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I embarked on my tea journey when I studied abroad in China in 2008 and traveled around Taiwan that summer. I'm here to share my experiences and offer my own opinion, advice, and comments on tea.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Visit to Tea Habitat

There are tea shops, and than there are tea shops. The former consists of obnoxious vendors such as Teavana to well-meaning shops that carry okay quality loose-leaf, the kind of stuff that would be nice everyday tea, but could not satiate the refined palate of experienced tea drinkers. The latter, in my mind, consists of the “legendary” stores strewn across the country, the places that carry teas that make people cry out to the heavens…places such as The Tea Gallery, Best Tea House, Floating Leaves, Tea Habitat, etc.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity of visiting a tea shop in the latter category, Imen’s Tea Habitat, nestled in a most unlikely place as any teashop could be…across from a T.J. Maxx. I apologize for the lack of photos. I had brought my camera, thinking to snap a few photos of the teas I was sampling, but I quickly forgot as I surrendered my mind to the Cha Qi. Hopefully my words can try to capture at least 25% of the amazing experience I had there.

I also neglected to take any tasting notes, but that was fine, because the tea lingered in my mouth for hours after I had left. Those that stood out in my mind included her Li Jai Ping Lao Cong, Song Zhong #5, ’78 Vintage Dan Cong, and Tian Yi Xiang (the name conjures up a fragrance equal to heaven. I think the Jade Emperor would have pressed his nose down towards the earth for a whiff).

After this experience, I realized that being a tea master isn’t just about brewing tea perfectly; I like to think a larger part is creating a cultivating environment for enjoying tea. My mother and grandmother found the first tea she brewed, Zhong Ping Lao Cong #4 (I think), to be too faint and delicate in flavor. Quick to think on her feet, she quickly switched it up to the heavy hitting Ba Xian, and not only did my mother/grandmother enjoy the teas more, the conversation also became livelier.

Imen was also a great conversationalist, answering my mother/grandmother’s questions, and turning their questions into focal points for even more conversation. I was initially afraid that it would be awkward because my mother/grandmother don’t really speak English, but luckily Imen’s command of the Chinese language is much better than my own. Imen told us that drinking tea between three people is best, because with one person it’s kind of lonely, while with tea the conversation can get a little stilted, while with four people the conversation tends to jump all over the place, or in my experience people often “break” into pairs (forgive me Imen, if I botched up your more elegant description).

Even though I’m unable to elaborate on it, but I definitely felt a difference between using a stainless electric kettle and her Chao Zhou kettle. Of course, there definitely was a difference in brewing skill, but the water tasted sweeter, and most of the teas left a pleasant coating over my tongue. Even though she didn’t use her newly arrived Wu Chao Zhou pots, I had the chance to feel them for myself, as well as inquire the differences between the Wu pots and the cheaper Zhang pot I got. The Wu pot had much heavier walls, and there was none of the “make-up” clay my pot had. The texture felt more familiar to Hong Ni/Zhu Ni. I’m para-phrasing what she told me, but brewing in the Gaiwan protects aroma, while brewing in a Zhang pot “mutes” the aroma, while giving the tea a better “mouth-feel.” The Wu pots protects both aroma and gives the tea a better mouth-feel. This was very interesting, since because the Wu pots had thicker walls, I thought aroma would be protected less.

Anyway, back to the actual tea tasting. I think I enjoyed the ’78 Dan Cong and the Li Jai Ping Lao Cong the most. I had actually intended to just buy her ’98 Hai Mei Zhan, but I liked the Li Jai Ping so much I just had to buy some too. The ’78 Dan Cong started off with a dry leaf aroma and initial flavor similar to Pu’Er, but the similarities quickly ended around the 5th-6th infusion. Around that time, the familiar sweetness of Dan Cong returned, and there was a “nourishing” taste, very reminiscent of chicken soup…not the actual flavor of chicken soup, but just the thick feel you get in your mouth. The Li Jai Ping Lao Cong left a nice coating of something on my tongue…it was very unusual, but a delightful experience nevertheless.

The hours past, and it came time for us to depart. We left in high spirits and with a longing to someday return, and I definitely will, not only for the vast selection of teas, but also for the enjoyment of tea in the most ideal of environments.

*EDIT* Just realized that my visit to Tea Habitat coincided with the "official" anniversary posting of my blog...what a fitting way to celebrate an anniversary


Marlena said...

What a wonderful experience. Treasure it and treasure your mother and grandmother

Steven Knoerr said...

I know that envy is one of the Seven Deadly sins, so I'll just have to repent. How I wish I were near enough to L.A. to meet Imen in person and have some tea she brewed with her own hands. Her Dan Cong teas are exquisite.

Anonymous said...

Happy blog anniversary. What a way to celebrate. Imen and her Dan Cong are incredible. She's one of a kind. It's just fitting that you had such a good experience with her clay between water heating and steeping. She really knows her Dan Cong and how to make it most enjoyable. --Teaternity