I don’t get out much these days. For tea or anything else.
Not sure if it’s by accident or by design, but in the last couple of months, I’ve preferred to take tea at home. Perhaps it’s the allure of the natural light hitting my personal tea tray, or the sheer ease of never having to leave my pajamas. Or, maybe still, it’s the given fact that most of my tea friends are in other parts of the country – nay, the world!
There is one drawback, though.
Even we hermitic tea types go a little stir crazy once in a while and require the draw of the outside world. If only to remind us that there is one. I have listened to this longing . . . sporadically.
Here are the various times in 2016 (so far) where I actually left the apartment. For tea.
Malaysian Tea at Chez Mizuba
Sometime at the beginning of 2016, Mizuba Tea’s head honcho, Lauren, shared this picture.
I immediately responded with, “WANT!”
We messaged back in forth over when to make that happen. BOH Tea had been on my radar for as long as I’d been tea blogging. As far as I knew, they were the only distributor of Malaysian-grown tea. They had several blends, and the one Lauren had procured through a businessy contact was their Cameronian Gold Blend.
Early on in my tea review days, this very tea came up for review, but other thirsty vultures snapped it up before I could ping a “gimme!!!” That was at least five years ago. In that time, I moved on to other weirder growing regions. Then good ol’ Lauren posted that damn picture.
On the day we agreed to meet-up, it was at her headquarters. She seemed giddy . . . and also a tad frazzled. When I stepped inside, I could see why.
She was up to her armpits in matcha canisters that needed labeling.
She even added, “This works out because I need a tea break.”
With her permission, I snagged one of her pots – a bright red one – and got to brewing.
The only drawback I had with the blend – both on sight and taste – was that it was fannings grade. For those not familiar with tea leaf grading, that’s when the leaves are cut to really tiny needles. Not nearly as extreme as CTC grade teas, but pretty darn close. Most fannings grade teas I’ve had have been alright to pretty darn good. Australian Daintree, Ethiopian black tea, and Turkish Caykur come to mind.
The downside? They all taste pretty similar – floral, sweet . . . and that’s it. Not much else to report. There’s no sense of terroir or cultivar when tea leaves are cut that small. BOH’s Gold Blend, while good, was not much different. I liked it quite a bit, but I wish I had more of a sense of what the Malaysian character was.
As we sipped, we talked teashop stories. And before I knew it, a couple of hours had passed. I left Lauren to her labeling, and braved the traffic-heavy drive back home. Totally worth the trip.
An Irish Afternoon at Chariteas
A week prior to Saint Patrick’s Day, one of my favorite tearooms – Chariteas – posted this on Facebook.
I immediately told my mother.
We had been trying to plan a tea-related get-together for weeks, but couldn’t quite decide on a time and place. By some stroke of scheduling luck, I had the day of this event off. Mum had nothing planned, either. And so, we made the hour-long trek to Sandy, OR.
As to what the focus of the event was, I couldn’t say. Saint Patrick’s Day “might” have had something to do with it. But I think the tea that was served also played a part. Aptly named, “Irish Breakfast”.
Historically, Irish Breakfast blends were thick and hearty beasts for brews. Assam at the base and something equally burly – like a low-altitude Ceylon or an autumnal Nilgiri – at the back usually rounded it out. Not so here.
When Mum and I were served the tea, and while we both liked it, we noted something strange about it. Neither of us were expecting a black tea that was so . . . light. Definitely not an Irish Breakfast in the traditional sense. This was more of an Irish Afternoon tea than a Breakfast. And if I were a betting man, I’d say it was made up of two of their wonderfully unusual single estate offerings – Indonesian Rainstorm and Lumbini Ceylon. Both had a similar floral profile that complimented each other rather well.
Next came our “high tea” meal trays, and they were gorge-eeeous.
