice 65F (which is closer to the definition of “room temperature” for a red wine anyway).  The young waiter looked at me bewildered and confused, thinking that I’m nuts for wanting to put a bottle of red wine into an ice bucket.  I mean, I was very respectful when I asked him because I understand the waiter is just a young guy wanting to be an actor in Hollywood and so he might not know what “room temperature” means when it comes to wine serving.  But to be given a weird look for something that I think reasonable was another story.  Besides, when I’m paying 80 bucks for a bottle of wine that I can get for $30 outside, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a courteous wine service.  I think the waiter was the misunderstood snob in that case, not me.  Oh well,…and I just ranted again about wine…

  3. Good point about asking for the refund or at least a whole new pot of tea. I would have preferred having all the equipment, the dry tea leaves, and a little peace and quiet — all this would have minimized the margin of error. Sigh.

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