I couldn’t even tell you what was on the thing besides the open-faced sammiches, matcha cupcake and savory scone. But I can remark that it was all delicious, and that I inhaled it pretty quickly. The only bit that threw me for a loop was the savory scone. When I think scones, I think “sweet”. This was more “pizza” than sweet. But a few bites in, and I was a college student again.
When I posted a picture of my high tea platter on my various social media accounts, a minor (and well-mannered) debate ensued. Some wondered if it was more “afternoon” tea fare than “high tea”. Others wondered if the Irish even had a high tea ritual akin to the Brits. An Irishman even chimed in and wondered where the slabs of meat were in the fray.
My answer to all of those queries was, “I don’t care.”
The event was called “Irish High Tea”, and that’s bloody well what I was going to call it, too. Granted, two debates could’ve been quelled had they named it (and the featured tea), “Irish Afternoon”. However, I was in too good a mood to care – drowning in carbs, tannins and mush-mouthed taster notes.
Another Round at Medley Tea
Barely two weeks after the Irish Whatever-You-Want-to-Call-It Tea event, my mother proposed we make a second go-around to a nearby tearoom – Medley Tea House.
Our first trip there over a year ago was a pleasant one, but we went later in the day. That was a mistake; the place was packed! So much so, that it even took them fifteen-plus minutes to get us our tea. This annoyed me a smidge. That hiccup aside, the experience was a delightful one.
Since my one complaint, though, about the fifteen-minute tea wait, Mum wanted to give it a second shot. As if she had something to prove. I was just along for the ride . . . and the caffeine.
This time around, they had us seated and duly tea’d in record time.
The biggest joy for both of us was getting to choose our own teapots. Mum had settled on an herbal blend, while I went with a Yunnan something-er-other. Our food choices? Chicken salad sandwiches. Because why not?
Tea Before a Celtic Concert
The same day as the Medly stop, I had to part ways with Mum and get ready. My night’s festivities? Something I’d been planning for over a month. One of my favorite musicians – Loreena McKennitt – was coming to Portland.
Don’t know who that is? Doesn’t matter. Let’s just say that the Canadian, Celtic folk-inspired songstress was the veritable soundtrack to my teenage years. So much so, that her song – “Lady of Shallot” – was my prom song. There were a lot of adolescent memories tied to her music, and not even naughty ones, either. Shocking, I know!
I made it a point to get down there early enough to avoid crowds and traffic and . . . people. Hey, still a hermit, after all. That and Portland is f**king scary.
Somewhere along the way, I grabbed a bite to eat and wandered around down before the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall opened up. Along the way, a thought occurred to me, I’ve never set foot in the Behind the Museum Café.
Part of this decision might have been motivated by my need to use the restroom, too.
The Behind the Museum Café had been around for years – not sure how long. It was linked to the Portland Art Museum (I guess?) in some way. And at one point, it was even attached to the old building. It was also one of the first places in Portland to serve matcha in the traditional way. Chawan and all. The location had moved, though, sometime in the last five years. When I Google-Mapped it, I was shocked. The new location was right next to an art gallery I used to work at back in 2010. Their landlord was even my former boss!
When I went in, I was in awe of the interior. Sure, it had some of the trappings of a typical urban café, but there was something more – well – artistic about the environs. What I found even more rewarding was their tea menu. It was rather extensive, and most of the offerings were Japanese. Even more impressive? The woman who prepped the matcha did so from a cast-iron pot of water, while clad in a kimono. And served said matcha with a little treat.
I was transported.
My one nitpick? The matcha was from Shizuoka, not Uji. But that’s a really narrow nitpick.
Oh yeah . . . the concert?
I cried man-tears.
Y’know? Come to think of it. I actually get out of the “house” quite a lot for tea. And for anything else. Just reading back on all these experiences from such a short period of time makes me *yawn* . . . kinda tired.
Maybe I’ll dream about that perfect cup of Darjeeling I brewed while looking out on Coronado Island last week.
Oh? Did I forget to mention that?